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.'
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"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.
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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.
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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."
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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:
- Larry Cirignano, president of Faithful Catholic Citizens: "Give up your religion or go bankrupt. This is not a mandate; it is an ultimatum. Buy insurance and kill babies or go bankrupt fighting us. Not all of us can afford lawyers to fight this 'mandate.'"
- Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate: "Aug. 1 will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away. A day when family owned small businesses were forced to abandon their religious beliefs to provide products and services for free. And if they don't, they will be taxed and fined at a time when job creators are struggling with enough costs and bureaucratic red-tape at every level of government just to stay in business. While the courts have provided a reprieve for one family business in Colorado, the government will never be able to repair the broken conscience of thousands of others until this mandate is removed."
- Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica: "August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation. The HHS mandate imposed on the American people is the beginning of the end of freedom as America has known it and loved it. August 1st marks the day when many family owned and operated businesses lose their rights to exercise their faith in their daily lives. The government has told them – either comply with this mandate in violation of your faith and do what we tell you, or you will pay crippling faith fines to the federal government. With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes."
- Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute: "The Obama administration's assault on religious liberty is taking root … Failure to comply with the mandate will result in penalties that could cost business millions of dollars. The administration clearly did not reach a much-vaunted 'accommodation' with business owners who strongly oppose the mandate and believe it is a clear violation of their constitutional protection of religious liberty. The HHS mandate forces business owners to choose between following their religious beliefs or obedience to the federal government. The Obama administration clearly believes the government is supreme and that individuals and businesses must bow to its dictates or suffer severe consequences. We know that Obamacare is wrong for America. The HHS anti-conscience mandate is clear evidence of why the law violates the most fundamental principles upon which our country is founded."
- Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition: "Confidence in the system and hope for religious liberty was mildly restored when a federal district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Barack Obama's health-care mandate from compelling a business to provide insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs. This is certainly a victory, but the fact that it only applies to one company means the federal government is still going to force millions of Americans to choose between having health insurance or their conscience and faith. With an administration intent on suppressing religious liberty, we can expect a historic turnout of voters of faith show up in November."
- Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America: "The only solution that has been provided to the majority of Americans is to stand up and fight for their religious rights by refusing to comply or battling in court. ... We must remember the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, 'All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.' To force religious groups to deny their deeply held convictions is not called balance; it is called tyranny."
- Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity: "Today as a result of this initial implementation of the HHS mandate, the relationship between the separation of church and state is critically changed. Americans can no longer follow their consciences or religious dictates on issues as critical as abortion-inducing drugs. Organizations such as Wheaton College, or businesses such as Weingartz Supply of Ann Arbor, Mich.,will be forced to violate their consciences. On this sad day Americans have no 'choice' in this matter."
- David Stevens, MD and CEO of the Christian Medical Association: "What will stop this administration, with its radical pro-abortion agenda, from further undermining conscience rights and pursuing policies that effectively force out of medicine physicians with life-honoring convictions? Who will keep government panels from effectively denying physicians and patients choice about what are the most effective and appropriate medicines, surgeries and treatments? We call on Congress to turn back this law's assault on our freedoms and restore American values and constitutional principles in health care."
- Paul E. Rondeau, executive director of American Life League: "History tragically teaches us that if our government can abolish one constitutional right, then all constitutional rights are put in jeopardy. This path sets a dangerous and foolish precedent that First Amendments rights such as freedom of speech, association, freedom of the press and the rights to assemble and petition the government may be just as easily curtailed in the future. We call on all citizens to tell their elected representatives that this erosion of rights must not stand."
- Kristin Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America: "Today marks the beginning of the end of religious and conscience rights in America. As an employer, I am forced to make a false choice between providing a vital service to my employees and violating my conscience and values. The abortion-pill mandate is an egregious attack upon my rights, as well as the rights of all people of values and faith in America."