Tom Steward

Tom Steward is the bureau chief of Watchdog.org's Minnesota Bureau, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is an investigative reporter focused on waste, fraud and abuse in government and has previously worked for WCCO-TV (CBS) and KSTP-TV (ABC) in the Twin Cities. Follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter.

Supreme Stakes for Minnesota Faith-Based Employers

Posted by: Tom Steward Updated: June 29, 2014 - 6:35 PM

Quick question. Did you know Minnesota has more cases than almost any state riding on the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case coming out on Monday?  

That's what I thought. For-profit Minnesota employers have received 8 out of 35 temporary injunctions granted by federal courts to businesses across the country under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (See Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby and Sibelius v. Conestoga Wood.)

Here's a slice of what's at stake in the religious liberties case that will make headlines--no matter which way the justices rule--in excerpts from my recent post for Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interested observers can follow the final decisions of the Supreme Court's current session live at SCOTUS blog. 

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