Geoffrey Surtees Geoffrey Surtees is an attorney with the ACLJ and specializes in religious civil liberties. Since joining the ACLJ as an attorney in 2001, Geoff has been active in a wide array of First Amendment cases. ACLJ Files HHS Mandate Amicus Brief with Supreme Court <p>Today, as announced <a href="" target="_self">here</a>, the ACLJ filed a friend of the court <a href=",-356-ACLJ-Amicus-BOM-(Hobby-Lobby-and-Conestoga)-RDCTD.pdf">brief</a> with the U.S. Supreme Court in the two HHS Mandate cases the Court agreed to review last <a href="" target="_self">November</a>: <em>Hobby Lobby</em> and <em>Conestoga Wood</em>.</p> <p>Almost two years ago, the ACLJ was the <a href="">first</a> group to file suit on behalf of a for-profit business against the Mandate.&nbsp; Since that time, the ACLJ has filed six other Mandate challenges and there are now over 45 for-profit cases pending in courts across the country.&nbsp; In each of our cases, we&rsquo;ve been able to secure preliminary relief for our clients.</p> <p>In the brief filed today -- submitted on behalf of the ACLJ, over 90,000 ACLJ supporters, and twenty-one family business owners -- we argue that the Mandate imposes a distinct legal injury on business owners who object to paying for abortifacient drugs in their companies&rsquo; health plans.&nbsp; Additionally, we argue that the Mandate substantially burdens these owners&rsquo; religious exercise as protected by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (&ldquo;RFRA&rdquo;).</p> <p>Since the beginning of the litigation against the Mandate, the government has been pursuing a &ldquo;heads, I win; tails, you lose&rdquo; argument.&nbsp; The government says that because for-profit corporations can&rsquo;t &ldquo;exercise religion,&rdquo; these corporations can&rsquo;t challenge the Mandate under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.&nbsp; And then, when it turns to the owners of the corporation (like the Hahn family in <em>Conestoga Wood</em> or the Green family in <em>Hobby Lobby</em>), the government says they can&rsquo;t challenge the Mandate either, because the Mandate doesn&rsquo;t apply to them personally -- only their companies.&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, according to the government, the Mandate is immune from religious freedom challenges brought by business owners and their businesses; and if they can&rsquo;t challenge the Mandate, no court can decide whether the Mandate can be lawfully applied to them.</p> <p>Absurd.</p> <p>In a cert <a href="" target="_self">petition</a> filed with the Court last November, we argued that not only can corporations act according to religious principles, but that the law should protect them when they do so.&nbsp; A business, for example, that does not open on Sundays for religious reasons should be able to challenge a law requiring a business to remain open seven days a week.</p> <p>In today&rsquo;s amicus brief, we argue that if for-profit corporations are not protected in their religious exercise, at least the owners of such corporations should be protected, and in these cases, it is clear that the Mandate forces them to manage their companies in violation of their religious beliefs.</p> <p>In the government&rsquo;s view, when people with religious convictions start and incorporate a business, they must necessarily operate that business as though they had no such convictions; they should leave their religious beliefs at home or at their place of worship.</p> <p>But for many business owners, like those who joined our amicus brief, this is a remarkably narrow view of the role religion plays in both their personal and professional lives.</p> <p>As we point out in the brief:</p> <blockquote> <p><em>Most, if not all, religious traditions teach that every dimension of one&rsquo;s life, whether personal or public, in the home or in the workplace, should be directed, first and foremost, by one&rsquo;s religious commitments. &nbsp;For such people of faith, religion is not a matter of mere taste, preference, or inclination that can be set aside or ignored when materially advantageous to do so. &nbsp;It is a fundamental and guiding principle that shapes how they think, act, and live their lives in the world.</em><br /> <em>This is no less true when it comes to business, whether working for a company or owning and controlling one. </em></p> </blockquote> <p>Though, technically speaking, the Mandate only applies to corporations that sponsor a group health plan, a corporation cannot comply with the Mandate without its owners or managers taking affirmative steps to implement the Mandate. &nbsp;Thus, in the case of family owned and operated businesses -- like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and the businesses owned by our clients -- the owners face a stark and unfair choice: abandon their beliefs in order to stay in business, or abandon their businesses in order to stay true to their beliefs.</p> <p>If this government-imposed choice doesn&rsquo;t substantially burden the religious exercise of business owners who object to the Mandate, it&rsquo;s difficult to imagine what would.</p> <p>As we write in today&rsquo;s brief:</p> <blockquote> <p><em>If, as the government argues, neither a family-owned corporation nor the family members themselves can challenge a regulation like the Mandate on RFRA or Free Exercise grounds, then such individuals will have no legal recourse or remedy when forced by the government to act against their religious conscience.&nbsp; They must necessarily kowtow, now and in the future, to any government edict that compels them to run their family business in violation of their religious beliefs.</em></p> <p><em>No constitutional principle permits this.&nbsp; Our country&rsquo;s longstanding respect for freedom of religion and conscience prohibits it.&nbsp; This Court cannot allow it.</em></p> </blockquote> <p>The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases will be argued on March 25, with a decision expected by the end of June. &nbsp;We are hopeful that the Court recognizes that citizens do not abandon their legal rights when they seek a livelihood through their family-owned businesses.</p> Tue, 28 Jan 2014 19:01:32 GMT SCOTUS Protects Religious Freedom, For Now <p>Today, the U.S. Supreme Court <a href="" target="_blank">granted</a> the Little Sisters of the Poor a critical and necessary injunction that allows them to adhere to their religious beliefs while their case against the HHS Mandate goes up on appeal.</p> <p>Here&rsquo;s some background: in late September, 2013, the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic Sisters who serve elderly people in need, filed suit against the government and its Mandate.&nbsp; The Sisters claim that requiring them to sign and submit a <a href="" target="_blank">&ldquo;self-certification&rdquo; form</a>, which would shift the responsibility of paying for the abortion-inducing drugs and devices to someone else, violates their religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment and federal law.</p> <p>As explained by David French <a href="" target="_self">here</a>, it is critical to note that the form at issue doesn&rsquo;t act as an exemption or an &ldquo;opt out.&rdquo;&nbsp; Rather, the form empowers a third party (such as an insurance carrier or third party administrator) to provide the very drugs and services to which the religious employer object.&nbsp; (This is the government&rsquo;s so-called &ldquo;accommodation&rdquo; of non-profit, religious organizations.)&nbsp;</p> <p>Founded upon and inspired by Catholic teachings and principles, the Little Sisters not only believe that abortion, contraception, and sterilization are wrong, they believe they cannot take any affirmative steps that would facilitate the use of such drugs and services.&nbsp; Thus, according to the Little Sisters, executing the self-certification form, which would directly authorize the provision of abortion and contraceptive services to which they object, makes them materially complicit in wrong-doing, forcing them to contradict their deeply held religious beliefs.</p> <p>Without any judicial relief, the Little Sisters would have faced a stark choice on January 1, 2014, the day the Mandate would have applied to their health plan: (a) sign and submit the form, thereby violating their religious beliefs; or (b) refuse to sign the form and pay crippling penalties.&nbsp; (If the Little Sisters and the nearly 500 Catholic non-profit ministries which provide benefits through the Christian Brothers Trust fail to comply with the Mandate, they collectively face fines exceeding $1.1 million for <em>every day</em> they do not comply, fines that would exceed $400 million over the course of just one year.)</p> <p>On December 27, just four days before the full measure of the Mandate would fall on them, the district court in Colorado denied the Little Sisters a preliminary injunction, holding that signing the government form would not substantially burden their religious exercise.&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Little Sisters filed an emergency motion with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking for the injunctive relief that the district court refused to give them, the court of appeals also denied them any remedy.</p> <p>The Little Sisters then had no alternative but to seek immediate and emergency relief from Justice Sotomayor, the justice assigned to handling such motions arising out of the Tenth Circuit.</p> <p>On New Year&rsquo;s Eve, the night before the Little Sisters would have been to put to the choice of signing away their religious freedom or paying exorbitant fines to exercise that freedom, Justice Sotomayor gave the Little Sisters a <a href="" target="_blank">temporary reprieve</a>, ordering the government to respond to their motion three days later.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">government did so</a>, the Little Sisters <a href="" target="_blank">replied</a>, and now the Supreme Court has spoken.</p> <p>Upon Justice Sotomayor&rsquo;s referral of the Little Sisters&rsquo; motion to the entire court, it ruled that while the Little Sisters&rsquo; appeal moves its way through the appeals process, the Sisters will be permitted to do what they have always done: provide a health plan for their employees consistent with their religious beliefs.&nbsp; They need only, according to the Court, inform HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, in writing that &ldquo;they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.&rdquo;&nbsp; That&rsquo;s it.&nbsp; They do not have to sign and submit the government form that would authorize the drugs and services to which they are religiously opposed; nor do they have to provide their written statement to any health plan administrator.</p> <p>While today&rsquo;s decision is not a ruling on the final merits of the Little Sisters&rsquo; case (the Court&rsquo;s order stresses this fact), it&rsquo;s a positive sign that the Court is taking this issue, an issue of enormous consequence for religious freedom in this country, very seriously.