MN employers look to Supreme Court for ACA religious exemption

MORE CASES IN LINE: Attorney Erick Kaardal says more companies are lined up to file for the exemption based on sincere religious beliefs.

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

LORETTO, Minn. — Doug Doboszenski moves tons of dirt in his excavation business, but nothing like trying to move the mountain known as the federal government.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Doboszenki and Sons must provide health coverage in employee medical plans that contradicts the owners’ religious beliefs — or face thousands of dollars in Internal Revenue Service fines.

Doboszenski maintains the ACA violates his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act through the employer requirement to provide mandated contraceptive, abortion-inducing drugs and elective sterilization coverage.

“As a small business owner and just a regular citizen, you don’t feel you have that much control over this stuff. However, somebody has to do something about this,” Doboszenski said. “I don’t believe in the way the government is going. I don’t believe a company like ours should be forced to pay for things we don’t believe in.”

The suburban Twin Cities company filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, obtaining a temporary injunction against the HHS mandate last November in U.S. District Court.

Yet the family-owned enterprise may be running out of time. Its temporary exemption hinges on the outcome of two similar cases expected to be decided this month by the U.S. Supreme Court (Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby and Sibelius v. Conestoga Wood.)

“I have three things I was worried about in doing this lawsuit. How’s the IRS, and how’s the government, going to retaliate, that was first and foremost,” Doboszenski said. “Second, the last few years haven’t been kind to the construction industry and it took a $10,000 bill for lawyer fees to put this in place. Thirdly, there’s a possibility some employees will be happy and a possibility some will be upset about it.”

Altogether, Minnesota for-profit companies won eight out of 35 temporary injunctions obtained in federal courts by businesses across the country under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“I think of all the states, the most for-profit company cases have been brought in Minnesota,” said Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing seven companies that won temporary federal injunctions. “I attribute that to the vibrant Christian community here. We represent Catholic-owned businesses and also Protestant-owned businesses and they’re very upset that their religious liberties are being violated by the federal government in this way.”

Business owners may object to different parts of the required coverage, but all maintain the mandate violates their free exercise of religion.

“This isn’t about cost. We provide health care for our employees and we love to. We’ve done it forever and we continue to do it,” said Doug Erickson, who provides medical coverage for about 60 employees at two Twin Cities auto dealerships. “It’s really about a small piece of this bill and the fact that we don’t agree with some of the language of abortion-inducing medication or drugs.”

Even after obtaining a federal injunction, however, Erickson ran into another obstacle. Erickson’s attorney with the Liberty Institute, a national legal organization that defends religious liberty rights, said the businessman’s insurance provider expressed concerns about amending the company’s medical policy to reflect the exemption. Despite winning in federal court, Erickson’s company policy must continue to provide the mandated medical coverage he opposes for now.

“As of January 1 of this year, he’s had to provide those medications,” said Jeremy Dys, a Liberty Institute attorney representing Erickson. “He’s just hoping and praying that none of his employees are taking advantage of the ACA’s provision of these abortifacients right now.”

Other companies are also keeping a close watch as the current Supreme Court term winds to a close. Kaardal said several businesses are standing by to file injunctions from the ACA mandate on the grounds of sincere religious objections, depending on the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case.

The owner of a St. Joseph manufacturing plant with an ACA exemption underscored the gravity with which employers view the Supreme Court case.

“We didn’t want to take this course. It’s expensive, it’s been a lot of stress and strain,” said Gregory Hall, owner of American Manufacturing Company and an ordained deacon. “But I just hope our fellow Catholics and believers and even unbelievers will understand, that if we let the government force us to buy something that violates our conscience, where does that end?”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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