On Sunday, two days before the HHS mandate was to take effect, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff ruled that the HHS was not to enforce the mandate against Tom Monaghan and Domino’s Farms. The judge ruled that the HHS mandate would substantially burden Monaghan’s practice of religion.
Monaghan founded Domino’s Pizza, which he no longer owns. He also founded Ave Maria University, and Legatus, a nationwide association of Catholic business owners. Monaghan is a devout Catholic; buying contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization for his employees would violate his faith.
The judge’s ruling contains some thought-provoking analysis. The Obama Department of Justice is arguing in these cases that individuals, such as Monaghan, lose their religious freedom when they enter secular business. The government also argues that the companies they start do not have religious freedom. The judge in this case wrote:
Monaghan asserts that acting to have his company provide such coverage (contraceptives, sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs) would cause him to commit a grave sin according to his religious beliefs. This argument is well-taken, since DF (Domino’s Farms, the company) cannot act (or sin) on its own. Therefore, even though the ACA does not literally apply to Monaghan, the Court is in no position to declare that acting through his company to provide certain health care coverage to his employees does not violate Monaghan’s religious beliefs. They are, after all, his religious beliefs. See Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981) (finding it beyond the scope of judicial function and competence for a court to decide whether a party is correctly understanding his religious doctrine because “[c]ourts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”). Accordingly, Monaghan has standing to make his claim under the RFRA.
Assessing the arguments under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, this court found that the HHS mandate did substantially burden Monaghan’s free exercise of religion.
Under the RFRA, the government may substantially burden the free exercise of religion if this meets a compelling interest, and the government uses the least restrictive means. In a case such as this, the burden of proof is on the government–the DOJ must clearly show that the HHS mandate meets a compelling interest and uses the least restrictive means to accomplish this interest. The judge ruled:
Yet at this point, the Court has insufficient information before it to adequately determine whether the Government’s interests are sufficiently “compelling,” or whether the Government’s actions are the least restrictive. Thus the Government has failed to carry its burden.
The judge also wrote:
Because Plaintiffs’ claims involve a First Amendment right, and because the Court has found some likelihood that Plaintiffs’ RFRA claim will succeed on the merits, the Court finds that irreparable harm could result to Plaintiff.
The judge granted Monaghan an emergency restraining order. The government is sure to appeal.