ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Nov. 28 granted a Catholic business owner in Missouri an injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that he says violates his religious freedom by forcing him to provide insurance coverage for morally objectionable drugs and procedures.
“The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government,” said Francis Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.
The center is representing Frank O’Brien and his St. Louis-based business O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, which operates many businesses in ceramic materials exploration, mining and processing.
“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,” Manion said Nov. 28. “We look forward to this case moving forward and securing the constitutional rights of our client.”
The HHS mandate requires that most businesses with 50 or more employees provide the coverage as “preventive care” for women. Violators face fines of $100 per employee per day.
The injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit blocks the implementation of the mandate for O’Brien’s business. In October, a federal district judge had dismissed the lawsuit.
O’Brien’s 87-employee business was the first private business to challenge the mandate.
The company’s website states that its mission is “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society.” Its values statement stresses integrity in conduct “guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments,” while also pledging not to discriminate based on anyone’s beliefs.
O’Brien has created several programs to help employees purchase homes, fund their children’s college educations and save for retirement.
Missouri law mandates contraception coverage in employee health-care plans, but exempts employers with religious objections.
The federal mandate’s present religious exemption applies only to nonprofit organizations that primarily serve and employ people of the same religion and have the inculcation of religious values as their primary purpose. The exemption is so narrow that it may not apply to Catholic nonprofit employers like colleges, health-care systems and charities.
The Obama administration proposed a broader exemption in February, but its details are still unclear. President Obama’s re-election campaign attacked the Republican candidate Mitt Romney for supporting federal legislation that would secure a broader exemption.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the HHS mandate, representing 110-plus plaintiffs. Plaintiffs include Catholic dioceses, the University of Notre Dame and the EWTN Global Catholic Network (the Register's parent company) as well as Protestant organizations like the Virginia-based Liberty University and the Bible publisher Tyndale House Publishers.
They say the mandate violates their religious freedom, protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law, and forces them to provide coverage for drugs and procedures to which they have religious and moral objections.
The Christian-owned retailer Hobby Lobby is the largest private business to challenge the mandate on the grounds its owners object to providing abortion-causing drugs in their employee insurance plans.
The company is appealing a Nov. 20 federal court’s refusal of a request for a legal injunction against the mandate. The employer of more than 13,000 full-time employees could face $1.3 million in daily fines if it does not comply.