Tom Monaghan wins court ruling in contraceptives case

Those on the dais, including Tom Monaghan, center, respond as Ave Maria president Jim Towey nominates Jeb Bush for U.S. President. Ave Maria University held its eighth commencement on Saturday morning in the Golisano Fieldhouse, with just the second class to go through four years at their new rural campus. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Those on the dais, including Tom Monaghan, center, respond as Ave Maria president Jim Towey nominates Jeb Bush for U.S. President. Ave Maria University held its eighth commencement on Saturday morning in the Golisano Fieldhouse, with just the second class to go through four years at their new rural campus. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan won a partial, if temporary, victory this week in a courtroom battle over contraceptives coverage for his Michigan-based company's employees.

Now Ave Maria University is waiting to see how that ruling will affect its own lawsuit in federal court over the same issue: whether employers can argue religious freedom in their refusal to pay for insurance that includes birth control.

A mandate from the government in early 2012 required employers to cover the cost of contraceptives for employees.

Faith-based organizations like Ave Maria University and other schools, hospitals, and service providers around the country with a strong religious affiliation balked at the order.

The contraceptive mandate is included in the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to pay for Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception, such as birth control, sterilization and the "morning after" pill.

Opponents claimed it goes against freedom of religion by requiring the organizations to contribute financially to a plan that contradicts their beliefs — in Ave Maria University's case, Catholicism.

The Dec. 30 federal district court ruling grants a temporary moratorium on religious grounds for pizza mogul Monaghan and Domino's Farms — a privately held company that, while headed by Monaghan, is not a religiously affiliated institution, as opposed to Ave Maria, a Catholic university — from paying employee insurance that covers FDA-approved birth control methods.

"Monaghan must choose whether to abide by the mandate and violate his beliefs, or accept the financial consequences of not doing so. And, as noted, such an infringement upon Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights — even if for a short time — constitutes irreparable injury," the Michigan court ruling read.

"The harm of delaying the implementation of a statute that may later be deemed constitutional is outweighed by the risk of substantially burdening the free exercise of religion," it added.

As such, Monaghan will not have to cover those contraceptive-related insurance expenses for his employees until the case is fully resolved in court.

Ave Maria University remains embroiled in a federal lawsuit filed in February over the school's refusal to pay for employee insurance that includes contraceptives. Because of its status as a religiously affiliated organization, it has until the end of 2013 to comply with the mandate, unless other regulations grant reprieve on religious grounds.

The school's president, Jim Towey, said Wednesday that the ruling in Monaghan's case was an "encouraging sign."

It strengthens the claims that the mandate is a First Amendment violation, he told the Daily News.

"The First Amendment is not applicable only to faith-based organizations," Towey said. "Individuals and individual organizations have rights too."

He's hopeful the federal government will grant exceptions to religiously affiliated institutions, such as his school.

Monaghan's temporary injunction speaks to the validity of the religious freedom argument, which could carry over into the Ave Maria University case and dozens of other similar ones, said Diana Verm, a lawyer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Ave Maria in the lawsuit.

Towey said the school is developing contingency plans if court rulings or new regulations are unfavorable this year.

"We're not going to comply with (the mandate)," he said.

Noncompliance carries a $100 fine a day for each employee.

At Ave Maria University, which has about 150 insurance-eligible staff members, that could mean nearly half a million dollars a month.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features