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US Supreme Court win supports Wash. pharmacist case

Legal teams who won Conestoga/Hobby Lobby decision file brief about effect on 9th Circuit lawsuit

Friday, Aug 1, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Kristen Waggoner  |  Steven H. Aden

SEATTLE — The legal teams who won their cases on behalf of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby at the U.S. Supreme Court filed a brief this week at the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit about the impact of the high court’s decision on a case involving two Washington pharmacists and a pharmacy owner. The 9th Circuit had suspended activity in their lawsuit, Stormans v. Wiesman, until the Supreme Court issued its ruling.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the Seattle law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry represent clients opposed to Washington state regulations that would force them to dispense the “Plan B” and “ella” drugs in violation of their religious convictions rather than allow them to refer patients to other nearby pharmacies.

“No one should be forced to choose between their deepest religious convictions and their profession,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, a former partner at Ellis, Li & McKinstry and lead counsel for the plaintiffs challenging the state regulations. “Washington’s law is an extreme outlier. Many of the most respected medical and pharmaceutical associations, including the American Pharmacists Association, support the right of a provider to refer patients. The state allows providers to refer for nearly every other reason except conscience.”

After a 12-day trial in 2011, a federal district court in Washington suspended the state’s regulations. The ruling permitted the two pharmacists and the owners of Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia to continue to refer customers rather than sell the drugs, which can terminate human life after conception.

The district court found that the state adopted its new regulations “primarily (if not solely)” to ban religiously motivated referrals while the state, at the same time, permits pharmacies to refrain from stocking and delivering drugs for “almost unlimited” business, economic, and convenience reasons. The state and attorneys from Planned Parenthood appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit.

In its opinion, the district court observed, “The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable. They were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B, and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted. The rules are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs.”

“The government cannot say that referrals motivated by profit or preference are okay, but referrals motivated by a religious belief are not,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden.

As the brief filed with the 9th Circuit explains, “it is undisputed that the effect of the Regulations is to force Plaintiffs to choose between their religious exercise and their profession. That is a deeply troubling result in light of Hobby Lobby. It is all the more troubling when the State has stipulated that Plaintiff’s conduct causes no harm; when there is ‘an existing, recognized, workable, and already-implemented’ alternative that fully meets the State’s goals…; when the State regularly permits that alternative for a host of non-religious reasons; and when 35 state and national pharmacy associations fully support the use of that alternative for religious reasons.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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