</p> <p>Only a few years ago, no one would have imagined that the federal government would ever seek to force a congregation of Catholic sisters, whose mission is to serve the Lord by serving the needy and elderly, to violate their religious beliefs.</p> <p>Sadly, and ashamedly, the government is now trying to do just that.&nbsp; And while today&rsquo;s decision marks a loss for the government, the fight is far from over.&nbsp; We must work tirelessly to see that the government ultimately loses in this unconstitutional and ideologically driven agenda; an agenda that shows little respect indeed for the rights of religious freedom and conscience.</p> Fri, 24 Jan 2014 23:33:00 GMT Protecting Religious Freedom: The Obama Administration vs. The Founders <p>While Justice Sotomayor considers the <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="" target="_self">emergency motion</a></span> filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, which would allow them to adhere to their religious beliefs while their case goes up on appeal, we should stop to consider a few remarks from our Founders on the importance of religious freedom.</p> <p>In 1789, one year after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, President George Washington wrote a letter to the United Baptists in Virginia stating, in no uncertain terms, that religious freedom must always be preserved and protected:</p> <p><em>If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.</em></p> <p>As Washington said elsewhere, &ldquo;the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive that induced me to the field of battle.&rdquo;</p> <p>Fourteen years later, soon after the Louisiana Territory was acquired by the United States in 1803, the French Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans wrote to President Thomas Jefferson seeking assurances that &ldquo;the spirit of justice which characterizes the United States of America&rdquo; would allow them to continue their spiritual and corporal works of mercy.</p> <p>Thomas Jefferson replied that &ldquo;the principles of the Constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee [that your religious institution] will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. . . .&rdquo; Jefferson concluded his letter by assuring the sisters that their religious institution would receive &ldquo;all the protection which my office can give it.&rdquo;</p> <p>James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, opined that &ldquo;Conscience is the most sacred of all property&rdquo; and that man &ldquo;has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.&rdquo; Religion, Madison wrote, is &ldquo;precedent&rdquo; to &ldquo;the claims of Civil Society.&rdquo;</p> <p>Even before these statements by Washington, Jefferson, and Madison -- in fact, even before the Declaration of Independence in 1776 -- the Continental Congress passed a resolution in 1775 granting exemptions from military conscription to those with pacifist religious convictions:</p> <p><em>As there are some people, who, from religious principles, cannot bear arms in any case, this Congress intend no violence to their consciences, but earnestly recommend it to them, to contribute liberally in this time of universal calamity, to the relief of their distressed brethren in the several colonies, and to do all other services to their oppressed Country, which they can consistently with their religious principles.</em></p> <p>Thus, even when the country was in dire need of citizens to take up arms to fight for independence, our forefathers knew that conscience is inviolable and must be honored. They understood that to conscript men into military service against their conscience would have undermined the very cause of liberty to which they pledged their lives, property, and sacred honor.</p> <p>Now, take these principles and compare them to the actions of the current administration, which has often treated religious exercise as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a fundamental freedom to be protected. Which better grasps the importance of religious freedom: the Obama administration or the Founders? Which demonstrates an undying commitment to preserving and protecting religious freedom: the Obama administration or the Founders? Most fundamentally, whose vision of religious freedom should guide our nation, now and in the future?</p> <p>Finally, if the first right recognized in the Bill of Rights becomes viewed as too outmoded and antiquated to protect in modern America, which other rights will be discarded next?</p> Fri, 03 Jan 2014 19:50:00 GMT SCOTUS Agrees to Hear HHS Mandate Challenges <p>On June 28, 2012, in one of its most consequential and controversial decisions ever, <em><a href="" target="_self">NFIB v. Sebelius</a></em>, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act&rsquo;s &ldquo;Individual Mandate.&rdquo;&nbsp; In her partial concurrence and dissent in that decision, Justice Ginsburg observed:</p> <p><em>A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly . . . interfered with the free exercise of religion.</em></p> <p>As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, Justice Ginsburg&rsquo;s example is no longer a speculative one.&nbsp; Today, the high court <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> it will decide whether the government mandate that requires employers to purchase and provide abortifcacient drugs in an employee health plan (the HHS Mandate) impermissibly interferes with the free exercise of religion.</p> <p>The two cases by which the Court will decide this issue are <em>Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius</em> and <em>Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius</em>.&nbsp; In <em>Hobby Lobby</em>, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a resounding victory for religious freedom.&nbsp; (The ACLJ filed an <a href="" target="_self">amicus brief</a> in support of Hobby Lobby at the Tenth Circuit.)&nbsp; The court held, against the strenuous arguments by the Department of Justice to the contrary, that Hobby Lobby and Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain, are &ldquo;persons&rdquo; protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.&nbsp; (This federal statute, often abbreviated as &ldquo;RFRA,&rdquo; requires a federal law or regulation, like the HHS Mandate, to survive strict scrutiny if it substantially burdens a person&rsquo;s exercise of religion.)&nbsp; The Tenth Circuit further held that government&rsquo;s interest in imposing the Mandate on objecting employers like Hobby Lobby &ldquo;cannot be compelling because the contraceptive-coverage requirement presently does not apply to tens of millions of people.&rdquo;</p> <p>In <em>Conestoga Wood</em>, the Third Circuit arrived at a completely different (and wrong) result.&nbsp; That court held that <em>neither</em> the corporation (a woodworking business in Pennsylvania) <em>nor</em> its Mennonite owners could challenge the Mandate.&nbsp; The court said that the Mandate doesn&rsquo;t require the owners to do anything in violation of their religious beliefs and that a for-profit corporation has no rights of religious freedom at all.</p> <p>In these two cases, the Supreme Court will be able to address and settle -- once and for all -- the various issues over which the lower courts have disagreed: whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by the Mandate?&nbsp; The corporation&rsquo;s?&nbsp; Its owners&rsquo;? &nbsp;Does the Mandate serve a compelling governmental interest? &nbsp;If so, has the government used the least restrictive means of further that interest? &nbsp;In sum, does the Mandate impermissibly burden the religious exercise of businesses and their owners who conscientiously object to providing the required drugs and services?</p> <p>With today&rsquo;s decision, it is most likely that other cert petitions challenging the legality of the Mandate, like the <a href="" target="_self">ACLJ&rsquo;s</a>, will be held by the Court pending its decision in <em>Hobby Lobby</em> and <em>Conestoga Wood</em>.</p> <p>Our work, however, is not done.&nbsp; The ACLJ will submit amicus briefing to the Court arguing what we have been arguing from day one: that the federal government cannot conscript private citizens into kowtowing to a government edict that violates their religious beliefs.&nbsp; We will keep you posted as these momentous cases move forward at the high court.</p> Tue, 26 Nov 2013 19:50:00 GMT HHS Mandate Challenge: Deciding Which Case(s) to Decide <p>Next Tuesday, November 26, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will confer about a number of cert petitions that have been briefed and filed with the Court over the past few months.&nbsp; (A <a href="" target="_blank">cert petition</a>, formally called a &ldquo;Petition for Writ of Certiorari,&rdquo; is a request that the Supreme Court review the decision of a lower court.)</p> <p>Among the petitions the Court will confer about next week are three that directly involve the HHS Mandate (the government edict that non-exempt employers provide abortifacient drugs and contraceptives in health plans, regardless of whether they have a religious objection to doing so, or pay ruinous penalties): <em>Hobby Lobby</em>, <em>Autocam</em>, and <em>Conestoga Wood Specialties</em>.&nbsp; (The ACLJ filed <a href="" target="_self">amicus briefs</a> in support of Hobby Lobby and Autocam in the courts of appeal, and filed an <a href="" target="_self">amicus brief</a> in support of Autocam&rsquo;s cert petition on behalf of twenty-one family business owners.)</p> <p>There are a number of decisions the Court could make next Tuesday regarding these petitions: (1) it can <em>deny</em> all three petitions and let the decisions of the lower courts stand (hardly likely); (2) it can decide to <em>grant</em> one or more of the petitions; (3) it can <em>wait</em> to decide pending further deliberation; or (4) <em>wait</em> to decide until other petitions involving the HHS Mandate (including <a href="" target="_self">one filed by the ACLJ</a>) have been fully briefed.</p> <p>No matter when the Court rules on these petitions, there is little doubt that it will ultimately grant at least one of them.</p> <p>One of the most important <a href="" target="_blank">factors</a> the Court uses to decide whether to grant a cert petition is whether lower courts are divided over an issue of great legal importance.</p> <p>In the case of the HHS Mandate litigation (which currently adds up to over 40 cases involving challenges brought by for-profit employers), the lower courts are very much divided on whose religious exercise, if anyone&rsquo;s, is substantially burdened by the Mandate:&nbsp;</p> <p>The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held in <em><a href="" target="_self">Gilardi</a></em> (an ACLJ case) that religious owners are substantially burdened by the Mandate, but not their businesses.