Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in East Earl, Lancaster County, is fighting a federal mandate that requires employers to cover contraception under their insurance coverage.
The Mennonite-owned company filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on December 4. A district court ruled in favor of the government on January 11. A federal appeals court took up the issue at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia Thursday afternoon.
The Hahn family, owners Conestoga Wood Specialties, believe the company shouldn’t have to provide birth control coverage to its 950 employees on religious grounds.
Charles Proctor, attorney for the company, hopes the judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agree and issue a temporary exemption from the federal mandate.
“You don’t leave your religious conscience at home, you don’t leave it at church or synagogue, you carry it with you all of the time,” Proctor said.
Department of Justice attorney Alisa Klein represented the government.
She was not allowed to do an on-camera interview, but argued in court that the company should be considered a for-profit corporation, not a church able to freely exercise its religion. Churches are exempt from the mandate.
It’s a controversial issue several courts are weighing at the moment. The most high-profile case involves Oklahoma-based chain Hobby Lobby.
Whatever the appeals court decides, Proctor said he’s certain one the cases will go on to the United States’ highest court.
“This is a case of first impression, and that means it really hasn’t been heard or decided in this context before,” he said. “So the Supreme Court is going to have to be the final arbiter of this one.”
The judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t issue a ruling Thursday, but Proctor expects they will shortly.
If the court grants the injunction, it would only be temporary and the case would go back to district court.