St. Louis business owner wins early victory in HHS mandate suit

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A federal appeals court has granted a preliminary injunction that would temporarily stop the HHS mandate from being implemented against a St. Louis Catholic business owner.

The order was issued Nov. 28 by a three-judge panel in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

In March, the American Center for Law and Justice filed suit on behalf of Frank 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 plans for their employees that include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. O'Brien is a member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood.

The order essentially prevents the HHS mandate from being implemented against O'Brien's business, pending the outcome of the appeals process. O'Brien is chairman of O'Brien Industrial Holdings, a holding company that operates several businesses that explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials. The company had faced a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline to have a new health care policy, which would include the provisions of the HHS mandate, in place for O'Brien's 87 employees.

Francis Manion, senior counsel for the ACLJ, called the decision "a significant victory."

"The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government," said Manion. "We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O'Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government. We look forward to this case moving forward and securing the constitutional rights of our client."

In late September, O'Brien's lawsuit was dismissed by a lower district court, which paved the way for the appeals process. Manion sad 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.

The lawsuit was the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate by a private business owner. The ACLJ also is representing another Missouri-based company in challenging the HHS mandate. That lawsuit was filed Oct. 19 in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mo., on behalf of Paul and Henry Griesedieck. The Griesediecks own and control four companies that generally deal with wholesale scrap metal recycling and manufacturing of recycling machines. Their companies include American Pulverizer and City Welding, both in St. Louis, Hustler Conveyor in O'Fallon and Springfield Iron and Metal in Springfield.

Meanwhile, other challenges to the HHS mandate are being addressed in courts. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the argument of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., that provisions of the Affordable Care Act infringe on the Christian school's religious freedom.

On Nov. 16, a Washington-based federal judge granted a temporary injunction against the HHS mandate in a suit brought by Tyndale House Publishers, an Illinois-based Christian publisher. Hobby Lobby, the largest company to file suit against the HHS mandate, was denied an injunction against the mandate in a decision earlier this month. The decision already has been appealed by lawyers representing the Christian-owned business.

In May, about 50 Catholic dioceses, including the Archdiocese of St. Louis, universities and Church entities throughout the United States filed lawsuits against the mandate. No decision has been made on the archdiocese's lawsuit, which includes Catholic Charities of St. Louis.

On Nov. 26, the Archdiocese of St. Louis filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief as an aid to O'Brien's suit in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the archdiocese set forth accurate Catholic teaching on the moral issues implicated by the HHS mandate.

"We hope that our amicus brief is helpful to the court as it was intended to be," said Tom Buckley, general counsel for the archdiocese.

Catholic News Service provided some information for this story.

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