</p> <p>The Third Circuit held in <em>Conestoga Wood</em> that the Mandate doesn&rsquo;t substantially burden the owners or their business.</p> <p>The Sixth Circuit (like the Third Circuit) held in <em>Autocam</em> that that neither the owners nor the businesses are burdened by the Mandate.</p> <p>The Seventh Circuit (unlike any other court of appeals to rule so far), held in <em><a href="" target="_self">Korte</a></em> (another ACLJ case) that the Mandate substantially burdens <em>both</em> the religious owners <em>and</em> their business.</p> <p>The Tenth Circuit held in <em><a href="" target="_self">Hobby Lobby</a></em> that the Mandate burdens the corporation but did not decide whether the Mandate burdens the owners.</p> <p>Sound confusing?&nbsp; Well, it is.&nbsp; And this is why few doubt that the Supreme Court will decide, perhaps next week, to intervene in at least one of these cases.</p> <p>As we pointed out in the <em><a href="" target="_blank">Gilardi cert petition</a></em> filed with the Supreme Court earlier this month:</p> <p><em>Clearly, the lower courts are at odds with one another as to who has standing to challenge the Mandate, whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by the Mandate, and whether a secular or for-profit corporation has any religious exercise rights at all. &nbsp;Given these conflicting decisions, and the fact that the Mandate impacts the exercise of a fundamental liberty protected by the First Amendment, there cannot be a more compelling case or controversy warranting this Court&rsquo;s intervention. </em></p> <p>No matter when the Supreme Court makes its decision, either next week or in the weeks soon after, we&rsquo;ll let you know when that decision comes down.</p> Wed, 20 Nov 2013 20:39:00 GMT Taking the Abortion-Pill Mandate to the Supreme Court <p>Today, as announced <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, the ACLJ has taken a challenge to the HHS Mandate directly to the United States Supreme Court.&nbsp; Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often referred to as the second most powerful court in the land, <a href="" target="_self">ruled in our Mandate case</a> brought on behalf of Frank and Phil Gilardi and the two companies they own and control, Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics.&nbsp; Like our other clients for whom we have filed suit and obtained preliminary injunctive relief in six other cases, the Gilardis cannot in good conscience comply with what the Mandate requires of their companies: to pay for and provide in a health plan drugs and services to which they religiously object.</p> <p>In last week&rsquo;s opinion, the court of appeals could not have been clearer regarding the effect of the Mandate on the Gilardi brothers&rsquo; religious freedom: it &ldquo;trammels the right of free exercise&mdash;a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties.&rdquo;&nbsp; In addressing whether the Mandate satisfied what is called &ldquo;strict scrutiny,&rdquo; defined by the Supreme Court as &ldquo;the most demanding test known to constitutional law,&rdquo; the court of appeals was equally clear: the Mandate does not serve a compelling governmental interest (the court called the government&rsquo;s arguments on this score, &ldquo;sketchy and abstract&rdquo;) and it is not the least restrictive means of achieving the government&rsquo;s alleged interests (the court called the government&rsquo;s arguments here, flawed and &ldquo;self-defeating&rdquo;).</p> <p>Based on these holdings, amounting to an unquestionable legal victory for business owners who want to manage their companies consistent with their religious beliefs, the court reversed the decision of the trial court that denied the Gilardis a preliminary injunction.</p> <p>Though the court of appeals vindicated the religious rights of Frank and Phil Gilardi individually, it declined to our accept our argument that the Freshway Companies <em>themselves</em> have a right to challenge the Mandate on religious freedom grounds.&nbsp; The court said it had &ldquo;no basis for concluding a secular organization can exercise religion.&rdquo;</p> <p>We respectfully disagree. &nbsp;While it is true that the Supreme Court has never explicitly held that a &ldquo;secular&rdquo; corporation has a right to operate under binding religious norms, it is equally true that the Supreme Court has never <em>rejected</em> that argument either.&nbsp; Moreover, as explained in the petition, what the Court <em>has held</em> regarding the exercise of religion in the corporate form and in the commercial context amply supports the idea that, whether labeled as &ldquo;secular&rdquo; or &ldquo;religious,&rdquo; &ldquo;for-profit&rdquo; or &ldquo;non-profit,&rdquo; corporations have the right to hold religious principles and to act upon them.&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the Supreme Court has made clear that <em>all</em> corporations -- no matter their mission, nature, or purpose -- are protected by the First Amendment when engaging in free speech activity.&nbsp;</p> <p>To restrict religious freedoms only to &ldquo;secular&rdquo; corporations would mean that though such a corporation is free to <em>speak</em> on issues of religious concern, any decision to <em>act</em> on those concerns is wholly unprotected.&nbsp; It would mean that though the Freshway Companies have a First Amendment right to display signs on their delivery trucks stating, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not a choice, it&rsquo;s a child,&rdquo; they do not have a right to act upon this belief by excluding abortifacient drugs in their health plan.</p> <p>Such a result would rank religious freedom secondary to free speech, even though the First Amendment <a href="" target="_blank">provides</a> for the free exercise of religion before naming the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and petition.</p> <p>What&rsquo;s interesting to note about the D.C. Circuit&rsquo;s opinion is that though it refused to extend free exercise rights to what it called &ldquo;secular&rdquo; corporations, the court openly opined that the Supreme Court might eventually think differently -- perhaps in this very case.&nbsp; Judge Janice Rogers Brown, writing for the court, stated that though the Supreme Court &ldquo;has never seriously considered such a claim by a secular corporation or other organizational entity [this] is not to say it never will.&rdquo;</p> <p><a href="" target="_self">Over two years ago</a>, well before the onslaught of litigation against the Mandate, the ACLJ submitted <a href="" target="_blank">formal comments</a> to the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tennessee.&nbsp; We told HHS that the Mandate imposed a stark choice upon the religious order: &ldquo;Obey Caesar, or Obey Christ.&rdquo;&nbsp; In a country dedicated to religious liberty, that is a choice the government may not lawfully require any person or group to make.</p> <p><a href="" target="_self">Six months later</a>, we filed suit on behalf of Frank O&rsquo;Brien and his business, O&rsquo;Brien Industrial Holdings, the first for-profit employer to challenge the Mandate.&nbsp; Like the Catholic religious sisters, O&rsquo;Brien faced a <a href="" target="_blank">Hobson&rsquo;s choice</a>: abandon his beliefs in order to stay in business, or abandon his business in order to stay true to his beliefs.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since filing O&rsquo;Brien&rsquo;s complaint in a Missouri federal court, the ACLJ has filed suit in other jurisdictions on behalf of other employers with one goal in mind: to secure, once and for all, the rights of businesses and their owners to practice their trade consistent with religious principles and beliefs.&nbsp; So far, we have obtained preliminary relief against the Mandate <a href="" target="_self">in all our cases</a>, and we still wait for decisions from the Seventh and Eighth Circuits in the <em><a href="" target="_self">O&rsquo;Brien</a></em> and <em><a href="" target="_self">Korte</a></em> cases.</p> <p>Today, after a year and half of litigating in the lower courts, representing thirty-two business owners and their corporations, we have reached the high court asking it to rule upon issues of the highest importance.&nbsp; Whether the Court will grant our petition and agree to hear the merits of our case remains to be seen.&nbsp; No matter, however, which Mandate challenge the Court ultimately chooses to consider (three others are currently pending), we will do our utmost to persuade the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the supreme freedom upon which this country was founded: the right to religious exercise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 21:03:56 GMT ACLJ Files Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in HHS Mandate Challenge <p>Today, the ACLJ filed an <a href="" target="_blank">amicus brief</a> with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a family-owned business challenging the HHS Mandate -- the federal regulation requiring non-exempt employers to pay for and provide abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization in employee health plans, or pay ruinous financial penalties.&nbsp; The case is <em>Autocam v. Sebelius</em>.</p> <p>Our brief supports the <a href="" target="_blank">petition</a> of the Kennedy family and the <a href="" target="_blank">companies</a> they own and control that asks the Supreme Court to review their challenge against the Mandate under the <a href="" target="_blank">Religious Freedom Restoration Act</a> (&ldquo;RFRA&rdquo;).&nbsp;</p> <p>Like other employers who oppose the Mandate, including employers represented by the ACLJ, the Kennedys simply wish to manage their businesses in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs -- hardly a novel concept.&nbsp; As we point out in the brief:</p> <blockquote> <p>Most, if not all, religious traditions teach that every dimension of one&rsquo;s life, whether personal or public, in the home or in the workplace, should be lived in a manner consistent with one&rsquo;s religious beliefs. For such people of faith, religion is not a matter of mere taste, preference, or inclination that can be set aside or ignored when materially advantageous to do so. It is a fundamental and guiding principle that shapes how they think, act, and live their lives in the world.</p> <p>This is no less true when it comes to business, whether working for a company or owning and controlling one.</p> </blockquote> <p>The religious beliefs at stake here are clear.&nbsp; As Catholics, the Kennedys believe that abortion, contraception, and sterilization are wrong, and that to pay for and provide such drugs and services in an employee health plan is unconscionable.&nbsp; The issue for the Kennedys, as well as other objecting employers, is not the right to interfere with anyone&rsquo;s private choices, it&rsquo;s the right not to be conscripted by the federal government into taking actions in violation of one&rsquo;s religious beliefs and conscience.</p> <p>After the district court refused to give the Kennedys a preliminary injunction so they could adhere to their religious beliefs during the pendency of their case, the family appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.&nbsp; (We filed an amicus brief in support of the Kennedys and their companies at this <a href="" target="_self">stage</a> as well.)</p> <p>The appeals court <a href="" target="_blank">affirmed</a> the decision of the trial court and, in doing so, concocted a &ldquo;win-win&rdquo; proposition for the government, where neither the corporation nor the owners of that corporation can challenge the Mandate under RFRA.&nbsp; The <em>owners</em> cannot bring the RFRA claim, according to the Sixth Circuit, because the owners are legally distinct from the corporation and are unharmed by the Mandate; and the <em>corporation</em> itself cannot bring the claim, because a corporation cannot exercise religion under RFRA.&nbsp; In other words, &ldquo;heads, the government wins; tails, everyone else loses.&rdquo;</p> <p>As we point out in the brief, this line of logic, left undisturbed, will lead to disastrous consequences for religious freedom in this country:</p> <blockquote> <p>. . . a shop owned by Seventh Day Adventists that does not open on Saturday for religious reasons would have to comply with a law requiring businesses to remain open seven days a week. &nbsp;A deli run by a Jewish family that does not sell pork for religious reasons would have to comply with a regulation that requires businesses to sell pork. &nbsp;A medical practice operated by Catholics who do not perform abortions for religious reasons would be forced to do so by a law requiring all OB/GYN medical practices to offer abortion services.&nbsp; No court would be able to reach the merits of any religious freedom claim brought by these or similar parties.</p> </blockquote> <p>Joining the ACLJ&rsquo;s amicus brief are the family business owners for whom we have obtained preliminary injunctions in <em>seven</em> separate legal actions, including <a href="" target="_self">Frank O&rsquo;Brien</a>, the first for-profit employer to challenge the Mandate.&nbsp; Also joining the brief as &ldquo;friends of the court&rdquo; are Robert and Jacquelyn Gallagher, owners of <a href="" target="_blank">Good Will Publishers</a> in North Carolina, which publishes Bibles and works of Catholic spirituality through its St. Benedict Press.</p> <p>The petition for review filed by the Kennedys and their businesses is the third one now pending before the Supreme Court.&nbsp; Which of these cases the Court will ultimately choose to review remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: because the lower courts are deeply divided over the issue of religious free exercise in the commercial and corporate contexts, the Supreme Court will take up at least one of them.</p> <p>No matter which of the cases the Court decides to review, we will file additional briefing in that case and provide you with the information you need to know as that case progresses. &nbsp;There is no doubt about it: a decision from the Supreme Court on the HHS Mandate will be one of the most important and consequential ever to be handed down by the high court.</p> Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:38:00 GMT Ten Commandments Under Attack: Defending our Legal Heritage in Court <p>This week was a significant one in the ongoing legal saga of <em>Summum v. Pleasant Grove</em>.&nbsp; As discussed in more detail <a href="">here</a>, Summum first filed suit against Pleasant Grove in 2005.&nbsp; While its legal theories and tactics have changed over time, Summum&rsquo;s assertion has always remained the same: because the city publicly displays the Ten Commandments, the city must also display the religious tenets of Summum, titled the &ldquo;Seven Aphorisms.&rdquo;</p> <p>Over the course of these eight years, we have filed dozens of motions and legal memoranda with the U.S. District Court in Utah, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Fourth District Court for the State of Utah.&nbsp; Along the way, we have taken and defended multiple depositions, accumulated piles of exhibits and paper discovery, and even had to defend Pleasant Grove City against a separate legal attack by the Society of Separationists claiming that the city&rsquo;s display of the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause and had to be uprooted and removed.</p> <p>On Wednesday of this week, we filed our <a href="" target="_blank">brief</a> with the Utah Supreme Court, arguing that the city&rsquo;s decision in 2003 to turn down a request by Summum to erect permanently its Seven Aphorisms monument in a public park did not and does not violate Article 1, Section 4 of the <a href="" target="_blank">Utah State Constitution</a>.</p> <p>As the brief makes clear, the establishment clause of the Utah Constitution does not require Pleasant Grove City to accept and display each and every monument that is offered for donation, such as Summum&rsquo;s, simply because the city has accepted and displays other donated monuments, such as the Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.&nbsp; Though Summum may have a constitutional right to speak and distribute its literature in a public park, this right does not extend to erecting a permanent monument in a park.</p> <p>If Summum&rsquo;s theory were to hold true, then neither Pleasant Grove nor any Utah government actor, including the State of Utah itself, would have any effective control over the display of public monuments, statues, artifacts, and so forth.&nbsp; A &ldquo;come one, come all&rdquo; policy would destroy, in the <a href="" target="_blank">words of the U.S. Supreme Court</a>, the right of public officials to &ldquo;select the monuments that portray what they view as appropriate for the place in question, taking into account such content-based factors as esthetics, history, and local culture.&rdquo;&nbsp; (As the D.C. Circuit Court <a href="$file/03-7195a.pdf" target="_blank">noted</a> in a case decided the same year Summum first filed suit against the city, &ldquo;If the authorities place a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in the park, the First Amendment does not require them also to install a statue of Robert E. Lee.&rdquo;)</p> <p>There is little doubt that if Pleasant Grove City removed the Ten Commandments monument, Summum and its request to display its Seven Aphorisms would go away.&nbsp; Indeed, Summum&rsquo;s legal theory is predicated almost entirely on the city&rsquo;s decision to continue to display the Decalogue.&nbsp; For this reason, this case is as much about the city&rsquo;s display of the Ten Commandments as it is about Summum&rsquo;s personal monument.&nbsp; However, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court&rsquo;s decision in <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Van Orden v. Perry</em></a>, also decided the same year Summum filed suit, the city has every right to display the Ten Commandments where and how it does.&nbsp; It is a historical fact that the Ten Commandments played a significant role in the foundation of Utah and the formation of Utah law, and the monument is displayed alongside numerous other items that relate to the history of Pleasant Grove and its people.</p> <p>The filing of this week&rsquo;s brief with the Utah Supreme Court is a significant step in this case&rsquo;s eight year journey through both the federal and state court systems.&nbsp; While future work remains, including oral argument and a possible return to the state district court, we trust that the ultimate decision by Utah&rsquo;s highest court will favor both the city and its display of the Ten Commandments.</p> Fri, 12 Jul 2013 16:21:00 GMT Summum v. Pleasant Grove City: The Concluding Chapter Begins <p>Almost eight years ago, in July of 2005, a new age religious group called Summum filed a lawsuit against Pleasant Grove City, Utah.&nbsp; The group claimed that the city&rsquo;s decision not to display a stone monument bearing Summum&rsquo;s &ldquo;Seven Aphorisms&rdquo; in a city park violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.&nbsp; Summum argued that because the city park contained a Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles the city had to display Summum&rsquo;s Seven Aphorisms as well.&nbsp; Although all items displayed in the city park, called Pioneer Park, reflect the city&rsquo;s pioneer heritage or were donated by groups with longstanding ties to the community, by Summum&rsquo;s own admission its offer to donate a monument met neither of these criteria.<br /> &nbsp; <br /> After the city prevailed at the federal trial court and Summum prevailed at the court of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take the case.&nbsp; In November, 2008, three years after Summum first filed its lawsuit, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow argued the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of the city (you can listen to the argument <a href="">here</a>) and three months later the Court handed down its <a href="" target="_blank">decision</a>.</p> <p>The Court ruled in favor of Pleasant Grove <em>unanimously</em>.&nbsp; In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court held that when it comes to displaying monuments on public lands -- a historical practice of governments since time immemorial -- the government is the speaker and has the right to &ldquo;speak for itself,&rdquo; &ldquo;say what it wishes,&rdquo; and &ldquo;select the views it wants to express.&rdquo;&nbsp; In other words, the Free Speech Clause doesn&rsquo;t require the city to display Summum&rsquo;s Seven Aphorisms because the city displays a Ten Commandments monument.</p> <p>The decision had immediate consequences, not just for Pleasant Grove, but for all state and local governments in the nation.&nbsp; Under the Court&rsquo;s decision, a city doesn&rsquo;t have to display a sign denouncing Christmas if the city chooses to have a display that celebrates the season. &nbsp;A city would no longer have to remove a Ten Commandments monument in order to avoid displaying a <a href=",2933,101546,00.html" target="_blank">disgraceful monument</a> donated by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.</p> <p>One would think that a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, not to mention a unanimous one, would put the issue to rest.&nbsp; Far from it.</p> <p>After Summum lost on its Free Speech claim, it went back to the federal trial court to argue that the city&rsquo;s decision violated another provision of the First Amendment: the Establishment Clause.&nbsp; In an argument all but identical to its Free Speech claim, Summum argued that the city&rsquo;s display of the Ten Commandments, but not the Seven Aphorisms, was an impermissible endorsement of religion.</p> <p>The district court was not persuaded by Summum&rsquo;s attempt to put a new label on its defunct free speech claim.&nbsp; In his opinion, Judge Dale Kimball wrote, &ldquo;there is no evidence that anyone in Pleasant Grove government had any idea what Summum&rsquo;s religious beliefs were, and thus it cannot be said that the Pleasant Grove government demonstrated a preference for one religion over another.&rdquo; &nbsp;Summum&rsquo;s case against Pleasant Grove was dismissed from federal court once and for all.</p> <p>This too, however, was not good enough for Summum. &nbsp;Six years after filing suit in federal court, and ultimately losing on each of its federal claims, Summum filed suit against Pleasant Grove in <a href="" target="_self">Utah state court</a>.&nbsp; Here, Summum argued what it has always argued (if a city displays a Ten Commandments monument, the city must also display a Seven Aphorisms monument), except this time said the city&rsquo;s decision violated the establishment clause of the Utah State Constitution.&nbsp; (Summum maintained from the start that the city had violated the State Constitution, but could never persuade a federal court to rule on the claim.)</p> <p>After months of briefing and an oral argument heard one year ago, the trial court ruled against Summum and in favor of the city.&nbsp; <a href="" target="_self">Judge Howard wrote</a> that &ldquo;[t]he benefit described by Plaintiff . . . of one group being allowed to erect a monument while another group is denied the same privilege, simply does not exist.&rdquo;</p> <p>Almost one year after Judge Howard&rsquo;s decision, we have now reached the final stage of Summum&rsquo;s eight year long quest to force its monument on Pleasant Grove.&nbsp; Yesterday, Summum filed its opening brief with the Utah Supreme Court asking that it reverse Judge Howard&rsquo;s ruling and force Pleasant Grove to display a monument it does not wish to display.</p> <p>We have represented Pleasant Grove every step of the way through years of litigation and will continue to do so.&nbsp; We will file our opposing brief this summer and will later present oral argument on behalf of the city.</p> <p>The Utah Supreme Court, the last and final court to hear Summum&rsquo;s claim against the city, will have to decide whether the city can continue to display the Ten Commandments without having to display Summum&rsquo;s Seven Aphorisms as well.&nbsp; The answer to this question should be a resounding &ldquo;Yes.&rdquo;</p> <p>We will continue to keep you posted as the case of <em>Summum v. Pleasant Grove City</em> moves through this concluding chapter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri, 10 May 2013 17:16:00 GMT ACLJ Mandate Scorecard: 7-0 in Preliminary Injunction Wins <p>Just over one year ago, the ACLJ filed the <a href="" title="ACLJ Files Suit Challenging HHS Mandate" target="_blank">first lawsuit against the HHS Mandate</a> on behalf of a for-profit employer, Frank O&rsquo;Brien and O&rsquo;Brien Industrial Holdings. As you know, the Mandate requires many employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization, and related education and counseling in their employee health plans, with no religious exemption or accommodation for business owners who believe that providing such coverage is immoral.</p> <p>Last November, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has authority over seven federal courts in the country, issued an injunction in favor of Frank O&rsquo;Brien and his business. This decision, <a href="" title="Victory Safeguarding ">the first victory against the Mandate in the federal courts of appeal</a>, allows Frank O&rsquo;Brien to continue operating his business according to his religious beliefs pending the appeal of the case.</p> <p>Since last November, the ACLJ has obtained a preliminary injunction in six <a href="" title="5th Injunction" target="_blank">other cases</a>, including from two other federal courts of appeal: the Seventh and D.C. Circuits.&nbsp;</p> <p>The most recent injunction in our favor came down last Friday, when Judge Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered a preliminary injunction protecting our clients, Fred and Catherine Hartenbower, and their businesses, Hart Electric and H.I. Hart, from having to comply with the Mandate. [<a href="" title="Order Granting Preliminary Injunction" target="_blank">see attached order</a>]</p> <p>What&rsquo;s most noteworthy about this order is that the Department of Justice, charged with the responsibility of defending the government in the nationwide challenges against the Mandate, did not oppose it. In light of our victory before the Seventh Circuit last December, which granted our clients Cyril and Jane Korte an injunction pending appeal, as well as <a href="" title="7th Cir Blocks HHS Mandate" target="_blank">an additional Mandate case</a> that sought and obtained the same injunctive relief, the DOJ understood that it would have been a waste of time and energy to oppose our request for a preliminary injunction before the federal court in Chicago.</p> <p>What we said in the unopposed motion filed last week captures well what is at stake in the Mandate challenges pending in federal courts across the country:</p> <blockquote> <p>Plaintiffs wish to run their businesses in a manner consistent with their religious values and beliefs, including in the choice of a health plan for themselves and their employees. Regulations imposed by Defendants, however, requiring that group health plans include FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures as well as patient education and counseling about those services do not allow Plaintiffs to do so. Plaintiffs&rsquo; religious principles and beliefs not only provide that abortion, contraception, and sterilization are immoral, but that directly paying for the use of such products and services through a group health plan is immoral as well. Plaintiffs are thus confronted with a Hobson&rsquo;s choice: violate their religious beliefs in the management of their businesses, or pay the federal government in order to act consistently with their faith.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a choice the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment do not allow the federal government to impose on its citizens. If the free exercise of religion means anything, it means the right of citizens to conduct their personal and professional lives in a manner true to their religious beliefs.</p> <p>Over the next few months, federal courts of appeal will hear arguments in several Mandate challenges, including ones brought by the ACLJ. How decisions from these courts will turn out remains to be seen, but one thing is crystal clear: we will not rest until the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes and restores the right to religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution and protected by federal law.</p> Mon, 22 Apr 2013 19:39:39 GMT False Claims Actions against Planned Parenthood Continue <p>The ACLJ is involved in two lawsuits against Planned Parenthood clinics and affiliates in both California and Texas: <em>U.S. ex rel. Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles</em> and <em>U.S. ex rel. Reynolds v. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.</em></p> <p>As these cases are moving full speed ahead, one in a federal court of appeals and the other in a federal trial court, a status report on these two important cases is in order.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles</em></a>:</p> <p>ACLJ attorneys represent P. Victor Gonzalez in a federal&nbsp;qui tam&nbsp;action brought under the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. &sect;&sect; 3729&nbsp;et seq., and California False Claims Act, Cal. Gov&rsquo;t Code &sect;&sect; 12651&nbsp;et seq.&nbsp;According to&nbsp;Gonzalez, the former Vice President of Finance and Administration of Defendant Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles (2002&ndash;2004), he learned of an ongoing&nbsp;statewide scheme of unlawful overbilling among the defendants,&nbsp;which include all California Planned Parenthood affiliates and officers, with the intent to maximize revenue received from government healthcare programs (such as Medicaid, Medi-Cal, and FPACT). The complaint alleges that&nbsp;defendants&rsquo; knowingly engaged in such overbilling in violation of both federal and state law. Between 1997 and 2004,&nbsp;defendants&rsquo; overbilling for birth control drugs and devises resulted in an illicit windfall to the defendants in&nbsp;an amount in excess of 200 million dollars. The complaint&nbsp;&ldquo;blows the whistle&rdquo; on these false claims, seeking damages, penalties, costs, and attorney fees.</p> <p>The complaint was dismissed by the district court on June 26, 2012, and we appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 23, 2012, where briefing is currently underway. &nbsp;(Our opening brief was filed with the Ninth Circuit on December 27, 2012.)</p> <p><em>Reynolds v. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast</em>:</p> <p>ACLJ attorneys represent Karen Reynolds in a federal qui tam action brought under the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. &sect;&sect; 3729 et seq., and the Texas Human Resources Code &sect;&sect; 32.039, et&nbsp;seq., and 36.002, et seq. According to Reynolds, during her employment by Defendant Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (&ldquo;PPGC&rdquo;) between 1999 and 2009, she learned that PPGC knowingly&nbsp;engaged in continued violations of both federal and state law by adopting and implementing company-wide billing policies intended to maximize revenue received from government health care&nbsp;programs (such as Medicaid and Title XX) by expressly requiring PPGC&rsquo;s clinics in Texas and Louisiana to bill the federal and state governments for reimbursement for (i) medical services that&nbsp;were never actually rendered; (ii) medical services that, although rendered, were known by Defendant to be medically unnecessary; and (iii) abortion-related services that PPGC knew were not&nbsp;properly reimbursable through these government programs.</p> <p>On August 10, 2012, the district court issued a ruling on Planned Parenthood&rsquo;s motion to dismiss the complaint.&nbsp; While the court dismissed in part the claims brought under Texas law, the court held that the claims brought under the federal False Claims Act could proceed.</p> <p>Trial is currently scheduled to begin on March 4, 2013.</p> <p>We will continue to keep you posted as both cases move forward.</p> Wed, 09 Jan 2013 21:14:00 GMT Pulverizing the HHS Mandate <p>Yesterday, Judge Richard E. Dorr, a federal judge in Springfield, Missouri, <a href="" target="_self">struck a blow against the federal government</a> and its enforcement of the HHS Mandate -- the governmental edict that employers include abortion-inducing drugs in employee health plans or face ruinous penalties and fines. While the administration has decided that churches need not comply with the Mandate, and nonprofit entities need not comply until August of next year, almost every other employer in the country is bound by its dictates, no matter an employer&rsquo;s religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. The government obviously thinks that conscripting private citizens into paying for abortifacient drugs against their conscience takes precedence over respecting the rights of conscience.</p> <p>We filed suit on behalf of Paul and Henry Griesedeick and their companies in <a href="" target="_self">October of this year</a>. The Griesedeicks, Evangelical Christians, are firmly committed to the sanctity of human life and thus refuse to participate in any plan, program, or service that would end it. After the HHS Mandate was finalized earlier this year, the Griesedeicks took a stand. Pursuant to their religious and moral beliefs, they made it clear that they and their companies would not pay for any health plan that includes abortion-inducing drugs.</p> <p>In our lawsuit challenging the Mandate, we alleged that the regulations at issue violate the free exercise of religion, as protected by both the First Amendment and federal law. But we did more than file a complaint. Because the Griesedeicks had to comply with the Mandate by the beginning of the new year, we also filed a motion with the court asking it to block enforcement of the Mandate until a final resolution of the case. This is how we described the <a href="" target="_blank">dire situation our clients faced</a>:</p> <p>&ldquo;By January 1, 2013, at the latest, Paul and Henry Griesedieck face a stark and unavoidable choice: abandon their beliefs in order to stay in business, or abandon their businesses in order to stay true to their beliefs. That is a choice that the federal government, bound by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act may not lawfully impose upon them.&rdquo;</p> <p>Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for Western Missouri ruled in <a href="" target="_blank"><em>American Pulverizer v. HHS</em></a> that the government could not lawfully impose this choice. &nbsp;It held that until the conclusion of the case, when we hope to obtain a <em>permanent</em> injunction, our clients are free to follow their religious beliefs in how they run their companies. In other words, the Griesedeicks cannot be coerced into violating their conscience; they cannot be required to choose Caesar over Christ. As Peter and the apostles exclaimed, when commanded to cease preaching the Gospel, &ldquo;We must obey God rather than men!&rdquo; (Acts 5:29.)</p> <p>In his opinion, Judge Dorr relied on our recent victory on behalf of Frank O&rsquo;Brien, where the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted him preliminary injunctive relief -- the <a href="" target="_self">first court of appeals victory</a> in the ongoing Mandate cases. &nbsp;</p> <p>But the judge didn&rsquo;t rely on the precedent of <em>O&rsquo;Brien</em> alone. He also rejected the argument made by the government and the ACLU that the Mandate doesn&rsquo;t impose a substantial burden on our clients: &ldquo;the Court determines that there is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will able to prove, on the merits, that the [the Mandate] substantially burdens Plaintiffs&rsquo; exercise of religion.&rdquo;</p> <p>The court raised the very question that lies at the heart of the Mandate cases brought by for-profit employers: &ldquo;there are many entities under which an individual can run a business, i.e. a corporation, partnership, LLC, closely-held subchapter-s corporation, or sole proprietorship. Does an individual&rsquo;s choice to run his business as one of these entities strip that individual of his right to exercise his religious beliefs?&rdquo;</p> <p>The underlying point is clear: employers do not have to abandon their religious beliefs when they step foot into the commercial marketplace.</p> <p>Yesterday&rsquo;s decision is not just an important one for our clients and their constitutionally protected liberties, it is an important victory for the ongoing legal efforts to preserve and protect our First Freedom: the free exercise of religion. But much work remains ahead of us. Today, the Department of Justice will file its response to our emergency motion in the <a href="" target="_self"><em>Korte</em> case</a> and respond to our appeals brief in the <em>O&rsquo;Brien</em> case. Next month, we will be filing additional challenges against the administration and its unconstitutional Mandate. We will not rest in these efforts until the administration throws up its hands and surrenders -- or the United States Supreme Court forces it to.</p> Fri, 21 Dec 2012 18:06:00 GMT ACLJ Asks Court to Block HHS Mandate <p>Today, as reported <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, we asked the federal court in St. Louis, Missouri to block enforcement of the HHS Mandate against our clients, Frank O&rsquo;Brien and O&rsquo;Brien Industrial Holdings (&ldquo;OIH&rdquo;), until the court issues a final ruling on our legal claims. If the court grants our motion, this will be a significant step forward in preserving the rights of our clients to follow their religious beliefs and principles free from interference by the federal government.</p> <p>The basis of our motion is clear and straightforward. The HHS Mandate, which requires employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization in employee health plans, substantially burdens the religious exercise of Frank O&rsquo;Brien and OIH in violation of federal law and the First Amendment.</p> <p>While 9 out of 10 employers already include such drugs and services in their health plans, many employers, like Frank O&rsquo;Brien, cannot do so consistent with their religious conscience. They believe they should have the right to fashion their employee health plans according to the dictates of their religious beliefs.</p> <p>Until the HHS Mandate went into the effect just over three weeks ago, they had that right. Now, under the Mandate, the federal government is trying to take that right away.</p> <p>As we argue in the <a href="" target="_blank">motion</a>, the federal government, by way of the Mandate, is placing our clients, and other religious employers like them, in an impossible situation. They can either (1) not comply with the Mandate, pursuant to their religious beliefs, and thereby incur severe penalties, or (2) abandon their beliefs as part of the cost of doing business. This is a choice the government cannot, consistent with the Constitution, impose on Frank O&rsquo;Brien or anyone else.</p> <p>As the legal challenges to the HHS Mandate move forward, it is critical to keep in mind what these cases are and are not about. They are not about, as the administration and Planned Parenthood would have us believe, denying anyone access to contraceptives. No plaintiff in any case challenging the Mandate is trying to limit the availability of such drugs and services.</p> <p>What these cases do concern is something else entirely, and something far more important: the right to act according to one&rsquo;s religious beliefs and conscience, free from coercion or penalty.</p> <p>Does this mean one&rsquo;s religious beliefs should be permitted to trump any and all laws? Of course not. In this case, however, where the government can pay for and provide these drugs and services itself, without conscripting objecting religious employers into doing so, the government has overstepped the line. It has crushed the liberty of conscience.</p> <p>James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in 1792 that conscience &ldquo;is the most sacred of all property.&rdquo; Madison, like the other Founders, well understood that once the government is given ground to coerce conscience, then all other individual rights mean precious little. That is why the challenge to the HHS Mandate is so critical. That is why we must win.</p> <p>We will keep you posted on the preliminary injunction motion filed today.</p> Thu, 23 Aug 2012 22:40:00 GMT Despite Technical Setbacks, Legal Challenges Against HHS Mandate Remain <p>This week, two cases challenging the HHS Mandate were dismissed by federal courts in <a href="" target="_blank">Nebraska</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Washington, D.C.</a> The HHS mandate is a federal regulation, made possible by Obamacare, that requires employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception in their health insurance plan for employees. The regulation doesn&rsquo;t just apply to for-profit businesses, it applies to religious hospitals, schools, and charities, whether they object to such services or not.</p> <p>The case in Nebraska was filed by attorneys general of seven states representing a number of Catholic institutions and individuals, in addition to the states themselves. The case in Washington, D.C. was brought on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each of the challengers in these cases sued the federal government arguing that the HHS Mandate is an illegal and unconstitutional infringement of their rights to religious belief and practice.</p> <p>It is critical to know what these courts did and did not do. Though the two cases were dismissed, in neither case did the court hold that the HHS mandate is constitutional under the First Amendment&rsquo;s Free Exercise Clause or is consistent with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal law prohibiting the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest.</p> <p>Neither court reached these issues because both courts dismissed the cases on technical grounds only. The courts held that the challengers lacked standing to sue and that the lawsuits were filed prematurely. In the Belmont Abby College case, for example, the D.C. court held that because the federal government is currently seeking ways to accommodate non-profit institutions that object to contraceptive services on religious grounds, the threat to the college&rsquo;s freedom of religion is not yet immediate. The court explicitly noted, however, that &ldquo;at the end of the day, the Court offers no opinion on the merits of the current contraception-coverage regulations or any proposed future ones. If Plaintiff is displeased by the ultimate regulations, it may certainly renew its suit at that time.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bottom line is that the numerous legal challenges to the HHS Mandate are far from over. First, the decisions out of Nebraska and D.C. are not binding on the other federal courts where legal challenges by religious institutions are still pending. These courts can still rule that the administration&rsquo;s promise of eventually providing a religious accommodation is simply not enough to warrant dismissal of those cases.</p> <p>Second, the Nebraska and D.C. decisions are not relevant to the cases involving for-profit businesses whose rights are violated by the Mandate, such as the <a target="_self" href="">ACLJ&rsquo;s case on behalf of a Catholic business owner</a> in St. Louis, Missouri. The administration has given no assurances that businesses with religious objections to the Mandate will one day be accommodated.</p> <p>Finally, though we await the federal government&rsquo;s decision on how it will allegedly accommodate religious institutions that object to providing abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans, there can be little doubt that any such accommodation will not be worth the paper it&rsquo;s written on. The administration&rsquo;s track record on this matter has been clear since day one. It will do everything it can to coerce private employers, whether a religious institution or not, to provide these objectionable services without concern for the strongly held religious views and practices at stake.</p> <p>The decisions this week are but a minor setback in the ongoing legal fight to protect and preserve conscience rights and religious liberty in this country. We will continue to keep you updated as the nationwide challenge moves forward.</p> Fri, 20 Jul 2012 17:58:25 GMT The Fight Against the HHS Mandate Moves Forward <p>As reported and described <a href="" target="_self">here</a> and <a href="" target="_self">here</a>, the Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and the Individual Mandate, the provision under Obamacare requiring millions of Americans to purchase and indefinitely maintain health insurance or face annual penalties.</p> <p>Much commentary is sure to follow regarding the many consequences and implications of today&rsquo;s decision, but one thing needs to be made abundantly clear: though the challenges to the Individual Mandate are now over, the legal challenges to the HHS Mandate are not. The constitutionality of the HHS Mandate -- the federal regulation requiring employers with more than 50 employees to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization in their health insurance plans -- was not at issue in today&rsquo;s decision and so was not briefed or argued, much less decided.</p> <p>Consequently, the numerous lawsuits challenging the <a href="" target="_self">HHS mandate</a>, including the ACLJ case on behalf of a <a href="" target="_self">Catholic business owner</a> in St. Louis, Missouri, will now move forward with even greater strength and resolve. These cases, pending in federal courts across the country, will be decided at the district court level, appealed to the circuit courts of appeal, and then eventually submitted to the Supreme Court for final review.</p> <p>The fight for freedom of conscience is one that cannot be abandoned. The Founding Fathers committed their lives and honor to the preservation of religious freedom and we should be willing to do the same. In an eloquent letter to the <a href="" target="_blank">United Baptists in Virginia</a> in 1789, George Washington wrote that if the government ever acted to render individual conscience &ldquo;insecure&rdquo; he would fight be the first to fight against it:</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.</p> <p>The fight against the Individual Mandate is finished, but the fight against the HHS Mandate is well underway. The ACLJ will continue to move forward on this front to ensure that we ultimately prevail -- for conscience, the Constitution, and our country.</p> Thu, 28 Jun 2012 19:36:03 GMT Challenging the Mandate: Not Just for Catholics <p>Last week, twelve lawsuits involving forty-three Catholic schools, dioceses, and charities were <a href="" target="_self">filed in federal courts</a> across the country.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">These suits challenge the HHS abortifacient-sterilization-contraception mandate</a> and its unconstitutional coercion of conscience.</p> <p>One might be tempted to think the pending challenges to the HHS mandate, including those filed last week and the <a href="" target="_self">ACLJ case on behalf of a Catholic business owner</a>, constitute a Catholic issue only.</p> <p>Not true.</p> <p>Soon after HHS Secretary Sebelius announced in January that the mandate would go into effect, individuals and groups of various religious denominations and persuasions joined hands in calling the rule a violation of religious civil liberties.</p> <p>In Februrary, 2,500 Protestant, evangelical, Jewish, Catholic and other religious leaders <a href="" target="_blank">signed a letter to President Obama</a> denouncing the mandate as &ldquo;a severe blow to our religious liberty.&rdquo; &nbsp;Together, they called upon the administration to &ldquo;reverse this decision and protect the conscience rights of those who have biblically-based opposition to funding or providing contraceptives and abortifacients.&rdquo;</p> <p>Also in February, the President of the Lutheran Missouri Synod, Matthew Harrison, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University appeared with Catholic Bishop William Lori and others before the <a href="" target="_blank">Committee on Oversight and Government Reform</a>. Each testified as to how the mandate violates the rights of conscience and religious freedom; that the free exercise of religion doesn&rsquo;t just involve the right to believe, but the right to act in accordance with one&rsquo;s beliefs.</p> <p>In an eloquent statement, <a href="" target="_blank">Rabbi Soloveichik pointed out</a> that it was the obligation of Jewish people not to sit idly by when the religious rights of others are at issue:</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">Not only does the new regulation threaten religious liberty in the narrow sense, in requiring Catholic communities to violate their religious tenets, but also the administration impedes religious liberty by unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious&hellip;</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">Benefiting from two centuries of First Amendment protections in the United States, the Jewish &ldquo;children of the stock of Abraham&rdquo; must speak up when the liberties of conscience afforded their fellow Americans are threatened and when the definition of religion itself is being redefined by bureaucratic fiat.</p> <p>More recently, <a href="" target="_blank">it has been reported</a> that talks are underway between Catholics and evangelical groups to work together on the forthcoming &ldquo;<a href="" target="_self">Fortnight of Freedom.</a>&rdquo; From June 21 until Independence Day, events involving prayer, study, and public action will be held across the country to focus on our Christian and American <a href="" target="_blank">heritage of liberty</a>.</p> <p>And even more recently, just last week, ACLJ attorney David French, an evangelical, spoke to a group of Catholic priests from the Nashville area on a whole host of religious freedom issues, including recent encroachments on these freedoms by the administration.</p> <p>The fight against the HHS mandate is not a Catholic issue. It is a constitutional issue for all. It is an issue of conscience for all.</p> <p>John Adams wrote in 1809, &ldquo;It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.&rdquo;</p> <p>Amen to that.</p> <p>If we cannot rise together in defense of religious conscience, we will most surely fall together.</p> Wed, 30 May 2012 19:25:06 GMT HHS Mandate Lawsuit Tidal Wave <p>Today, twelve lawsuits were filed in federal courts around the country challenging the HHS mandate requiring health insurance plans to include coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.&nbsp; Bringing the lawsuits&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">are forty-three dioceses</a>, hospitals, schools, and other Catholic charities.</p> <p>To describe this as a legal tidal wave would be an understatement.</p> <p>The extraordinary number of lawsuits and plaintiffs over one federal regulation, including <a href="" target="_self">a suit filed by the ACLJ in March of this year</a>,&nbsp;is not surprising.&nbsp; The regulation in question, the HHS mandate, is an outrageous and sweeping assault by President Obama and his Administration on the religious and moral beliefs of religious institutions and private business owners.</p> <p>One of the plaintiffs in this series of lawsuits is the University of Notre Dame, which, three years ago, invited President Obama to speak at its graduation exercises.&nbsp; Notre Dame says this in its <a href="" target="_blank">complaint</a>&nbsp;filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana:</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">This lawsuit is about one of America&rsquo;s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one&rsquo;s religion without government interference. &nbsp;It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are, and will continue to be, freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available. &nbsp;But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the University of Notre Dame (&ldquo;Notre Dame&rdquo;) to violate its own conscience by making it provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to its sincerely held religious beliefs.&hellip;</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">If the Government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the Government&rsquo;s power. &nbsp;Such an oppression&nbsp; of religious freedom violates Notre Dame&rsquo;s clearly established constitutional and statutory rights.</p> <p style="margin-right: 0.5in; margin-left: 0.5in;">The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution&rsquo;s internal decisions concerning the organization&rsquo;s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. &nbsp;The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.</p> <p>Since the HHS mandate was made final earlier this year, religious leaders and groups throughout the country have been saying that unless the mandate was rescinded, litigation would follow.</p> <p>Sure enough, they have followed through with their word.</p> <p>The challenge to the HHS mandate is now moving forward at full tilt in all three branches of the federal government: the Judicial, the Legislative, and with an election later this year, the Executive.</p> <p>A response from the Department of Justice to the ACLJ lawsuit challenging the mandate is due within days.</p> <p>While the fight for freedom of conscience is far from over, citizens are making it clear that they will not back down in the face of the HHS edict.&nbsp; George Washington <a target="_blank" href="">wrote</a>&nbsp;that &ldquo;the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive that induced me to the field of battle.&rdquo;&nbsp; And it is a battle that continues to this very day.</p> Mon, 21 May 2012 18:16:01 GMT Planned Parenthood: Anti-Life, Anti-Family, Anti-Woman <p>Planned Parenthood, an organization fully <a href="" target="_blank">endorsed and publicly supported by President Obama</a> and his administration, is far from the noble organization the President would have us believe.</p> <p>From the time of <a href="" target="_blank">its eugenicist inception</a>, Planned Parenthood (PP) has been committed to a radical ideology of abortion on demand, an ideology that tramples down any other societal interest that gets in its way, including the role of government in preserving and protecting innocent human life, providing women with full knowledge of the facts relating to the abortion procedure and the growing unborn child, the right of parents to counsel and raise their children according to their religious and moral beliefs, and the interest of communities in creating a culture of life that respects both mother and child.</p> <p>In short, Planned Parenthood is anti-life, anti-family, anti-woman.</p> <p>According to its annual report published earlier this year, PP revealed that <a href="" target="_blank">it performed 329,445 abortions in 2010 alone</a>. If this number isn&rsquo;t alarming enough, consider the number of referrals for adoption reported by PP during this same period: a mere 841 (<a href="" target="_blank">the smallest amount of adoption referrals by PP in the last ten years)</a>. In other words, in 2010, PP performed close to 400 abortions for every one adoption referral.</p> <p>PP also reported distributing nearly 1.5 million emergency contraception (EC) kits. <a href="" target="_blank">EC can work in at least four different ways</a>: (1) suppressing ovulation, (2) altering cervical mucus to hinder the transport of sperm, (3) slowing the transport of the ovum and (4) <a href="" target="_blank">inhibiting implantation of a newly conceived human embryo</a>. If one accepts the truth that human life and pregnancy begin at conception and not implantation, then PP is responsible for a larger number of abortions in 2010 than its reported 329,445.</p> <p>Over the course of the last ten years, and excluding any abortions as a result of EC, PP has <a href="" target="_blank">performed close to 3,000,000 abortions</a>. That&rsquo;s a number <a href="" target="_blank">larger than the current population of twenty individual states</a>, and five times the population of Washington, D.C.</p> <p>To call PP anti-life is actually an understatement.</p> <p>PP does not just attack the vulnerable life of the unborn, it attacks the integrity and dignity of the family. For decades, PP has consistently fought tooth and nail against legislative efforts to require parental notice for minors considering abortion. PP obviously thinks it&rsquo;s in a better position to counsel a young girl thinking about abortion than that child&rsquo;s parents. Given the statistics from its latest annual report &ndash; 391 abortions for every one adoption referral &ndash; one can fairly surmise the choice PP most often counsels the pregnant minor to make. PP doesn&rsquo;t just drive a wedge between a mother and her unborn child, it drives a wedge between a young girl and her parents regarding a decision of immense significance.</p> <p>And just as it has fought hard against parental notification laws, PP has consistently opposed state efforts requiring informed consent and waiting periods. If abortion is a grave choice, as almost all would agree, then why oppose providing women with the necessary facts, details, and specifics relating to the abortion, not to mention facts relating to the life of the unborn child, in order for them to make a fully informed choice? If abortion is supposed to be a serious and deliberate choice, as again almost all would agree, why oppose a waiting period of 24 hours for women to think and seek counsel about this choice after becoming fully informed about their options?</p> <p>PP would have women exercise what it believes to be a core, constitutional right in the dark and without pause for contemplation. PP&rsquo;s opposition to informed consent laws amounts to opposition to a woman&rsquo;s right to know the implications and consequences of her choice - hardly a position in support of women&rsquo;s rights. PP&rsquo;s opposition to waiting periods amounts to encouragement for women to make an abortion decision in haste, possibly without full knowledge of the choice they are making. This doesn&rsquo;t put &ldquo;women first.&rdquo;</p> <p>Several early feminists, including some of the most noteworthy and famous, understood that the &ldquo;right&rdquo; to abortion is not an intrinsic part of women&rsquo;s rights. Far from it. Susan B. Anthony referred to abortion as &ldquo;child murder.&rdquo; Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke of the &ldquo;murder of children, either before or after birth.&rdquo; Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, wrote that &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">the rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the foetus.</a>&rdquo;&nbsp;These pioneers of the women&rsquo;s rights movement recognized that the dignity of women is not advanced or honored by aborting one&rsquo;s child. To the contrary, in the words of Alice Paul, the author of the original equal rights amendment of 1923, &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.</a>&rdquo; In fact, in various countries around the world, sex-selective abortions are used on a widescale basis to kill countless &ldquo;unwanted&rdquo; unborn girls, directly thwarting the most precious of all women&rsquo;s rights: the right to life.</p> <p>In light of its anti-life, anti-family, and anti-woman ideology, Planned Parenthood shouldn&rsquo;t be entitled to a dime of taxpayer funds -- whether from the federal government, Texas, or any state in the union. The time to defund Planned Parenthood is now. In fact, it was yesterday.</p> <p></p> Mon, 21 May 2012 16:14:22 GMT Secretary Sebelius Ignorant of the Constitution? <p>Last Thursday, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, appeared at a <a href="" target="_blank">full committee hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee</a>.</p> <p>Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina asked Sebelius to explain her statement earlier this year that requiring religious employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptive services in their health insurance plans &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.</a>&rdquo;</p> <p><a href=";v=5QfRa3SdU0I" target="_blank">The video exchange is a must see</a>.</p> <p>In response to Rep. Gowdy&rsquo;s line of questioning, Sebelius displayed utter ignorance over the constitutional implications of her department&rsquo;s anti-religious, anti-conscience mandate. She was wholly unfamiliar with the Supreme Court&rsquo;s decisions regarding religious freedom; she relied on no legal memorandum in cobbling the mandate together; and, as Sebelius testified in February, she didn&rsquo;t even <a href="" target="_blank">seek the advice of the Department of Justice regarding the legality of the mandate</a>.</p> <p>Sebelius tried to extricate herself from the situation, saying, &ldquo;I am not going to wade into constitutional law.&rdquo;</p> <p>Nice try, Ms. Sebelius.</p> <p>When the HHS mandate was finalized earlier this year, the administration didn&rsquo;t just &ldquo;wade&rdquo; into constitutional law, it jumped into it head first, without the slightest notion -- or apparently care -- of what the U.S. Constitution requires or what Supreme Court precedents say.</p> <p>Secretary Sebelius has confirmed what many have known from day one. When it comes to pushing the ideology of Planned Parenthood, neither HHS nor the current administration will allow the right of religious freedom to stand in their way.</p> <p>Ignorance may be bliss for Secretary Sebelius, but her ignorance comes at great cost to the constitutional rights of countless citizens.</p> <p>The next time HHS contemplates another mandate to coerce others into violating their conscience, it should give thought to another mandate: the one set forth in the First Amendment.</p> Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:55:00 GMT The U.S. Department of Planned Parenthood <p>Anyone who doubts that the current administration is in the back pocket of Planned Parenthood need only consider the latest personnel shift at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (&ldquo;HHS&rdquo;).</p> <p>Effective last Friday, Tait Sye, once media director for Planned Parenthood, <a href="" target="_blank">is now deputy assistant secretary for public affairs for HHS</a>.</p> <p>Normally, an appointment to a deputy assistant to anything in our federal bureaucracy is hardly worth a mention. But this personnel choice is yet another indication of the tight relationship between the president and Planned Parenthood. In fact, just last month, President Obama personally appeared in a <a href="" target="_blank">video produced by and for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund</a>.</p> <p>When Tait Sye was spokesman at Planned Parenthood, he made it clear that religious employers should be forced by the federal government to include abortion and contraceptive services in their group health insurance plans, no matter the sincerely and long held religious beliefs at stake.</p> <p>&ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">It should not be left up to a boss&rsquo;s personal beliefs whether his employees should be allowed birth control coverage,</a>&rdquo; Sye said.</p> <p>Talk about spin.</p> <p>Religious charities and services that object to abortion, sterilization, or contraception do not object to these services based on whim or caprice. Catholics, for example, have opposed these practices for centuries.</p> <p>Also, those who object to the HHS mandate do not do so because they want to keep birth control from their employees. They object to the government forcing them to either violate their religious and moral beliefs or pay significant penalties to the government for adhering to their beliefs.</p> <p>For Tait Sye and Planned Parenthood, when it comes down to a choice between religious conscience rights and a government mandate to coerce conscience, the government wins. When it&rsquo;s a choice between Planned Parenthood and the First Amendment, Planned Parenthood prevails.</p> <p>Indeed, when the mandate was being cobbled together, HHS Secretary Sebelius <a href="" target="_blank">chose not to consult with the Catholic Bishops</a>, who faced the fullest brunt of the mandate. She didn&rsquo;t even seek guidance from the Department of Justice <a href="" target="_blank">regarding its legal implications or constitutionality</a>.</p> <p>Who played a critical role in aggressively pushing the mandate? <a href="" target="_blank">CEO of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards</a>.</p> <p>Given the enormous influence that Planned Parenthood continues to wield with HHS, including this latest shift in personnel, HHS might as well rename itself, for it&rsquo;s fast becoming: the U.S. Department of Planned Parenthood.</p> Mon, 23 Apr 2012 17:01:09 GMT