First Lawsuit From Business Owner Challenges Obama HHS Mandate
by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 3/15/12 12:02 PM
A first-of-a-kind federal lawsuit has been filed against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on behalf of a business owner who contends the HHS contraceptive mandate violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.
While most of the attention on the controversial new mandate has been focused on religious groups who are opposed to the Obama mandate forcing them to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions for their employees, this new lawsuit brings attention to religious employers who are not running church or church-related organizations.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization that focuses on constitutional law, file the lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri employer. The lawsuit also requests that the court issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the HHS from requiring those who have religious objections to abide by the mandate, which requires employers to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
The ACLJ represents Frank R. O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC (OIH) – a holding company based in St. Louis, Missouri. O’Brien is chairman of OIH which operates a number of businesses that explore, mine, and process refractory and ceramic raw materials, with its products going to more than 40 countries.
The lawsuit marks the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate from a private business owner and his company. Until now, only religious organizations or institutions have brought lawsuits challenging the mandate.
“The HHS mandate would require business people like our client to leave their religious beliefs at home every day as a condition of doing business in our society,” said Francis J. Manion, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing O’Brien. “The HHS mandate tells people like Frank O’Brien that they have to choose between conducting their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, or conducting their business in a manner consistent with the government’s values. The constitution does not allow the government to impose such a choice.”
O’Brien, a Catholic, says his religious beliefs provide the framework for the operation of his businesses, which employ 87 people. The company website states the OIH mission “is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society.” OIH’s statement of the company’s values begins with the following: “Integrity. Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system.”
O’Brien also has implemented a variety of company-participating programs to assist employees in purchasing homes, saving for the college education of their children, and being able to retire.
The lawsuit contends that the HHS mandate “imposes a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion by coercing Plaintiffs to choose between conducting their business in accordance with their religious beliefs or paying substantial penalties to the government.”
Manion rejects criticism that opposition to the mandate somehow prohibits others from obtaining insurance coverage they desire.
“O’Brien and other people of faith aren’t looking to stand in the way of anybody’s access to anything,” said Manion. “They just don’t want the government forcing them to pay for services that go against their sincerely-held beliefs. The State of Missouri has its own ‘contraceptives mandate,’ but, unlike the Obama Administration’s Department of HHS, Missouri respects and protects those employers, like Frank O’Brien, with religious objections. There is no good reason why the federal government couldn’t — and shouldn’t – do the same. The Constitution, in fact, demands nothing less.”
The new Obama mandate that requires religious groups to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions for their employees could result in fines as much as $2,000 per employee or $100 each day if they refuse to comply.
Despite a vote in the Senate against overturning it, nation’s Catholic bishops and leading pro-life groups vow to continue fighting the Obama mandate that forces religious employers to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortion.
The mandate has already become the subject of several lawsuits.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen state attorneys general have signed onto a joint letter Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning started coordinating against the controversial Obama mandate requiring religious employers to cover birth control and drugs that can cause abortions
Bruning has contacted each of his colleagues in 49 states and has already been joined by a dozen, including South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Together, the three lawmakers have co-signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis over the Obama mandate.
Also, the largest Catholic pro-life group and Catholic television station have filed suit against the new Obama mandate that forces religious employers like them to pay for birth control and abortion-causing drugs in employee health insurance. The EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama against the Department of Health & Human Services, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies seeking to stop the imposition of the anti-conscience mandate as well as asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the mandate is unconstitutional.
Priests for Life, a New York based international pro-life organization of Catholic clergy and laity, filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration in an effort to seek injunctive relief from impending regulations that would require the organization to pay for employee health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.
The Obama administration asked a federal court to dismiss yet another lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over its mandate.
This was its first opportunity to explain to the court and the country why the mandate is not illegal and unconstitutional. The Obama administration did not defend the constitutionality of the mandate, but said the lawsuit should be thrown out because the administration plans to revise the mandate to make it on insurance companies to pay for coverage rather than employers, who will still have to make referrals.
“Plaintiff’s challenge to the preventive services coverage regulations is not fit for judicial review because defendants [Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] have indicated that they will propose and finalize changes to the regulations that are intended to accommodate plaintiff’s religious objections to providing contraception coverage,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote in its brief to the Washington, D.C. District Court.
Obama officials claim the mandate does not put forth any “immediate injury” to religious groups.
Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic university, says he thinks the Obama administrations argument will not stand up in court.
“It doesn’t argue that the mandate is legal; it doesn’t argue that the mandate is constitutional,” Goodrich said. “Instead, it begs the court to ignore the lawsuit because the government plans to change the mandate at some unspecified date in the future.”
“Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty “Its only hope is to ask the court to look the other way based on an empty promise to possibly change the rules in the future.”
The panel that put together the mandate has been condemned for only having pro-abortion members even though polling shows Americans are opposed to the mandate.
More than 50 members of Congress banded together at a press conference to demand legislation to stop the new mandate pro-abortion President Barack Obama put in place forcing religious employers to pay for insurance coverage including birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry held a press conference with supporters of the bipartisan, bicameral Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. His legislation would protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of every American who objects to being forced by the strong-arm of government to pay for drugs and procedures recently mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The Fortenberry bill currently has the support of approximately 220 Members of Congress and Senators, the most strongly-supported legislative remedy to the controversial HHS mandate. This measure would repeal the controversial mandate, amending the 2010 health care law to preserve conscience rights for religious institutions, health care providers, and small businesses who pay for health care coverage.
H.R. 1179 enjoys the endorsements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and other organizations. Numerous other organizations, including the Christian Medical Association and Family Research Council, have urged support of the bill.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a pro-life Missouri Republican, is putting forward the Blunt Amendment, #1520, again, and it is termed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. According to information provided to LifeNews from pro-life sources on Capitol Hill, the Blunt Amendment will be the first amendment voted on when the Senate returns to the transportation bill. The amendment would allow employers to decline coverage of services in conflict with religious beliefs.
Republicans are moving swiftly with legislation, amendments, and potential hearings on the mandatethe Obama administration has put in place that forces religious employers to pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying Obama’s revised mandate involves “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions” and it urged Congress to overturn the rule and promised a potential lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates had been taking verbal swings at Obama for imposing the original mandate on religious employers, which is not popular in the latest public opinion poll and which even some Democrats oppose.
Congressman Steve Scalise has led a bipartisan letter with 154 co-signers calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.
The original mandate was so egregious that even the normally reliably liberal and pro-abortion USA Today condemned it in an editorial titled, “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.”
The administration initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.
The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.
The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.