Trijicon is the New HobbyLobby: Gun Company the Latest to Challenge Obamacare

Trijicon — a leading manufacturer of sights and rifle scopes for the U.S. military — and its owners, the Bindon family, have filed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage rule. 

The ACA requires employers to provide health insurance plans that cover women’s preventative health care, like contraception and well-woman visits, without charging a co-pay or deductible. In a concerted effort among conservative legal advocacy organizations, including the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom, more than 65 lawsuits have been filed since 2012. While many for-profit corporations have filed challenges to the rule, claiming it infringes upon religious freedom, no other case is as conspicuously linked to the deep-rooted culture wars between liberal and conservative Americans.

The most recent complaint alleges, “the Mandate illegally and unconstitutionally requires Trijicon to violate its and its owners’ religious beliefs by forcing the company to provide abortion-inducing items, such as ‘Plan B’ (the so-called ‘morning after pill’), Ella (the so-called “week after pill”), and intrauterine devices (‘IUDs’).” According to the Alliance Defending Freedom’s press release, “As part of its benefits program, Trijicon has historically offered health care insurance in a way that is consistent with its life-affirming company values.”

Many may be confused by a “pro-gun, pro-life” ideology supported by companies like Trijicon. A leading gun rights scholar, John Snyder, suggests that the two conservative movements share a common goal: “the preservation of innocent lives.” Anti-abortion activists often diverge on religious lines when it comes to gun control, with Catholics more likely to support gun control than mainline Protestant and Evangelicals. Members of the PolicyMic community believe pro-choice women should support gun rights as well; meanwhile others have asserted that gun-control is a feminist issue.

Trijicon would like to refuse to provide its employees insurance coverage for what many Americans, including the U.S. government, believe is an essential health benefit. The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of religious exemption to federal laws many times, with the answer to essential questions repeatedly changing. It is well established that the government cannot challenge to truth or validity of one’s religious beliefs (including Trijicon’s pro-life pro-gun stance), only whether they are sincerely held (U.S. v. Ballard in 1944). 

It seems extremely likely that the Supreme Court will take on one of the many pending challenges to the contraception rule. Two circuit courts, the Third and the Tenth, have issued opposing rulings on pending challenges, creating what is known as a “circuit court split.”  In settling this legal dispute the Supreme Court will have to decide the extent to which business owners have the right to practice their religion through their corporate entity.

The Department of Justice will not oppose Trijicon’s request for a preliminary injunction because the case was strategically filed in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. The D.C. Circuit has granted injunction pending appeal in a similar case, Gilardi, and the DOJ has agreed to let Trijicon not comply with the rule until the appeal in Gilardi is resolved. Had Trijicon filed the lawsuit in Michigan, where the company is based, their request for injunction would likely have been denied given the Sixth Circuit’s denial of injunction pending appeal in Autocam.