In a major victory for religious freedom, a federal appeals court has blocked enforcement of the contraceptive and abortion drug mandate against a St. Louis business owner. A three-judge panel of the 8th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary injunction halting implementation of the law against O'Brien Industrial Holdings of St. Louis.
The company is owned by Frank O'Brien, a devout Catholic, who contends that the federal mandate violates his religious beliefs. The lawsuit alleges that the mandate violates the First Amendment's free exercise clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The action by the 8th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reverses for the time being a ruling by U.S District Judge Carol Jackson upholding the mandate.
The contraceptive and abortion drug mandate was issued by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It requires that every health insurance policy must include coverage without copays of all "contraceptives" approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This includes abortifacient drugs and
devices such as Ella and Plan B, often marketed as "emergency contraceptives."
Sebelius was given authority to issue the mandate as a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, regularly referred to as Obamacare. That law empowered the Director of Health and Human Services to determine what "preventative services" must be included in the basic benefits package of every health insurance policy offered and sold in the country.
"This order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government," says Francis Manion, senior counsel for the American Center
for Law and Justice, the law firm representing O'Brien Holdings in the case. "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."
The mission statement of O'Brien Industrial Holdings says that the company will be operated by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. "Our purpose is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society," the mission statement reads. A statue of Jesus Christ graces the company's main lobby.
Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt welcomed the appeals court decision. "This decision is yet another important victory as we fight to preserve the fundamental religious freedoms that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years. The court's action stops the Obama Administration from infringing on those fundamental freedoms."
Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder also cheered the 8th Circuit ruling. "This decision on behalf of this Missouri business owner is a victory for everyone who values religious freedom in this country. This onerous contraceptive mandate forces a Catholic business owner like Mr. O'Brien to provide healthcare coverage for contraception methods that many consider a form of abortion."
More than 30 lawsuits have been filed in federal court against the abortion drug edict, most of them by Catholic dioceses and Christian universities and ministries. Initial decisions at the federal district court level have been mixed. The injunction issued by the 8th Circuit is the first action by an appeals court on the ultimate fate of the contraceptive mandate.
In a recent favorable case, the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate against Tyndale House Publishers. The court concluded that Tyndale is a non-profit religious organization with a faith-oriented mission with a right to the free exercise of religion.
Tyndale House is the world's largest Christian publisher of Bibles, Christian books, and digital media. The company devotes over 96 percent of its profits to
non-profit religious causes around the world. Tyndale does not qualify for the narrow religious exemption contained in the contraceptive mandate because it is not a church.
"Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish," says Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. For the government to say that a Bible publisher is not religious is startling. It demonstrates how clearly the Obama Administration is willing to disregard the Constitution's protection of religious freedom to achieve certain political purposes."
In a recent unfavorable decision, a U.S District Court Judge in Oklahoma ruled that Hobby Lobby must include coverage of abortifacient drugs in its corporate health insurance plans. Hobby Lobby operates more
than 500 arts and crafts stores in 41 states, and is known for being closed on Sundays. The company is headed by David Green
, one of the nation's leading evangelical Christians.
In a frightening ruling, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled that religious exercise is a "purely personal" matter, and is not the province of a general business corporation. Judge Heaton claims that the actions and beliefs of owners of a general business corporation are separate and apart from the operations of the business, and that a corporation has no free exercise of religion.
Under the regulatory provisions of Obamacare, Hobby Lobby will face exceedingly punitive fines of $1.3 million per day, and $26 million per year for failing to comply with the contraceptive mandate.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says that the legal arguments of the Obama Administration are "shocking." "Justice Department attorneys are saying that when individuals start a 'secular' business they lose any right to run that business in accordance with their conscience. Business owners must simply leave their First Amendment rights at home when they go to work."
The U.S. Supreme Court has given some hope to opponents of the abortion drug mandate. Despite ruling earlier in the year against a multi-state challenge to the federal health care law, the High Court recently revived yet another legal challenge to Obamacare.
The Supreme Court instructed the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear an appeal filed by Liberty University against both the individual mandate and employer mandates contained in the law. Liberty University contends that those mandates violate the institution's right to religious freedom.