Friday, March 16, 2012

Private Business and Its Owner Challenge Contraceptive Coverage Mandate On Religious Freedom Grounds

The American Center for Law and Justice yesterday announced the filing of a federal lawsuit by a small business and its principal owner challenging on religious liberty grounds the Obama administration's mandate requiring health insurance policies to cover contraceptive services. Legal Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of plaintiffs, also issued a press release. The complaint (full text) in O'Brien v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (ED MO, filed 3/15/2012), alleges:
3. Plaintiff, Frank R. O’Brien Jr., is an adherent of the Catholic religion. As the individual with the controlling interest in Plaintiff, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC (“OIH”) and its subsidiaries, O’Brien wishes to conduct his business in a manner that does not violate the principle of his religious faith.
4. O’Brien has concluded that complying with the Mandate would require him to violate his religious beliefs because it would require him and/or the corporations he controls to pay for, not only contraception and sterilization, but also abortion, because certain drugs and devices such as the “morning-after pill,” “Plan B,” and “Ella” come within the Mandate’s and HRSA’s definition of “Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods” despite their known abortifacient mechanisms of action.
The complaint alleges violations of the 1st Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.  While several lawsuits have been filed by religiously affiliated non-profit organizations challenging the Affordable Health Care Act mandate (see prior posting), this is the first challenge by a private business.  The complaint says that the company's mission, as described on its website "is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society."

The lawsuit raises a number of complicated issues not directly addressed in the complaint.  These include whether business entities (here "limited liability companies") can have protected religious beliefs, and, if not, when are an individual owner's religious beliefs infringed by mandates placed on the business entity.