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Michael and Shaun Willis are the latest to file a lawsuit alleging the federal government has violated their constitutional right to religious freedom.
BY CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michael and Shaun Willis and their Michigan-based law firm filed a lawsuit seeking to have the HHS mandate declared a violation of the Constitution and of federal law over religious-liberty concerns.
“That our own government is knowingly displaying such a lack of tolerance for faithful Christians is outrageous,” Erin Mersino, a lawyer at the Thomas More Law Center, and the lead attorney on the case, stated July 24.
“The HHS mandate must be ruled unconstitutional or there will be no end to the federal government's intrusion on the religious liberties of Christians.”
Michael is Catholic and Shaun is Protestant. The brothers operate their firm in a way that reflects the teachings and values of the Christian faith. Both gravely object to providing abortion and abortion-causing drugs in their employees' insurance coverage, as required by the federal contraception mandate.
The mandate was issued under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and its final rules on religious accommodations, which were found unacceptable by the U.S. bishops, were released June 28.
The suit was filed in the U.S. district court for the District of Columbia July 24, and it lists the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor, as well as their departments, as defendants.
Because the mandate forces employers and individuals to violate their consciences and their religious beliefs, the suit argues that it is a violation of the Willises' rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The mandate … subverts the expression of plaintiffs’ religious beliefs” the suit argues, by forcing them to “fund, promote and assist others to acquire services which plaintiffs believe involve gravely immoral practices, including the destruction of innocent human life.”
The suit demonstrates that Willis Law is “formed by a mission of Christian service,” supporting several faith-based organizations and encouraging its employees to give a tithe of their time to providing pro-bono legal services to homeless persons.
The Willis brothers also established a foundation in memory of their brother Christopher, a Marine corporal who was killed in a car accident. The foundation provides college scholarships to the children of military parents who have been killed or disabled in combat.
Willis Law employees have received health insurance with a specially engineered policy which specifically excluded contraception, abortion and abortifacients, in keeping with the consciences of its owners.
The suit notes that the Obama administration has offered “highly selective” and “arbitrary” accommodations for conscience protection and religious belief.
It asserts that the defendants' actions have “intentionally used government power to force individuals to believe in, support and endorse the mandated services manifestly contrary to their own religious convictions, and then to act on that coerced belief, support or endorsement.”
They also argue that by forcing Willis Law to choose to offer no health insurance whatsoever, the mandate makes the firm “non-competitive,” as “other, non-Christian employers will be able to provide insurance to their employees under the Affordable Care Act without violating their religious beliefs.”
The suit asks that the court block the enforcement of the mandate. If it is enforced against Willis Law, the firm will suffer fines of $547,500 every year.
The firm is one of nearly 200 plaintiffs in at least 50 cases across the country that have filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.