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Courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

Carol Stream-based Tyndale House Publishers celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Illinois Bible publishing company fights Affordable Care Act

by Allison Friedman
Feb 27, 2013

Tyndale Timeline

1962: Kenneth and Margaret launch Tyndale House Publishers out of their living room with the release of "Living Letters"

1963: Billy Graham gives "Living Letters" his stamp of approval; Tyndale House Foundation is established

1971: "The Living Bible" is published, and sells eight million copies by the end of the year

1984: Mark Taylor takes over from Kenneth Taylor as President and CEO of the publishing house

1995: The first book in the bestselling "Left Behind" series is published

2001: Kenneth and Margaret Taylor donate Tyndale House Publishers to Tyndale House Foundation

Oct. 2, 2012: Tyndale House Publishers files a lawsuit against the U.S. Health and Human Services Department over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, the day after the mandate becomes effective

Nov. 16, 2012: The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia grants Tyndale a temporary injunction blocking the mandate

Jan. 15, 2012: The U.S. announces that it will appeal the temporary injunction
On the afternoon of Jan. 15, Tyndale House Publishers Inc. learned it would not be emerging from between a rock and a hard place anytime soon. The Carol Stream-based Bible and Christian book publisher had won temporary relief from the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control coverage requirement in November. Now, the U.S. announced that it would appeal the ruling.

“The government has put us between two impossible decisions,” Tyndale President and CEO Mark Taylor said in an interview. “They are forcing us to do something that we feel is morally wrong, or they’re going to charge us such huge fines that, over time, it would put us out of business.”

Tyndale’s lawsuit is one of more than 45 that religious employers have filed in federal court over Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate, which stipulates that group health insurance plans must offer employees all FDA-approved forms of birth control without demanding a co-payment. Those that fail to comply face fines of $100 per employee per day, creating an ultimatum that up-in-arms employers are calling an assault on religious liberty.

November’s ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has so far shielded Tyndale, which has 259 employees, from this financial punishment. “The district court granted Tyndale House an injunction, such that the government’s Draconian fines do not apply while the suit is in process,” Taylor explained. His company objects specifically to providing access to the morning-after pill, the week-after pill and intrauterine devices; Tyndale’s formal complaint contends that these contraceptives “can function to cause the demise of an early human embryo.”

“Tyndale would render itself a hypocrite to the world, to its authors, to Christians who hear Tyndale’s message and to God himself if they published God’s word while using their company to help destroy his image and likeness,” the company’s attorneys stated in the preliminary injunction motion.

As it is laid out in November, the court’s reasoning for granting the temporary injunction largely revolves around details of the company’s corporate structure. Tyndale House Publishers is 96.5 percent owned by the Tyndale House Foundation, a religious nonprofit organization whose aim, in its own words, “is to minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through grants to other Christian charities.”

As a nonprofit religious body that employs and serves mostly people of the same faith, the foundation would be exempt from the birth-control coverage mandate as a “religious employer” under Health and Human Services Department regulations. Tyndale House, as a for-profit corporation, is not.

The underlying question here, which the November court declined to sweepingly tackle in its written opinion, is “whether for-profit corporations can exercise religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the free exercise of religion guarantee in the First Amendment. In lieu of deciding that question, the court stated it would consider only “whether Tyndale has standing to assert the free exercise rights of its owners.”

Taylor believes corporations, whether religious or secular, should be able to make the birth-control coverage decision for themselves. “The point is that corporations of all types have religious freedom,” he said, “and certainly the owners of for-profit corporations have the freedom to carry out their own religious and moral commitments through their corporations.”

Andrew Koppelman, Northwestern University law and political science professor, says that even if a corporation were entitled to religious liberty, the central issue is whether religious liberty entitles the corporation to project its faith-based morals on others. “If you’re employing people who don’t share your religion, you don’t get to impose your religious views on them,” he said in an interview. “It’s very simple.”

The story of Tyndale House Publishers is inseparable from that of its owners. The seed of the company was planted when founder Kenneth Taylor, Mark Taylor’s father, began simplifying the language of the New Testament epistles for his 10 children.

“We had family devotions every day, which included Bible-reading,” said Mark Taylor. “Rather than reading from a leather-bound Bible, my father was reading from hand-written pages that had his own paraphrased Bible passages.”

During the late 1950s, the elder Taylor collected those hand-written pages into a book called “Living Letters”. Turned down by numerous publishing houses in his attempt to market the manuscript, Taylor and his wife Margaret culled their savings to produce a 2,000-copy initial print run. A new company was born – albeit out of the family’s living room.

Mark Taylor was 11 years old when his parents launched Tyndale House; he helped ship copies of the book to bookstores. “I was, even as a kid, very involved in the day-to-day operations of the company – although it was a tiny little company at first,” he said.

Sales of “Living Letters” got an unexpected boost in 1963 when the famed televangelist Billy Graham endorsed the book on TV. Mark Taylor estimates that the company became profitable by its second year, but nationwide success really arrived in 1971 with the publication of the “Living Bible”. An expanded version of “Living Letters” that paraphrased the entire Bible, it was the best-selling book in America by 1973, according to the Gale International Directory of Company Histories.

