July 6, 2012

Catholic business owners in archdiocese vigilant about religious liberty

Marianne Price, left, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Cornea Research Foundation, talks on May 31 with Kelly Fairchild about eye examination equipment at the office of the Price Vision Group in Indianapolis. Fairchild is clinical research coordinator for the foundation. Price, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, is opposed to the federal Health and Human Service Administration’s abortifacient, sterilization and contraception mandate. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Marianne Price, left, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Cornea Research Foundation, talks on May 31 with Kelly Fairchild about eye examination equipment at the office of the Price Vision Group in Indianapolis. Fairchild is clinical research coordinator for the foundation. Price, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, is opposed to the federal Health and Human Service Administration’s abortifacient, sterilization and contraception mandate. (Photo by Sean Gallagher) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

With the U.S. Supreme Court upholding substantial portions of President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, the lawsuits by many dioceses and Church-related organizations seeking to overturn the Health and Human Services Administration’s (HHS) abortifacient, sterilization and contraception mandate will move forward.

Joining these dioceses and organizations are a handful of individual business owners and Legatus, an organization of Catholic CEOs and professional leaders. In their own legal challenges, they argue that the mandate violates their religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Lawsuits by business owners opposed to the mandate are expected to increase, according to Rita Joyce, chief counsel for the Pittsburgh Diocese, one of the dioceses that filed suit on May 21 seeking to have the mandate overturned.

“It’s only logical that there will be more cases filed if we’re still standing on July 1,” said Joyce on June 21, prior to the Supreme Court’s upholding of the healthcare reform bill. “So I think that the next wave is going to be private big businesses.”

Joyce made her comments during the Catholic Media Conference held in Indianapolis on June 20-22.

In the same panel discussion on religious liberty, University of Notre Dame law professor Carter Snead said that business owners opposed to the mandate have good grounds to seek the overturn because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

This law was passed by a large bipartisan majority of Congress in 1993 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.

Snead said that the law requires the federal government to have a “compelling interest” to limit religious liberty, and that when it does so, the means employed “are the narrowest … possible.”

Snead added that the federal government might have a difficult time arguing that it has a compelling interest in the mandate. And in any case, he said, the mandate is broad in its effects.

“RFRA applies to [business owners], too,” Snead said. “So, if the court says that RFRA is violated by the application of this law, that’s going to help those folks as well.”

Such a legal analysis echoes the hopes of some Catholic business owners in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who, like many of the leaders of dioceses across the nation and other Church-related organizations, oppose the mandate on conscience grounds.

“I am opposed to it. I’m 100 percent opposed to them forcing this on any business [owner], especially as a Catholic with my beliefs,” said Gary Libs, owner of Libs Paving Company and a member of St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish, both in Floyd County. “If it was an option, that might be different. But this is a mandate. I think we’re all in a bit of shock somewhat, to be truthful about it.”

Libs started his paving business 40 years ago when he was 20 years old. Through the years, he has grown his enterprise to the point where he now employs 45 people and offers them health insurance.

Considering the demands of the mandate, he is now concerned about his ability to provide health insurance in the future.

“It’s hard to say how it’s going to play out,” Libs said. “Nobody wants this to happen. But how do you block it?”

Tom Spencer thinks business owners opposed to the mandate, especially Catholics, need to band together to learn more about its effects.

Spencer, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, is the owner of Meridian Management Corporation, which manages office buildings, apartment buildings, shopping malls and condominium communities.

He is also a member of the Indianapolis chapter of Legatus.

“We’re not in it alone. We’re in it together,” Spencer said. “There’s a synergy there by having multiple people to sustain the desire to work together and pool their resources to try to bring about positive change.”

Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Jerry Jones of Indianapolis, another Legatus member, has been impressed with his fellow members’ determination to apply their faith in the way that they operate their businesses. He sees that same resolve in their opposition to the mandate.

“When they get passionate about something, they make things change,” said Jones, owner of the Indianapolis-based Cannon IV, which sells and services printing equipment. “This group of people in Legatus are doers. And if this group of people gets together and has a strong conviction, they can get some things done and changed.”

Part of learning about the mandate is becoming aware of how the controversy surrounding it is being framed. In the past months, many supporters of the mandate have said that those opposing it are waging a “war on women.”

Marianne Price, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, is executive director of the Cornea Research Foundation of America. She is astonished by such a characterization of the issue.

“Honestly, it seems like a totally crazy way to frame the issue,” said Price, also a Legatus member. “Women still have the choice to do what they want. Contraceptives are readily available. They’re not that expensive. I don’t really see how this is a war on women whatsoever.”

In fact, Price thinks the mandate is a way for the Obama administration to restrict the freedom of choice of business owners.

“I feel like the administration is for choice as long as people are making choices they agree with,” she said. “When people are making choices that they don’t agree with, then they’re not pro-choice because, honestly, I view the religious liberty dissent as being about choice. An employer has the choice to offer this as part of their policy or not.” †

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