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Feds admit Obamacare mandate 'a burden'

Attorneys fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate on behalf of a Missouri company say a court should issue an injunction preventing its application because the government already has determined that the mandate is a “burden” on religious rights.

“Indeed, defendant [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius herself has publicly acknowledged that the mandate raises religious concerns,” said a new court filing from the the American Center for Law and Justice.

“In a press release issued on Jan. 20, 2012, announcing the finalization of the mandate and the temporary safe harbor period for nonprofit entities that object to contraceptive services, defendant Sebelius opined that the temporary reprieve ‘strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services.’

“Subsequently, in a press release issued on July 31, 2012, Sebelius stated that ‘the Obama administration will continue to work with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that protects women’s health while making common-sense accommodations for values like religious liberty.'”

The legal brief, filed in U.S. District court for the Eastern District of Missouri, continued. “The defendants cannot make a straight-faced argument in this litigation that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious beliefs. Indeed, the defendants have postponed for a year the application of regulations that purportedly advance a compelling governmental interest solely because of the burden the defendants themselves recognize that these regulation impose on the exercise of religion.

“Clearly, nothing but a burden of a ‘substantial’ nature could justify such a postponement,” the brief said.

The injunction request was filed on behalf of Frank R. O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC, a company based in St. Louis. O’Brien is chairman of the company that explores, mines and processes raw materials, exporting to 40 nations.

Like others, the company faces a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline to have a new health care policy in place for 87 employees, or face possible fines and penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A federal judge in Denver recently granted such a motion for a Denver company, and in a Michigan dispute, the government itself agreed not to enforce its requirements until a court case there is finished.

“We’re asking the court to intervene right now because in a very short time our client, Frank O’Brien, will be faced with a choice no government has the right to impose on him: abandon his business, or abandon his beliefs,” said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel of the ACLJ, who is representing O’Brien.

“The HHS mandate is an unprecedented attack on the religious liberty of millions of Americans. It’s a clear violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. We are asking the court to intervene and enjoin the government from continuing to suppress the liberty of Frank O’Brien and his company to run their business in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.”

The motion seeks a judge’s decision now, to avoid what could be crippling ramifications for the company that could develop as its court case over the White House requirement that companies provide health coverage for contraceptives, including abortion pills and the like progresses.

A multitude of Christian organizations around the company have launched legal action, but as in the case of O’Brien, the process unlikely will come to a resolution before the White House starts enforcing the mandate. In fact, for most, the enforcement period already has begun.

“The same government that wants to coerce O’Brien into violating his beliefs is, at the same, exempting millions of other employers from complying with the mandate. This is not only unfair but unconstitutional as well,” Manion said.

“The government has no right to decide which religious believers are ‘religious’ enough to qualify for an exemption from the HHS mandate. Our constitution and laws do not give HHS Secretary Sebelius or any other official the power to start handing out ‘Seals of Government-Approved Godliness’,” he said.

O’Brien, a Catholic, says his religious beliefs provide the framework for the operation of his businesses. The company website states the 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.”

The ACLJ argument is simply that O’Brien should be allowed to run his business in a manner consistent with his religious values.

The original lawsuit was filed in March, but without a decision seen anytime soon, the law firm is requesting an injunction to maintain the present status while arguments are made.

The Michigan case is being pursued by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Weingartz Supply Co. and Legatus, the nation’s largest organization of top Catholic business leaders.

In the most recent filing there, attorneys for Weingartz said the Obama administration either doesn’t care about or doesn’t like Catholics so much it is forcing them to choose between their beliefs or the federal law,.

“The defendants offer numerous secular and even religious exemptions to the HHS mandate, but fail to offer the same respect to the Catholic beliefs of the plaintiffs – showing that defendants either care so little about those professing Catholic beliefs that they will not be bothered to address their concerns or showing that defendants are patently discriminating against and disrespecting those holding Catholic beliefs,” said the brief filed this week in support of a preliminary injunction that would protect the plaintiffs while the case moves through the courts,” the filing said.

In Denver, a case is making the same challenge. WND reported earlier when U.S. District Judge John J. Kane of Colorado granted a Christian-owned company a temporary injunction blocking Obamacare’s mandated coverage of sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs from being applied to the private business.

That mandate took effect nationwide Aug. 1, but Hercules Industries of Denver, a company that manufactures air conditioning products, filed suit against the government in April, arguing Obama’s mandate conflicts with the Christian faith of the business’ owners.

The government fought back, claiming Hercules is not a faith-based organization. It threatened the company, which employs 265 people, with millions of dollars in fines if it refused to comply.

In a radio interview with WND’s Greg Corombos, Hercules Vice President Andy Newland said, “We realized we had a choice nobody should really have to face. That’s the choice to do business according to our faith, which we think is really important, or pay onerous crippling fines. And nobody, we believe, should be forced to make that decision.”

There already have been several dozen lawsuits filed across the nation to stop the contraception mandate from applying to various businesses. Earlier, Wheaton College announced it had joined the Catholic University of America in filing suit before District of Columbia federal court. Other organizations filing similar lawsuits include the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and the Catholic University of America.

And leaders of of a multitude of religious-advocacy groups are warning of the Obamacare contraception mandate consequences for business owners of faith: