In an earlier post today, I asked a question about corporate personhood. You may recall that the current Administration doesn’t like the idea of a corporation being a person. They don’t care much for the Church being considered a person either.
Back in March, O’Brien Industries was one of the first private corporations to sue the Health and Human Services Department. On Friday, the federal district court in Missouri threw their case out. Rob Vischer over at Mirror of Justice explains what happened,
On Friday, a federal district court in Missouri dismissed in its entirety one of the contraceptive mandate lawsuits, this one brought by Frank O’Brien and O’Brien Industries against HHS. It is not surprising (to me, anyway) that the free exercise and establishment clause claims were dismissed, as I’ve never thought those were particularly strong. I am surprised, though, that the RFRA claim was dismissed under 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, as the court categorically rejected the notion “that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.”
A few points worth noting:
First, in this case, the court was faced with the original and most egregious version of the HHS regulations. Because O’Brien Industries is a for-profit entity, the plaintiffs (the company and its owner) are not entitled to any of the current or promised exemptions.
Second, the court’s analysis did not turn on the for-profit status (“[T]his Court declines to reach the question of whether a secular limited liability company is capable of exercising a religion within the meaning of RFRA or the First Amendment.”), which means that the court’s reasoning would apply equally to Catholic Charities, Belmont Abbey College, or the Diocese of Rockville Centre if those entities were forced to pay for contraceptives or abortifacients in their employee health plans.
Third, the court’s reasoning disregarded institutional identity as bearing any relevance to the substantial burden analysis. The court asserted that “plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives. The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [O'Brien Industries's] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion.”
Be of good cheer. This will be a long and winding road.