Though Bibles were the company’s initial bread and butter, Tyndale began publishing a variety of Christian-oriented fiction and nonfiction titles in 1966. The most lucrative of these has been the “Left Behind” series, a collection of apocalyptic novels whose first installment was released in 1995. Tyndale has since sold about 63 million copies of the books.

“The success they had with ‘Left Behind’ was tremendous, and success can kill a company as easily as failure,” said Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She explained that because books can be returned, publishers that rely on the revenue from initial shipped figures “can make unwise expansion decisions.”

Garrett said Tyndale managed to avoid that kind of situation. “They always seem to be a well-run, conservatively run company,” she said.

Tyndale House Foundation was set up in 1963 to collect the royalties from “Living Letters” and put them towards other charitable Christian endeavors. One grant recipient that particularly stands out for Mark Taylor is Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. “Tyndale House made the seed grant 40 years ago that got that legal aid program going,” he said.

Kenneth and Margaret Taylor bequeathed ownership of Tyndale House Publishers to the Tyndale House Foundation in 2001. “They had always intended that eventually, the company would be substantially owned by the foundation,” said Mark Taylor, who took over from his father as president in 1984; Kenneth Taylor passed away in 2005.

Today the foundation owns 96.5 percent of the publishing company’s shares, and three trusts hold the remainder. The most notable of these is the Tyndale Trust, which holds 84 percent of the company’s voting shares and is thus its principal director.

The publishing company, the foundation and the trusts – all of which were established by Kenneth Taylor – are tightly intertwined. The Tyndale Trust’s trustees are one and the same as Tyndale House’s directors, and they are all “required to sign a statement of faith each year to show that they hold certain religious beliefs, which are typically described as evangelical Christian beliefs,” in the words of the company’s formal complaint. Mark Taylor is the president and CEO of both the publishing house and the foundation.

More than 100 percent of his company’s net income is given to charity, Taylor said. First, he explained, royalties from many of the publishing house’s titles are donated to the Tyndale House Foundation. Next, around 10 percent of the company’s income is tithed to various other religious and charitable causes. Finally, the foundation receives 96.5 percent of the publishing company’s distributed profits – since 2001, that has added up to $38.8 million out of $40.2 million earned. Taylor reported that Tyndale’s sales were $72 million for fiscal 2012, and that net income was $4.38 million. Under “corporate goals” on the company’s website, “operate profitably” is listed right alongside “honor God.”

Though the lion’s share of its income is channeled into a nonprofit organization, Tyndale House Publishers itself is a for-profit company. As such, it does not meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ criteria for exemption from the contraception coverage mandate: to qualify as a “religious employer,” an organization must employ and serve mostly people of the same faith; exist mainly to spread that faith; and, most crucially in this case, operate as a nonprofit under the federal tax code.

While the publishing company does not meet those guidelines, the foundation does. The federal district court affirmed in November that “Tyndale’s primary owner, the foundation, can ‘exercise religion’ in its own right, given that it is a nonprofit religious organization.” The court was therefore tasked with determining whether the for-profit company could assert free exercise rights on behalf of its nonprofit owners.

In his written opinion, Judge Reggie Walton lays out two ways in which that might be possible. The first, drawn from two similar prior cases, is that “when the beliefs of a closely held corporation and its owners are inseparable, the corporation should be deemed the alter-ego of its owners for religious purposes.”

Mark Taylor said he is inclined towards this view. “All of those shareholders plus I personally have the same moral conviction with regard to the extreme measures of contraceptives that the government is requiring us to offer,” he said.

The court opinion goes on to explain that, regardless of whether Tyndale is the foundation’s religious alter-ego, it may assert the foundation’s free exercise rights under what is called the third-party-standing doctrine – that essentially the publishing company, as an entity with a close relationship to the injured party and a stake in the lawsuit’s outcome, can advocate on the nonprofit’s behalf.

Tyndale’s pro bono attorney, Matthew Bowman of Alliance Defending Freedom, believes the for-profit publishing company should be able to advocate on its own behalf. “I think it’s a pattern throughout the Obama administration’s tenure,” he said, “where they are taking large areas of human activity – like healthcare, or education, or business – and saying that because the government wants to control those areas, the government is going to declare that religious freedom does not exist in those areas.”

Bowman said he expects the lawsuit to run through the summer, at least. In the meantime, it will be business as usual at Tyndale House.

“We’re not going to do anything different than we’ve been doing for many years: continuing to sell Christian-oriented books and Bibles,” Mark Taylor said. Aside from the lawsuit, Tyndale is attempting to adjust to the same issues as other book publishing companies. “The challenge that we’re facing – that all publishers are facing now – is simply finding the right balance between the books that go into e-book format and the books that are printed,” Taylor said.

Tyndale House Publishers celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. “If I look 10 years down the road,” Mark Taylor said, “my hope is that we will continue to be operating profitably, and that we will continue allocating all of those profits to charitable causes.”