A new lawsuit has been filed by a Christian business owner who says the “compromise” from the Obama administration, which has claimed it is working with business owners of faith who object to Obamacare requirements to pay for abortifacients, does nothing to help him.
Dr. Stephen Briscoe is the owner of several businesses in Greeley, Colo., and other cities along the state’s Front Range. Collectively his businesses employ some 200 people. As an evangelical Christian, Briscoe says being forced to offer abortifacients and similar drugs would make him violate his conscience and faith.
Thus, he has sued, alleging violations of his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
While multiple lawsuits have been filed over the employer mandate in Obamacare, Briscoe’s case is unique in that it is the first filed since the administration announced last week it was addressing the concerns of religious employers in its requirements.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claimed officials were responding to concerns by religious employers over rules in Obamacare demanding businesses provide employees with health plans that covered abortion-inducing drugs as part of the contraception coverage required under Obamacare.
“The administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,” Sebelius said at the time.
The new proposal would permit religious groups that oppose abortion the ability to offer birth control, including abortifacients, through a “third party administrator” rather than offering it themselves. Employers would still be forced to provide their employees with the abortifacients.
Mike Norton, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Briscoe, said the new proposal does absolutely nothing for his client.
“What the administration came out with in its so-called Compromise No. 2 isn’t helpful to religious non-profits and doesn’t materially change the game rules,” Norton said. “It likewise has no effect on for-profit corporations or business entities that are owned and run by people who have religious convictions. The government takes the view that a for-profit business is a freestanding entity that essentially belongs to the government rather than the people who built it and run it.”
In 2011, HHS announced all employers would be required to provide birth control and sterilization coverage to their employees and that the coverage would cover drugs that cause abortions. When the rules were announced, HHS claimed it would provide a narrow exemption for religious institutions that met four requirements. An organization has to have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, primarily employ and serve persons who share its religious tenets, and be a recognized non-profit organization.
However, HHS was not able to commit to defining how it would define the phrase “share religious beliefs.”
When HHS was asked how narrowly they planned to interpret the requirement, such as would it require a Catholic hospital to hire and provide services to Catholics rather than Christians from other denominations, the agency was non-committal.
“The rule is the rule, I can’t break it down any more than what it actually says,” Keith Maley, a spokesman for HHS, said.
When pressed further, Maley said, “It is what it is and what it states. They are pretty specific regarding the language for what is required to qualify, but I just cannot define them further.”
Last year, president Obama held a press conference with Sebelius where he stated he would not force employers to pay for birth control and the abortion-inducing drugs, he would simply require all insurance providers to include the services as part of their basic level of services required under Obamacare.
Religious business owners immediately decried the move saying they were still being required to provide services that violate their conscience.
Since the mandate was issued by Sebelius, numerous lawsuits have been filed by business owners with most rulings going against Obama. Several judges including those at the appellate bench have ordered the government to not enforce the mandate.
Among the cases are:
- Wheaton College of Illinois and Belmont Abbey College – appeals judges required the administration to report back to it every 60 days beginning in February, until its promise for a new rule protecting the colleges religious freedom was in effect.
- Denver based Hercules Industries challenged the contraception and abortifacient demand and a judge prevented the government from forcing the requirement on the organization pending further court action.
- Francis A. Gilardi Jr. and Philip M. Gilardi, two brothers who own and control Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics. The two companies employ over 400 employees in the food industry. They say the HHS mandate violates their religious beliefs.
- Bible publisher Tyndale House successfully was able to have a judge block enforcement of the mandate. The government had argued the Bible publishing company, which donated most of its money to faith causes around the world, was not religious enough to qualify for an exemption.
- Hobby Lobby, a Christian owned company which is closed on Sundays is in the process of fighting the mandate. A recent appeal to the Supreme Court for an immediate injunction stopping HHS from enforcing the mandate on the company was turned down by Obama nomine Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Norton said it is obvious by HHS’s most recent position on the mandate that the Obama administration is continuing to ignore the First Amendment rights of Christian business owners.
“The administration’s position ranges from incompetency to intentional interference with religious liberties,” Norton said. “I don’t know where in that spectrum administration sits, but clearly the administration is not considering First Amendment protections or the exercise of religious freedom in this latest accommodation.”
Norton noted the administration is attempting to reframe the issue by claiming it supports freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion.
“The Obama administration has been trying to put a spin on the First Amendment by calling it freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion. What they mean by freedom of worship is that you are free to worship inside the confines of your church, synagogue or home but you cannot take your religion into the marketplace or the public forum. That is totally contrary to 400 years of religious liberty in American history.”
When the mandate was first issued, abortion activists decried any type or conscience exemptions for employers including churches and private business owners.
“The National Organization for Women said in an action alert that, “The federal government should not permit a solitary religious viewpoint to override good public health policy. Allowing certain faith-based organizations to avoid this statute is, in fact, promoting the private interests of a tiny religious minority. This exemption and all other refusal or conscience clauses infringe upon women’s constitutional right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion.”
Nancy Pelosi also criticized Christian organizations and individuals for wanting to exercise their conscience rights regarding abortion.
Pelosi said allowing Catholic hospitals to have conscience protections is akin to them saying “to a woman, ‘I’m sorry you could die’ if you don’t get an abortion.” Pelosi went on to say she is a devout Catholic and those who disagree with her on abortion “have this conscience thing.”
Norton said contrary to what pro-abortion supporters such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL claim, Christian business owners are not attempting to force their religious views on anybody.
“This issue is not about attempting to impose someone’s religious views on another person, rather it’s about people of faith being forced to violate their conscience with business owners being forced to provide abortion inducing drugs that go against their faith,” Norton said. “These types of drugs are readily available, and almost freely available through various state and federal programs. There are vending machines on college campuses and people pass these things out freely. It’s not an idea of imposing anyone’s religious views on anyone. It’s about whether the employers who built and run the business should be forced to violate their conscience.”