DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A Detroit-area company challenging the federal health care law’s mandated contraception coverage won an early round in its lawsuit against the Obama administration.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday barring the government from taking any action against Weingartz Supply Co., which has 170 employees and sells outdoor power equipment.

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Weingartz said the contraception mandate violates the religion and free speech rights of its owners, who are Roman Catholics. But the health care law requires health plans to cover birth control for women, and employers can be fined by 2014 if they try to get around the mandate by not offering insurance.

Although the Obama administration has provided exemptions for other groups, including many large corporations, it has persistently refused to give the same accommodation to employers exercising their First Amendment freedoms.

Cleland said the government could eventually win the lawsuit. But he believes an injunction is appropriate in a case that will last months.

“Violation of a First Amendment right in itself constitutes irreparable harm,” even for a brief period, the judge said.

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Cleland said the government must show in the months ahead that the law carries a “compelling interest” for the public. Government lawyers so far have argued that the contraception mandate benefits women and their role in society.

“Because Weingartz Supply Co. is a for-profit, secular employer, many of its employees undoubtedly do not share Mr. Weingartz’s religious beliefs,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing, referring to company president Dan Weingartz. “Those employees should not be denied the benefits of receiving a health plan through their employer that covers contraceptive services.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the injunction is an important step in possibly defeating the contraception mandate.

“The First Amendment applies to everyone, and we must defend religious liberty for all, not just the chosen few dictated by the federal government,” he said.

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