Faith Groups Give HHS Mandate Run for Its Money

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DALLAS -- A federal appeals court has given Hobby Lobby a second reprieve. The arts and crafts chain was facing millions of dollars in fines that were set to kick in on Monday for refusing to obey Obamacare's contraception mandate.

The mandate requires all businesses to provide birth control coverage, including abortion-inducing drugs. The deeply religious family that owns Hobby Lobby says obeying the mandate would mean violating their faith.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver sided with the arts and crafts chain and sent the case back to a lower court in Oklahoma.

"Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable," the judges wrote.

"The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity," they said.

The Obama administration has suggested only churches should be allowed a religious exemption from the HHS mandate. But many faith-based institutions say it's absurd to declare them "not religious enough" for that exemption.

Criswell College

The one block-long Baptist college Criswell in Dallas only grants religious degrees. They weren't about to stand for being defined by the government as not religious enough.

If so, then as of July 1, the school would have to pay for insurance plans that cover abortion-inducing drugs or pay fines so steep the little college might have to close its doors.

Religious rights defenders at nearby Liberty Institute took Criswell's case to court.

"Ultimately it is the federal government telling people of faith to violate their religious beliefs and if you don't, you're going to suffer fines and penalties," Jeff Mateer, general counsel for the Liberty Institute, said.

Criswell College prevailed, showing that no matter how big the government is and no matter how small you are, sometimes it's smart to stand up and fight.

"The government initially has conceded that Criswell does not have to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs at this time," Mateer said.

One of the most galling things for Mateer in this fight has been seeing just how blind government bureaucrats are to the fact that church workers aren't the only deeply religious people.

"So they put them in a box," Mateer said. "And their box is 'if you're a church...if you're a church, then you don't have to comply."

"All believers make up the church universal," he continued. "The federal government just doesn't understand that."

The Criswell case is one of more than 50 challenging the HHS mandate. But so far, it's one of only a couple of dozen for which the religious plaintiff has been told they won't have to comply.

Criswell College leaders say they are grateful for the way the case turned out. But the fight will contiue because so many other faith-based groups are still seeing their religious rights violated by the mandate.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at