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The Big Fight

Legates defend the faith by suing the Federal Government over contraception mandate . . .

cover-mar13When the Obama administration made it mandatory for all employers to cover contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans, Legatus members felt the pressure. The federal government’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate went into effect for businesses at the start of their insurance plan year, which for most was Jan. 1.

For Legates who own a business, however, the pressure has been particularly acute. To comply means going against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not to comply means facing crippling fines and possible bankruptcy. Unlike hired CEOs, business owners are “all in.” They stand to lose their livelihood.

Legatus honored the members featured in this article with its Courage in the Marketplace Award at the 2013 Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., last month. (See related story on page 18.)

Of the 47 lawsuits with 130 plaintiffs against the mandate, 30 are from for-profit businesses. Of these, eight are from Legatus members. Founder Thomas Monaghan and Legatus itself have filed suits over the contraception mandate.

William and Andrew Newland, Denver

William and Andrew Newland

William and Andrew Newland

A member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter, William Newland has been working for his family-owned business his whole life. Hercules Industries is a 50-year-old company that manufactures and distributes heating and air conditioning products. Newland runs the company with his sister, two brothers, and son Andrew — also a member of the Denver Chapter. They employ 300 people and offer insurance through a self-funded plan.

When ObamaCare was passed and the subsequent HHS mandate introduced last year, Newland expected trouble.

“We knew there’d be dark clouds and that we’d be forced to give our employees coverage that we felt was intrinsically evil,” said William Newland.

The Newlands filed a lawsuit against the federal government last April. On July 27, a judge granted Hercules a preliminary injunction. The federal government appealed, stating that mandating free abortion pills and birth control for private employees is a “compelling government interest” and that forcing Hercules and its owners to provide such coverage against their religious beliefs “does not impose a substantial burden on any exercise of religion by Hercules Industries or the Newlands.”

One of the Newlands’ attorneys, Michael Norton from the Alliance Defending Freedom, disagrees.

“Hercules was in a very difficult position,” he said. “The Newlands filed this case on the grounds that the HHS mandate violated their religious principles, and that all families should be able to live out their religion within their business. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just something you do in Church.”

Dan Weingartz, Detroit Northeast

Dan Weingartz

Dan Weingartz

Like Hercules, the Weingartz Company is another family-owned business. Dan Weingartz, a member of Legatus’ Detroit Northeast Chapter, runs the company founded in 1945 by his grandfather. The family-run company has 140 employees and specializes in the sales and service of outdoor power equipment.

After the HHS mandate was announced in January 2012, the Thomas More Law Center called Weingartz.

“I know some people who worked there,” he explained. “They knew we were upset about the mandate. They had a case ready to file and all they needed was a plaintiff.”

At first Weingartz told the law firm they weren’t interested, but the conversation weighed heavily on his mind. Finally he spoke with his partners at the company and they decided to vote on the issue. The result was a unanimous “yes.”

“One of my partners said, ‘This is a fight we should be involved in,’” said Weingartz.

In May, the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Legatus, the Weingartz Company and its president Dan Weingartz. In November, the company was granted an injunction.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland emphasized that the loss of “First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep, Chicago

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep, members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter, own Triune Health Group, a health care management company with 80 employees. They are challenging both the Obama administration and the state of Illinois.

“For us, the HHS mandate was nothing new,” said Mary Anne Yep. “The state of Illinois is one of a few states that put this [mandate] through years ago at the state level. We were looking for relief back in 2007. For us, the HHS mandate was a double noose.”

The Yeps met lawyers from the Thomas More Society at a Chicago rally for religious liberty and decided to have the firm file two lawsuits for them. They won an injunction in their federal case earlier this year on Jan. 3 and another injunction for their state case on Jan. 15.

The good fight

All three groups of Legates suing the U.S. government say the process has been stressful for them. But their faith and peer support have buoyed them.

“We have lost business because of this,” Christopher Yep explained. “We know what’s at stake, but it’s like a 5K race. Everyone around us is shouting, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ We aren’t alone. We have many people on the sidelines.”

For Weingartz, the lawsuit has brought a fair amount of negative reactions as well as positive.

“I am so happy that we did this,” he said. “It got us in touch with like-minded people. It’s forced us to defend what we believe in. And because of the publicity, it forced us to have some important conversations with our employees about this issue. All we are asking for is true religious freedom.”

William Newland concurs. “Filing this case has deepened our faith. We share the conviction of the sanctity of human life as millions of Catholics do. We have been so encouraged with the outpouring of support. We get emails and letters of support daily.”

Each of these members cite the unqualified support they get from fellow Legates as indispensable.

“They are terrific,” said Weingartz. “They have given us lots of words of encouragement. Without the strength of their example, there’s no way we would have had the courage to do this.”

The risk of total bankruptcy is very real as the plaintiffs watch the fate of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer owned by Evangelical Christians. On Dec. 26, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to grant them an emergency injunction against the mandate. Hobby Lobby opted to defy the government and face the prospect of paying $1.3 million per day in fines. The company temporarily avoided fines by shifting their insurance plan year forward a few months.

Of the for-profit business owners who sued the federal government, nine have won injunctions. Five did not.

According to Mark Rienzi, an attorney with the Becket Fund, the businesses that won injunctions had one thing in common: They made it clear that they were prohibited by their religion from buying a policy that offered contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. It was not only that their religion prohibited them from taking these drugs, but also from buying such a policy. In the cases where judges did not grant an injunction, they ruled that buying these policies did not “burden” the business owner’s religious beliefs.

The legal case against the HHS mandate rests squarely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

“The Act said that any time the government puts a ‘burden’ on religion, it can only do so in the least restrictive way to serve a ‘compelling’ government interest,” Rienzi said.

Those who oppose the HHS mandate have a hard time understanding what the government’s “compelling” interest is in providing free contraception to every employed U.S. citizen.

“This isn’t close to compelling,” Rienzi said. “The government can give this stuff away for free, and it does, to millions of people through the Title X plan. People who are full-time employees are not desperate. They don’t need handouts.”

Mandate opponents also note that the monthly cost of generic brand birth control pills is $9 per month. Plan B (the morning-after pill) is already available in vending machines in Philadelphia for $25.

Legal analysts say the case should reach the Supreme Court later this year. Defenders of religious liberty say there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will rule against the HHS mandate, noting that the Supreme Court’s last major religious liberty case — EEOC v Hosanna Tabor — was decided 9 to 0 in favor of religious freedom.

While these cases play out in court, many Americans remain unaware of the contraception mandate.

“Most people don’t understand what is going on,” Christopher Yep explained. “But it’s an argument that can be won in five minutes. Once people understand the HHS mandate, they can’t believe it and they can’t believe this is happening. We need to engage others. If the government is successful, they will force Catholics and Christian business people off the playing field and weaken our culture. It’s a battle we have to win.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.