U.S. appeals court hears religious liberty case

Rep. Paul Wieland

Oral arguments were heard Sept. 8 in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis for a religious liberty case in which a family is seeking exemption from the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate. The mandate would require them to participate in group insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and birth control for their teenage and adult daughters.

The Thomas More Society is defending Missouri State Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, and his family in the case.

In November, attorneys filed for preliminary injunctive relief on behalf of the Wielands, contesting infringement on their First Amendment rights. The Wielands previously had obtained a health insurance plan that did not include abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives. But because of the Health and Human Services mandate, that plan was eliminated and, without their permission, the Wielands were transferred to another plan that is contrary to their Catholic faith.

"We liked our health care plan. We should be able to keep it," Teresa Wieland said in an earlier article in the Review. "It protected our religious beliefs and our rights as parents."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the recent Hobby Lobby case that for-profit employers can be exempt from following the HHS Mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their exercise of religious faith is substantially burdened when the government forces them to provide religiously objectionable insurance coverage for their employees. Paul and Teresa Wieland claim that their religious freedom, as individuals and as parents, should also be protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"The U.S. Supreme Court rightly honored the religious liberty of business owners by granting an exemption from providing abortion pill coverage to their employees," said Tim Belz, Thomas More Society special counsel from Clayton, in a statement. "As we argued this morning before the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, parents such as Paul and Teresa Wieland certainly deserve protection for their religious freedom, as well. The government has no business forcing parents to purchase coverage of abortion drugs and contraceptives for their family in violation of their religious beliefs."

Belz said the intention of the Founding Fathers was to protect people from government imposition into their religious convictions. "The particulars of Obamacare are now forcing our clients to participate in something they consider an intrinsic evil. The Wielands fervently believe abortifacients and abortion on demand do not constitute medicine or health care. Their religious faith defines abortion as the intentional destruction of innocent human life, and the Wielands believe that it is gravely immoral."

The Wielands are members of St. Joseph Parish in Imperial. Paul Wieland first served in the state legislature in 1994. He was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2012, and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. He and Teresa have three daughters, ages 13, 19 and 20.

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