Catholic businessman’s suit to head to federal appeals court

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

A lawsuit filed by a Catholic St. Louis businessman that challenges the HHS health care mandate is being taken to a federal court of appeals.

On Sept. 28, U.S. District Judge Carole Jackson granted the Obama Administration motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a St. Louis businessman challenging the HHS health care mandate. However, the American Center for Law and Justice — the law firm representing Frank O'Brien and his business, O'Brien Industrial Holdings LLC — announced Oct. 1 that it will take the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

In its dismissal of the suit, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri noted that being forced to pay for health services contrary to an employer's religious beliefs was not a "substantial burden" on the employer's right to religious liberty, according to Francis Manion, senior legal counsel for the ACLJ.

In March, the ACLJ filed suit on behalf of O'Brien and his company against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The suit challenged the requirement that employers purchase health insurance for their employees, which includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. O'Brien is a member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood.

Employees who work at O'Brien Industrial Holdings on the near southside of St. Louis 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 O'Brien. It's just one of many ways in which the business has created a framework of Catholic values in the workplace.

Frank O'Brien serves as chairman O'Brien Industrial Holdings, a holding company that operates several businesses that explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials. The company faces a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline to have a new health care policy in place for O'Brien's 87 employees.

"This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff's religious exercise," Jackson wrote in her order.

"The court saw no difference between paying the salary of an employee who might use that salary to go out and buy things the boss objects to, and having the boss buy the objectionable things directly and hand them to the employee," Manion wrote in an Oct. 1 post on the ACLJ website.

Manion noted that cases that deal with the constitution are rarely decided at the district court level.

"The losing side almost always appeals to the Circuit Court of Appeals and, after that, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case," said Manion. He said he expected the appeals court to hear the case "within a matter of months." 

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