Judge: HHS Mandate Not a Burden on Religious Freedom

A federal district court in Missouri dismissed in its entirety a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services’ HHS contraceptive mandate brought by a Catholic business owner, saying the mandate does not constitute a substantial burden on religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, ruled against Frank O’Brien and O’Brien Industries and in favor of the HHS’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

O’Brien is a Catholic who, according to court documents, “tries to manage and operate OIH in a manner consistent with his religion” and sought relief from the court, claiming that regulations promulgated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act violate his constitutional First Amendment rights. The federal government, on the other hand, requested that the judge dismiss the lawsuit.

The judge stated in her decision for the federal government that O’Brien Holdings didn’t qualify for any of the exemptions previously laid out by the Administration or the temporary “safe harbor” clause as it doesn’t quality as a “religious employer.” It will therefore be mandated to select a new employee health plan before January 1, 2013.

Court papers state that O’Brien Holdings faces a choice between “complying with [the ACA’s] requirements in violation of their religious beliefs, or paying ruinous fines that would have a crippling impact on their ability to survive economically.”

However, Judge Jackson wrote that the mandate does not constitute a substantial burden on religious exercise:

… the challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives. The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by OIH’s plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.

Robert Vischer of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota wrote about this decision at the Mirror of Justice blog, saying that, “if this court is correct in its analysis, then HHS could rewrite the regulations, remove any exemption for religious employers and add abortion to the list of covered services.  The Catholic Church could be forced to pay for its employees’ abortions without creating a substantial burden on religious exercise.”

The American Civil Liberties Union submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Matthew Archbold


Matthew Archbold is a contributing writer to Campus Notes and to National Catholic Register, as well as the co-founder of the popular website, Creative Minority Report.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • chaco

    Direct or indirect cooperation with evil- Hmmmm ? We all know if you throw a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump out. If you put it in warm water then turn up heat slowly, it will end up cooked without realizing it. This is how sexual promiscuity was indoctrinated into our Public school children. What’s the “Bottom-Line” ? ; God has a design. When that design is altered, He has an ultimate duty to restore it’s original integrity. He promised not to destroy things again on the scale of a World flood (see rainbow) but He didn’t promise not to cause some drastic correctional events. When the Ark of the Old Covenant/ 10 commandments was violated, people died (see 2 Sam. 6: 6). The Ark of The New Covenant; Mary/ Archetype of The Church is being violated, “Hold on to your Hats Folks!” – “Don’t lose Heart” (Jn 16: 33) – Don’t expect God to allow His design to be violated –
    and expect that many won’t get it; “…as in the days of Noah…” (Mt. 24: 37). Also, stay close to Mama; “The Woman (Mary/ Archetype of Church)…was protected…” (Rev. 12: 6)

  • caporasa

    Even prior to any religious question, why does the federal government think it can compel a private institution/company to provide a “service” from a third party against their will, period? This should be between the employer and employee, with the employee free to seek employment elsewhere if they don’t like the coverage provided.
    Secondly, should employers state that Jews and people of other faiths “need not apply” so that they constitute an institution that can be exempt from the mandate?– this is outrageous! The Catholic Church and any self identified Catholic institution by definition is universal and seeks to provide care to all.
    Finally, where does the federal government get off thinking that it is within their constitutional purview to define what a religious institution is? This is a clear overreach of government. The separation of church and state was meant to protect the church from government and not the other way around. How dare the federal government entangle themselves with internal church affairs?
    What next will be required of businesses in order to operate without penalty in the once free United States of America?!

  • uxordepp

    This represents a lack of separation between Church and state as much as anything does.