LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) -- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said a federal court's ruling last week blocking the implementation of a controversial contraception mandate is a "win" for religious liberty.
In an opinion and order filed Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Zatkoff, for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled that Thomas Monaghan and Domino's Farms Corp. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al. can move forward to the discovery phase and signed an order preliminarily blocking the federal government's implementation of the mandate against Monaghan and Domino's Farms.
Monaghan, owner of Ann Arbor-based Domino's Farms and the founder of the popular Domino's Pizza chain, which he sold in 1998, filed the lawsuit in December.
A devout Roman Catholic, Monaghan's company offers health insurance that does not include contraception and abortion for employees.
The contraception coverage mandate, which was imposed under the controversial health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, requires employers to offer insurance -- including contraception coverage -- or they may be fined.
In his suit, Monaghan argues that contraception is a "gravely immoral" practice.
In his 20-page opinion and order, Zatkoff ruled the mandate "forces Monaghan to violate his beliefs and modify his behavior or else pay substantial penalties for noncompliance."
The judge continued, "Government action that places Monaghan in such a 'Catch-22' dilemma sufficiently constitutes a substantial burden on his free exercise of religion."
Zatkoff said it is "in the best interest of the public" that the business owner not be compelled to act in conflict with his religious beliefs.
Schuette, who filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in January, said religious liberty is "America's first freedom."
"Any rule, regulation or law that forces American employers to violate their free exercise of religion is a violation of the First Amendment and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the attorney general said in a statement Friday.
"The First Amendment applies to everyone, and we must defend religious liberty for all, not just the chosen few dictated by the federal government."
Schuette argued in his brief that the "unconstitutional" mandate will not only affect religious schools and hospitals, but it will force private sector job-providers, such as Monaghan, to violate their conscience.
Last week's ruling marks the second victory by a Michigan-based business challenging the mandate, according to the Attorney General's Office.
In October, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland, also for the Eastern District of Michigan, signed an order in Legatus et al. v Kathleen Sebelius, et al. preliminarily blocking the federal government's implementation of the mandate against Weingartz Supply Company due to the "risk presented here of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs."
Weingartz, based in Utica, Mich., is a Catholic family-owned company that sells outdoor power equipment.
The mandate remains enjoined pending the outcome of the case.
Last year, the Obama administration announced it would not change its mandate forcing religious employers to purchase and provide health care services that violate their religious beliefs and moral convictions.
The decision was announced in spite of concerns expressed by both religious leaders and employers.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.