By Tom Steward
Do you believe in miracles? Ask Greg Hall, whose company supplied technology and know-how that helped rescue 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months in 2010.
Almost as miraculous, Hall’s American Manufacturing Company just received a permanent federal exemption from provisions of the Affordable Care Act that contradict the Catholic deacon and businessman’s religious convictions.
“I’m very happy. Obviously, it was not a battle we wanted to join, but we felt we had to and so we did,” said Hall about his St. Joseph company. “We’re pleased that we’re able to continue to offer our employees medical insurance without the areas that violated our Catholic conscience.”
Christmas came early for seven Minnesota business owners, once faced with the dilemma of violating their religious convictions or paying massive fines to the Internal Revenue Service.
“The government, with respect to these companies, is permanently enjoined from enforcing or applying the HHS (Dept. of Health and Human Services) mandate against them,” said Erick Kaardal, a Twin Cities attorney who represents companies seeking relief. “So they can get insurance from Medica, the insurer providing the accommodation to the businesses, without the required coverages, including contraception, birth control, abortifacients, sterilization and related counseling.”
Under Obamacare, companies must include contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and elective sterilization in medical coverage for employees. Business owners faced with the dilemma of violating their religious convictions or paying massive fines to the IRS.
As a result, eight for-profit firms in Minnesota — more than any other state, Kaardal says — obtained a temporary injunction against forced compliance, buying time as a legal challenge headed to the Supreme Court.
“Plaintiffs base their challenge on their sincerely held religious belief that life begins at conception and certain of the FDA-approved contraceptive methods, such as emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, as well as certain intrauterine devices (“IUDs”), can destroy a human embryo,” according to court documents filed by Hastings Automotive owner Doug Erickson.
While the business owners objected to different provisions of the required coverage, all maintained the mandate violated their free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“We have to realize that we have to do what’s right, follow our conscience, even if it’s not easy and it’s not popular. That was the main thing we did,” Hall said in an interview.
The turning point came in June, when the high court ruled in the Hobby Lobby decision that “closely held corporations” could obtain an exemption from the mandate, based on owners’ religious objections.
Following the decision, HHS issued a 9,500-word-long proposed rule to allow some for-profit businesses “an accommodation with respect to coverage of certain preventive services.”
Companies with temporary injunctions already in place had a head start, already in line for the courts to grant permanent exemptions from the Obamacare mandate. All but one of the Minnesota firms’ cases was approved in time for the holidays.
“It’s what I believe and, frankly, it’s about a faith perspective,” said Erickson. “In my faith, I believe that we are called to stand up for what we see as truth. So I guess it’s the opportunity to stand up and be counted.”
“The Court’s ruling reaffirms the constitutional principle that every American is free to live and work according to their beliefs, without fear of punishment by their government,” said Jeremy Dys, a Liberty Institute attorney representing Erickson. “The government should never coerce faith-based, for-profit businessmen to violate their religious beliefs.”
Two more companies are on standby with Kaardal, monitoring how the process works for businesses that apply directly to HHS for an exemption, hoping to avoid the courts.
“It cost me tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t want to go into it more than that, but it cost me a whole lot of money and a lot time and a lot of effort,” said Hall. “But my wife and I had to sit down and realize that we were talking about money. It’s only gold, and where does your treasure lie? And our treasure lies in maintaining our moral values, as well as the teaching of our church.”