On December 31st, U.S. District Magistrate Judge David Noce granted a temporary restraining order, granting relief from the HHS mandate for Sharpe Holdings, Inc., a Missouri for-profit dairy business. The restraining order also benefits Charles Sharpe, the owner of the business, and two of his employees who objected to being forced to pay for abortifacient drugs as part of their health premiums. Sharpe Holdings joins O’Brien Industries of St. Louis and American Pulverizer Company, also of St. Louis, as the third Missouri for-profit business to be granted relief from the HHS mandate.
O’Brien’s case was originally dismissed by a federal Circuit Judge in St. Louis. However, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted a temporary restraining order on behalf of O’Brien Industries. American Pulverizer was granted a temporary restraining order in December by U.S. District judge Richard Dorr.
The various diverging opinions in these cases means that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely have to resolve the issue of whether the HHS contraceptive mandate infringes on the free exercise of religion for private employers, Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities. A final decision is probably one year or more away. With the deadline for compliance with the mandate upon us, time is running short. The Obama administration has until August 2013 to resolve the conflict for those entities granted the one year safe harbor from enforcement of the mandate, including Catholic dioceses and Catholic charity groups, among others.