Under protection of Sacred Heart, Catholic businessman files suit against mandate

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Every day as employees come to work at O'Brien Industrial Holdings on the near southside of St. Louis, they pass by a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which sits in the corner of the lobby.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned to the business in 1992 at the hands of then-owner Nick Franchot, and remains today under the leadership of chairman Frank O'Brien. It's just one of many ways in which the business has created a framework of Catholic values in the workplace.

But the recent federal health care mandate, which will require businesses like O'Brien's to include full coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations, clearly goes against those values. That's why O'Brien, a member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood, filed a lawsuit against the federal government March 15 in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a pro-life Washington, D.C.-based law organization that focuses on U.S. constitutional law and human rights law and is representing O'Brien in the case, said the suit is the first of its kind in which a private business owner has challenged the federal mandate.

In the suit, O'Brien said the new federal regulations, adopted under the 2012 Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, "violate an employer's religious and moral values."

Francis J. Manion, senior counsel with the ACLJ, who is representing O'Brien, said that with the mandate being in the news the last several months, O'Brien took a closer look at his company's health plan through United Health Care and discovered, to his dismay, that the plan covered contraceptives.

O'Brien Industrial Holdings LLC is the holding company of the Christy family of companies, which explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials, with its products going to more than 40 countries. There are 87 employees.

"The fact of the matter is, most CEOs of companies don't really know exactly what's in their health plans — like most employees," said Manion. "The policy doesn't say we don't cover birth control. It just says we have a prescription drug benefit." Manion cited another example of an organization of women religious, who, up until two years ago didn't know that their health plan covered contraceptives.

"I think a lot of people are probably examining their policies in light of all of this recent coverage of this issue and are saying, 'Oops, I don't want that,'" said Manion.

Because the health plan isn't up for renewal until next January, O'Brien would have to wait to change the plan until then. But under the federal mandate, he won't be able to do that, said Manion.

The mission of O'Brien Industrial Holdings, according to its website, is "to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society," which is based on Scripture from the Book of Ephesians. The company also stresses that employees' conduct is to be guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.

The company also bases its values on enriching families and society. Examples include special benefits to its employees, including college scholarships for their children and a profit sharing bonus; and the St. Nicholas Fund, a company tithing program established in 2008 to help people in need.

Manion said he doesn't believe the federal government is going to voluntarily rescind the mandate, but rather it will be decided through the courts.

"We are really reasserting the right to religious liberty in these cases," said Manion. "It's amazing how little people think about that and how little they value that, compared to the founding fathers who put it into our Constitution.

"The government does not have the right to compel and coerce people to do this sort of thing that directly violates their religious beliefs," he said. "If the government thinks that universal access to contraception is so important, the government can provide that without coercing institutions or employers like Frank O'Brien who have objections to that." 

No votes yet