Court denies Catholic business owner’s request for relief from contraceptive mandate

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | January 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

Concluding that a government requirement that employers provide contraceptive, sterilization and abortifacient insurance coverage to their employees does not represent a “substantial burden” on local businessman Stuart Lind’s ability to practice his Catholic faith, a U.S. district court last week denied Lind and his medical device company immediate relief from the mandate.

The court also said it was denying the request because it concludes that the lawsuit Lind and another businessman filed last year over the mandate is not likely to succeed on its merits.

Lind and his company, Annex Medical, are appealing the decision in hopes that they can still be exempted from the HHS mandate (named for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is enforcing it as part of the Affordable Care Act) by the company’s Jan. 31 health insurance plan renewal deadline, according to attorney Erick Kaardal of the Minneapolis-based firm Mohrman & Kaardal, P.A.

Otherwise, Lind faces violating his conscience either by being forced to pay for the contraceptive coverage for his employees or by ending health insurance coverage altogether.

Motion tied to lawsuit

The motion for a preliminary injunction stems from the lawsuit Lind and Tom Janas filed against HHS and other federal government departments claiming that the mandate not only forces them to violate their constitutional right to free exercise of religion by going against Church teaching but also creates a competitive disadvantage if they don’t offer health insurance, said Kaardal who, with ActRight Legal Foundation of Indiana, is representing the two men in the case.

While waiting for an outcome on the lawsuit, Lind sought more immediate relief from the mandate’s requirement that for-profit businesses provide and pay for the contraceptive coverage or face substantial fines.

Because Lind, a parishioner at Holy Trinity/St. Augustine in South St. Paul, has fewer than 50 employees, the government doesn’t require his business to provide a health plan as it does larger companies. But he’s been unable to find a plan without the coverage because the mandate requires that all health plans include it. Dropping health insurance to avoid having to include the contraceptive coverage might result in Lind losing some of his 18 skilled employees, Kaardal said.

“We were disappointed but not surprised” at the court’s decision, he said. “I think that these religious freedom cases are always ones that cause some controversy and some disagreement and that also [in] the preliminary stage like this there’s even more opportunity for disagreement because it doesn’t even actually get to deciding the case.” Denial of the injunction does not mean the lawsuit will not succeed, Kaardal said.

Lind and Janas’ lawsuit is one of 43 filed throughout the country against the mandate representing hospitals, universities, businesses and schools, according to the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute protecting religious freedom that has represented a number of organizations opposing the mandate.

Because judges are not in agreement on the issue, it’s likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, Kaardal said.

The court’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 federal law seeking to prevent laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religion, doesn’t seem to protect the Catholic worker in the workplace, as it affirms that the mandate isn’t a substantial burden on the practice of the Catholic faith, Kaardal said.

The court’s conclusion that Lind and Janas’ lawsuit was unlikely to succeed on its merits has to do with the status of other similar cases around the country, he said. However, of the 14 for-profit plaintiffs that have obtained rulings touching on the merits of their claims against the mandate, 10 have secured injunctive relief against it, according to the Becket Fund.

“We interpret that as there is some wind in our sails and we’re on the right side of the issue, but we won’t know until these higher courts resolve the issue one way or another,” Kaardal said. “We’re confident that the cases are following our direction two to one.”

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