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Lancaster County Company on Forefront of Religious Challenge to Obamacare Law

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted a Lancaster County, Pa. company a ten-day reprieve from penalties for violating the Affordable Care Act.   The firm sued, arguing that the law's provision requiring it to pay for contraceptive services for female employees violates the owners' religious beliefs.

Norman Hahn and his sons own Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation, which makes cabinets in Lancaster County.

The Hahns, who are Mennonite Christians, believe it would be a sin to pay for certain contraception services.
So they filed a lawsuit seeking to block the $95,000-per-day fine they would have to pay, beginning January 1st, for failure to comply with the law.

"This is just one step in an intellectual battle happening all across the country," says University of Pennsylvania law professor Ted Ruger, who lectures on the Affordable Care Act and says that allowing commercial companies to opt out of the women's health provision is a slippery slope.

"It could work a fundamental change in the way we regulate businesses," says Ruger. "Every business is owned by somebody who may have their own religious view. It may be Quakers who object to paying taxes that fund the war effort, it may be people who object to paying for certain types of contraception."

"The law exempts religions," says Robert Field, professor of health management and policy at Drexel University.  "A church or synagogue or a mosque is definitely excluded from having to comply.  The next category is religious organizations, like a religiously affiliated college or hospital.  There we are still waiting for word from the government on whether they need to comply with this."

Field says Conestoga Wood Specialties does not fall into either of these categories.

"It goes to almost anything that the government does that it could infringe on someone's religious beliefs," says Field.  "There is strong case law from the Supreme Court that if a law is religiously neutral -- doesn't single out a religion -- then everyone must comply with it."

The judge is expected to hear the case on Friday.  Both Ruger and Field say that regardless of the outcome, they expect the case to be appealed.

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