Kirsten Andersen

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Federal judge denies Catholic business owners injunction against HHS birth control mandate

Kirsten Andersen
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DETROIT, MICHIGAN, July 15, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge has rejected a Michigan business owner’s request for a temporary exemption from the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate, saying that as a non-sectarian for-profit business, their company is not entitled to the same religious freedoms as individuals.

Judge Paul Borman held that the religious rights of Karen and Rodney Mersino, owners of water pump company Mersino Management, are not directly threatened by the mandate, which requires all employers to provide full coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs to female employees, free of co-pays. 

“Karen and Rodney Mersino, who are not required individually to comply with the regulations, do not suffer actual injury (they incur no out of pocket costs as individuals) from the contraceptive coverage mandate,” Borman wrote. “Mersino Managment, as a secular for profit company, cannot ‘exercise’ religion and cannot act as the alter ego of its owners in challenging the contraceptive mandate under RFRA …. Nor can Karen and Rodney Mersino impute their own religious beliefs to their corporation so that the corporation can act as their alter ego and assert those rights on behalf of the Mersinos.”

Added Borman, “Mersino Management is in the business of selling water bypass systems for profit. The fact that its owners may hold deep religious beliefs, and that the mission statement of the company includes a statement of fealty to God, does not convert this secular, for profit company into a religious organization capable of exercising religion.”

Borman held that when the Mersinos chose to start a commercial business instead of a religious charity, they gave up their rights to run their organization in full compliance with their religious beliefs. 

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“Mersino Management chose the corporate form,” Borman wrote.  “It is not an individual or a non-profit religious organization entitled to protection in the free exercise of its religious beliefs. As the Supreme Court recognized in [United States v.] Lee, ‘When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.’”

Borman’s decision came less than two weeks after the 10th Circuit Court overturned a similar ruling denying Christian-owned company Hobby Lobby an injunction exempting them from the contraceptive mandate while they fight their own case against the Obama administration in court.

In marked contrast to Borman’s thinking, the 10th Circuit Court reasoned Hobby Lobby has, “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.” 

Judge Borman referenced the Hobby Lobby case in his remarks, stating that in his estimation, because the Tenth Circuit was divided on the ruling, its opinion doesn’t count as precedent.

“The Tenth Circuit’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, fractured as it is … offers cogent proof of the fact that views continue to diverge widely on these issues,” Borman wrote, adding that “the opinions issued by the Third, Seventh and Tenth Circuits do not bind this Court[.]”

As a result of Borman’s decision, the Merinos will be forced to comply with the contraception mandate while they wait for their case to be heard in federal court, or pay stiff penalties for every day they are in non-compliance.  

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