ACLJ Helps Small Business Take on HHS

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed the first lawsuit by a private business against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in opposition to the recently finalized HHS mandate requiring universal insurance coverage of contraception and certain abortion-inducing drugs.  While religious non-profit organizations have thus far been the focus of this First Amendment controversy, this case highlights religious liberty rights in the for-profit world.

ACLJ, a NRB Member, is representing Frank R. O'Brien, a Missouri businessman who heads O'Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC (OIH).  OIH employs 87 people in its operations of finding and processing refractory and ceramic raw materials.  OIH declares that its mission "is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society," and it offers a number of programs to aid its employees.  O’Brien, however, objects to the HHS mandate and, similar to many non-profit leaders, believes it violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.

ACLJ’s counsel, Francis J. Manion, stated, "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."  In a National Review Online article, Manion’s ACLJ colleague, David French, similarly declared, “Americans don’t shed their constitutional rights when they open a for-profit business…. Mr. O’Brien believes the First Amendment still applies to entrepreneurs.”

This storm was ignited in January when HHS announced its refusal to accept an adequate religious exemption to the universal contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act, dubbed by critics as "Obamacare.” While the Administration has indicated a supplemental rule is in the beginning stages of consideration, the current offending HHS regulation has been finalized and, once enforced, steep fines could be levied on non-compliant employers.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations