Second MN company gets court relief from HHS mandate

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | April 9, 2013 | 0 Comments

The owner of a St. Joseph, Minn., manufacturing company, who this winter filed the second Minnesota lawsuit challenging the HHS contraception mandate as a violation of religious liberty, was granted temporary relief in U.S. District Court last week from the federal requirement until a permanent decision is reached.

As a result of receiving a preliminary injunction, Deacon Gregory Hall, president and CEO of American Manufacturing Co. (AMC) and a Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was able to renew his company’s group health insurance plan without having to provide and pay for coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization required by the mandate, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More cases pending nationwide

Deacon Hall’s position as a member of the clergy has drawn more attention to the question of whether violating Church teaching by complying with the mandate presents a “substantial burden” on his faith, according to his attorneys. Not all for-profit companies have been so fortunate in obtaining relief.

While plaintiffs representing 53 businesses and non-profits nationwide await court decisions on whether they will be allowed to lawfully follow their consciences in leading their organizations, the changing health insurance climate is creating even more challenges for those seeking exemption from the mandate.

“These are very important cases and not only for the subject matter at hand, the HHS mandate, but also for religious freedom generally,” said Erick Kaardal, of Minneapolis-based Mohrman & Kaardal, P.A., one of the firms representing Deacon Hall. “We’re very excited about it. It’s such an important issue that I think the courts are going to be very deliberate on it.”

Unlike the first Minnesota case brought by local businessmen Stuart Lind and Tom Janas last fall in which Lind’s medical device company, Annex Medical, was granted a preliminary injunction on appeal, Deacon Hall received the injunction sooner from the lower court — a sign of progress, he said.

The reasons Deacon Hall obtained relatively quick temporary relief include the U.S. government’s decision not to contest the motion and the injunctions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit previously granted to Annex Medical and a Missouri firm, Kaardal said.

On behalf of AMC, which provided mining equipment for the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground, Deacon Hall negotiated exclusion of the contraceptive coverage with his insurance company, Medica, because of a stipulation in the lawsuit that the government would not penalize either the company or the insurer while the injunction is in effect.

Likely headed to high court

Despite also receiving temporary relief from the mandate, Annex Medical’s injunction didn’t include the same stipulation, and Lind hasn’t found a Minnesota group health plan that exempts the coverage. He said he is instead providing his employees non-ACA compliant private insurance that excludes contraceptives, sterilizations, abortifacients and abortions.

It’s likely the Supreme Court will take up the issue of the mandate and its effect on religious liberty when the lawsuits begin to be adjudicated, Kaardal said. Injunctions have been granted in 17 of the for-profit cases. Businesses must now comply, but non-profits won’t have to until August 1.

Deacon Hall’s position as a clergy member countered the court’s earlier argument that mandate compliance doesn’t create a “substantial burden” on his Catholic faith, said Thomas Mathews of the St. Cloud law firm Hughes Mathews, P.A., which also is representing Deacon Hall.

“I don’t know how you could be more substantially burdened than an ordained minister,” he said. “He preaches, he teaches moral theology, he teaches catechetical principles, and then owning a company [providing contraceptive coverage] that would be a violation of those principles.”

While Deacon Hall’s burden is the same as Lind’s and Janas’ it’s more explicit because of his vows, Kaardal said.

Facing the prospect of not living what he teaches, Deacon Hall said he had to contest the mandate. Winning the case has implications for everyone, not just his own 42 employees, he said, adding that more must be done to protect religious liberty.

“I don’t think we as people of faith and even people who don’t have any faith have really thought about having something foisted upon them, being forced to do something by rule of law that really violates deeply held beliefs,” he said. “This is a battle that I think we need to join to let people understand that, yes, we have to follow the law but the law also has to allow us to follow our conscience.”

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