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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Tax Breaks Proposed for Religious Businesses

AUSTIN (CN) - Employers that invoke religion to refuse to provide health insurance covering emergency contraception would get tax breaks from Texas to offset federal fines under Obamacare, if a proposed bill passes.

House Bill 649, by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would indemnify employers such as arts-and-crafts store Hobby Lobby, which unsuccessfully sued the federal government last year, seeking exclusions from the federal law.

Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, lost their claim in Oklahoma City Federal Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an emergency appeal.

The Hobby Lobby owners claimed that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forced them to violate tenets of their religion, under threat of millions of dollars in fines: up to $100 per employee per day.

Stickland defended H.B. 649 in a statement: "The First Amendment to the Constitution protects individuals from having their religious consciences violated by the federal government," Stickland said. "But the Obama Administration's mandate and their threats to bury Hobby Lobby with up to $1.3 million per day in tax penalties aren't just unconstitutional, they're unconscionable. ...

"It is simply appalling that any business owner should have to choose between violating their religious convictions and watching their business be strangled by the strong arm of federal mandates and taxation."

HB 649 would exempt businesses that invoke religious reasons from all state taxes if they are forced to pay punitive fines for violating the contraception mandate.

To qualify for the exemption, a business must provide employees with a health insurance plan, must refuse to cover emergency contraception under Obamacare, must have been fined after Jan. 1, 2013, for failure to comply and must have paid the fine.

"Exempting them from state taxes is the least we can do to help them weather this storm," Stickland said in his statement. "I hope other states follow suit and I hope the courts step up to protect religious liberty and strike down this unconstitutional mandate."

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled against Hobby Lobby in November.

"The question of whether plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their constitutional claims requires a threshold determination of whether the particular plaintiffs have constitutional 'free exercise' rights subject to being violated," Heaton wrote. "As to the Greens, the answer to that is obviously yes. However, as to the corporations - Hobby Lobby and Mardel - the court concludes otherwise."

Heaton found that though companies have constitutional rights in some circumstances, they are not available to the same extent that they are to people. He noted differences between protections given to businesses and to churches.

Religious exercise is a "purely personal" matter that is not a part of a general business corporation, Heaton wrote.

"The Greens have not established that compliance with the preventive care coverage regulations would 'substantially burden' their religious exercise, as the term 'substantially burdened' is used in the statute," Heaton found.

Stickland identifies himself as "a conservative Christian Republican" on his state website. He has a G.E.D. and "spent time at" two community colleges, then went to work for Truly Nolen Pest Control, according to his website.

Stickland, 29, was elected to his first term in November. He has no previous political experience, according to Votesmart.org.

Follow @davejourno
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