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Pro-Lifers Win First Appeals Court Victory Against HHS Mandate

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 11/28/12 8:41 PM

National

A federal appeals court today issued an order granting a motion for a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the implementation of the HHS mandate against a Missouri business owner.

The decision is the first occasion on which a pro-life plaintiff has secured a legal victory against the HHS mandate at the federal appeals court level. Most of the dozens of cases against the HHS mandate are still at the federal district court level.

The order, issued by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, puts the HHS mandate on hold pending the outcome of the appeals process, prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring the business owner, who contends the mandate violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, to comply with the mandate which requires employers to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization that focuses on constitutional law, represents Frank R. O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC — a holding company based in St. Louis, Missouri, which operates a number of businesses that explore, mine, and process refractory and ceramic raw materials.

“By granting our motion, the appeals court blocks the implementation of the HHS mandate and clears the way for our lawsuit to continue – a significant victory for our client,” said Francis Manion, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ. “The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government. We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O’Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government. We look forward to this case moving forward and securing the constitutional rights of our client.”

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.”

Brian Burch of the CatholicVote.org Legal Defense Fund commented to LifeNews on the decision: “The court’s decision yesterday evening protects our client from the ruinous fines used to coerce compliance with the unconstitutional mandate while our appeal proceeds. We remain confident that the court will eventually permanently enjoin enforcement of the mandate and restore the long-protected religious freedom of our client as well as others.”

“Frank O’Brien’s company is not an explicitly religious organization, yet his faith is not something he views as separate from his professional work. Christians do not check their faith at the church door on Sundays. They are called to live out their faith in all that they do,” continued Burch.

“The court was right to stop the HHS mandate while we challenge its constitutionality. The First Amendment clearly provides religious liberty protection for all Americans, including Frank O’Brien,” he said.

In October, a federal district court judge granted the Obama Administration’s Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit. The ACLJ immediately filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In an order issued today, the appeals court granted the ACLJ motion requesting an injunction pending an appeal.

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The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2012, marked the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate from a private business owner and his company. Until the suit was filed, only religious organizations or institutions brought lawsuits challenging the mandate.

In addition to the O’Brien case, the ACLJ has filed two other direct challenges to the HHS mandate and filed amicus briefs backing other challenges in more than a dozen cases.

The Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to take a new look at the controversial Obamacare law and whether it unconstitutionally forces taxpayers to fund abortions and birth control, violating religious freedoms. The high court is ultimately expected to resolve the debate over the HHS mandate.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, a federal district court judge in Chicago issued a preliminary injunction requested by the religious publisher Tyndale House in its challenge to the mandate. HHS has denied Tyndale House’s request for an exemption, saying that it didn’t meet the government’s definition of a “religious employer” because it operates as a “for-profit” business.

But while Tyndale House won an important victory, at the same time the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store chain, were losing their challenge to the HHS mandate in Oklahoma City. Like other challengers, they said that paying for such coverage violated their religious beliefs.