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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Did A Federal Judge Throw Out a St. Louis Catholic's Challenge to "Obamacare"? FAQs

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 at 9:25 AM

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He must choose either to live  by his Catholic beliefs or pay "ruinous fines that would have a crippling impact on [his] ability to survive economically."

Q: So what was O'Brien's legal argument in this case?

It was multi-pronged, but in our opinion, the most interesting argument was that the healthcare law violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In other words, the government was imposing a "substantial burden" on O'Brien's "religious exercise."

Q: What did Judge Jackson think of that?

Not much. Here's her quote at length.

Frank O'Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion.  Instead, 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]'s plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs' religion.  This Court rejects the proposition 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.

Under plaintiffs' interpretation of RFRA, a law substantially burdens one's religion whenever it requires an outlay of funds that might eventually be used by a third party in a manner inconsistent with one's religious values.  This is at most a de minimus burden on religious practice.  The challenged regulations are several degrees removed from imposing a substantial burden on [O'Brien], and one further degree removed from imposing a substantial burden on OIH's owner and manager, Frank O'Brien. 

She also dismissed O'Brien's claims that the health care law violated his First Amendment rights and the Administrative Procedure Act. She threw it all out.

Q: What happens now?

O'Brien is appealing.

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