State business owners receive an out from HHS Mandate

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | December 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Decision might not extend to possible changes to federal requirement

Following Oklahoma craft retailer Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court victory last summer, nearly all of the business owners who brought legal challenges against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate have received permanent exemptions from having to provide and pay for abortifacients, sterilization, birth control, and related counseling in their employee health plans.

But they haven’t received a guarantee against future mandate amendments requiring them to violate their conscience.

In November, Deacon Gregory Hall, owner of a St. Joseph, Minn., mining supply company, became the latest to receive exemption from the requirement to include contraceptives in an employee health plan. The requirements for for-profit business owners and non-profits fall under the mandate that HHS introduced in 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Erick Kaardal of the Minneapolis-based firm Mohrman, Kaardal and Erickson, P.A., represented Hall and six other Minnesota company owners opposing the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. He said people should be proud of Christian business owners and what they accomplished in
the cases.

“I think with the leadership of Stuart Lind, Tom Janas (plaintiffs in the first Minnesota case brought in 2012) and Deacon Hall, we — Minnesota — became the state with the most for-profit [business] cases,” he said.

Deacon Hall, president and chief executive officer of American Manufacturing Co., received a permanent injunction from the mandate, as have at least five other challengers in the state. Lind and Janas’ case is still being decided in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston who lives in Houston, Deacon Hall said he is glad he can continue offering health insurance to his 40 employees without violating the teachings of the Catholic Church. He originally filed suit against the Obama administration in 2013 and then received a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court. His health insurance provider agreed to amend his policy to exclude the contraceptive coverage.

Deacon Hall’s company manufactures pumps and equipment used in drilling and mining. In 2010, it assisted in the rescue of 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine collapse.

In June, the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby Stores case decided that “closely held” companies may assert rights to oppose the mandate under a federal law protecting religious freedom.

While the Hobby Lobby decision has made it possible for business owners like Deacon Hall, as well as leaders of non-profits, to gain exemptions from the mandate on a case by case basis, the victory was narrow.

Last month, a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma interpreted that the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision doesn’t prohibit the government from adding new applications of the mandate that are contrary to Church teaching. If that happens, businesses and non-profits opposing such applications will have to start a new legal fight, Kaardal said.

Nationwide, owners and leaders representing 54 for-profit businesses and 49 non-profits have filed lawsuits against the mandate, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit public interest legal and educational institute protecting religious freedom. The Little Sisters of the Poor’s case is a class-action suit involving 400 non-profit ministries, which likely could reach the Supreme Court, said Emily Hardman, Becket Fund communications director.

Deacon Hall said opposing the mandate was difficult, but the Chilean mine rescue taught him that all things are possible with God. He encouraged other Catholic business owners to follow their conscience in challenging it.

“We need to preach the Gospel with words and deeds,” he said. “If we indeed believe those provisions of the ACA violate our faith, I think it calls us to action. I would just hope and pray that they would . . . file so they can get the same injunction, so they can continue to take care of their employees without violating their conscience.”

Court hears arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor appeal, two others

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