Kathryn Lopez

In essence, if you are Catholic in this country you no longer can own a company, Frank O'Brien explains.

O'Brien, a St. Louis distributor, is one of more than 42 plaintiffs suing the federal Department of Health and Human Services over its mandate that forces employers to provide health insurance that includes access to contraception and abortion services. This controversial Obamacare regulation threatens the religious liberty of not only Catholics but also evangelicals and others with objections of conscience to any of these policies.

By means of this mandate, the Obama administration has mandated that no Catholic can own a business and provide health insurance to their employees without crippling fines, O'Brien says. It's a policy that the Department of Justice has been defending in court, arguing that an individual absolutely makes a choice to put these religious-liberty claims aside when he or she decides to run a company.

Kosher butchers around the country must be shocked to find that they now run 'secular' businesses. On this view of the world, even a seller of Bibles is secular, Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty explains.

The legal battle has been tumultuous to watch, with some procedural victories for religious entities, including the Archdiocese of New York and Wheaton College. A three-judge panel has given O'Brien's company temporary relief from having to implement the policy, sparing him from the crippling fines that come with noncompliance. The temporary injunction issued in late November marked the first time a Court of Appeals has weighed in to any extent on an HHS-mandate case, as his lawyer, Francis J. Manion, at the American Center for Law and Justice, noted at the time.

It is a step in the right direction, only that, O'Brien emphasizes.

O'Brien tries to inject a sober reality check to the public discourse on the matter. The opposition posits that those of my side are trying to deny the right of anyone to use birth control, he says, countering: We simply don't want to be forced to pay for it, be a party to it.

A legal win for O'Brien is not going to affect contraceptive access in the United States; his lawsuit is not a stealth pro-life strategy to curb legal abortion. I don't want to know what my employees do in the privacy of their bedrooms. When I am forced to pay for what they do there, I am brought into their bedrooms, he explains.

The federal government shouldn't be forcing this choice. O'Brien's freedom to live his faith in the public square is one that everyone has a stake in defending.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.