U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. (AP Photo)
(CNSNews.com) - A conservative civil rights group has filed a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit
against the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of a Missouri business owner who says the HHS contraceptive mandate violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, requests a permanent injunction prohibiting the HHS from requiring those who have religious objections to abide by the mandate, which requires employers to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
The lawsuit marks the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate from a private business owner and his company. Until now, only religious organizations or institutions have brought lawsuits challenging the mandate.
Frank R. O'Brien, a Catholic, is the chairman of St.-Louis-based O'Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, which operates a number of businesses that explore, mine, and process refractory and ceramic raw materials.
O'Brien says his religious beliefs provide the framework for the operation of his businesses, which employ 87 people. The company website states the OIH mission "is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society."
A statement of the company's values begins with the following: "Integrity. Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone's personal belief system."
"The HHS mandate would require business people like our client to leave their religious beliefs at home every day as a condition of doing business in our society," said ACLJ's Francis J. Manion, who is representing O'Brien. "The HHS mandate tells people like Frank O'Brien that they have to choose between conducting their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, or conducting their business in a manner consistent with the government's values. The constitution does not allow the government to impose such a choice."
The lawsuit contends that the HHS mandate "imposes a substantial burden on Plaintiffs' free exercise of religion by coercing Plaintiffs to choose between conducting their business in accordance with their religious beliefs or paying substantial penalties to the government."
Manion rejects criticism that opposition to the mandate somehow prohibits others from obtaining the insurance coverage that suits them:
"O'Brien and other people of faith aren't looking to stand in the way of anybody's access to anything," said Manion. "They just don't want the government forcing them to pay for services that go against their sincerely-held beliefs."
Manion noted that the State of Missouri has its own 'contraceptives mandate,' but it allows exemptions for those with religious objectios: "There is no good reason why the federal government couldn't -- and shouldn't - do the same. The Constitution, in fact, demands nothing less," Manion said.
The lawsuit, posted here
, asks the court to declare that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The lawsuit names as defendants, the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Sebelius; the Department of the Treasury and Secretary Geithner; and the Department of Labor and Secretary Solis.