Judge Dismisses Suit: HHS Mandate No Threat to Religious Freedom

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 1, 2012   |   3:15PM   |   Washington, DC

In a decision in one of the dozens of lawsuits the pro-abortion HHS mandate faces, a Missouri federal district court rejected a legal challenge to the Obamacare mandate brought by a small business whose owner is a Catholic.

The lawsuit claimed the HHS mandate burdens their exercise of religion.

However, in a ruling issues late Friday, Judge Carol E. Jackson dismissed in its entirety the lawsuit against the mandate, saying the mandate does not constitute a substantial burden on religious freedom. Judge Jackson ruled against Frank O’Brien and O’Brien Industries and in favor of the Obama administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

According to the legal documents, O’Brien “tries to manage and operate OIH in a manner consistent with his religion” and said the mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act violates his constitutional First Amendment rights. The documents said O’Brien Holdings faces a choice between “complying with [the ACA’s] requirements in violation of their religious beliefs, or paying ruinous fines that would have a crippling impact on their ability to survive economically.”

Judge Jackson said O’Brien didn’t qualify for any of the narrow religious exemptions or the temporary “safe harbor” clause as it doesn’t quality as a “religious employer.” The company will be forced to select a new employee health plan before January 1, 2013.

Jackson wrote: “The challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives. The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by OIH’s plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.”

“[T]he health care plan will offend plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an OIH employee (or covered family member) makes an independent decision to use the plan to cover counseling related to or the purchase of contraceptives.   Already, OIH and Frank O’Brien pay salaries to their employees—money the employees may use to purchase contraceptives or to contribute to a religious organization. By comparison, the contribution to a health care plan has no more than a de minimus impact on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs than paying salaries and other benefits to employees,” Jackson added.



The judge also rejected arguments that the religious employer exemption violates the Establishment Clause by favoring organized religion over less formal manifestations of faith or by excessively entangling the government with religion in determining whether an organization qualifies for the exemption.

According to: Robert Vischer of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, “If this court is correct in its analysis, then HHS could rewrite the regulations, remove any exemption for religious employers and add abortion to the list of covered services.  The Catholic Church could be forced to pay for its employees’ abortions without creating a substantial burden on religious exercise.”

A court in Michigan heard another case on Friday.