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Religion Not Impaired by Health Care Reform

ST. LOUIS (CN) - A federal judge has dismissed a company's claim that the 2010 health care reform violates religious freedom.

At issue is the reform's mandate that requires employers to cover prescription birth control at no cost to enrollees in all private health insurance policies, beginning in 2013. O'Brien Industrial Holdings and its owner Frank O'Brien, filed a lawsuit in March. The complaint was one of dozens filed around the country claiming the mandate violated employer's freedom of religion.

But U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson ruled the mandate does not impose a "substantial burden" on the plaintiffs. Jackson's ruling is believed to be the first such ruling in the country, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Plaintiffs allege that the preventive services coverage regulations impose a similar ultimatum, and therefore substantially burden their free exercise of religion 'by coercing plaintiffs to choose between conducting their business in accordance with their religious beliefs or paying substantial penalties to the government. Am. Compl. ¶ 40 [Doc. #19]," Jackson wrote. "However, the challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. 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 OIH'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."

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed paperwork to appeal Monday.

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