Oxford company sues over HHS mandate

Meanwhile, 6th Circuit says Grand Rapids firms must comply

OXFORD — An Oxford casting, machining, fabrication and assembly company that provides an optional Mass for its employees and houses an on-site chapel has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the HHS mandate, joining a growing list of lawsuits nationwide from Catholic business owners.

Barron Industries, Inc., a family business started in 1923, filed the lawsuit Sept. 4 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It is represented by the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center.

Barron Industries

Bruce and Paul Barron of Barron Industries are seen with a statue of the Blessed Mother in the lobby of their Oxford plant.

The company objects to the federal government’s mandate forcing businesses to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans or pay massive fines. Barron Industries, led by its chairman, Paul Barron, and CEO Bruce Barron, say the mandate violates their religious liberty as faithful Catholics.

“It’s irrational for the government to claim, as it has been doing in these HHS mandate cases, that a business is just a shell and can have no moral fiber, and therefore a business owner must be excluded from the protections of the First Amendment in his business practices,” said Erin Mersino, lead attorney for the Thomas More Law Center. “The First Amendment was not enacted to strip business owners of their moral conscience or to force them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — which is, without question, what the HHS mandate does.”

Barron Industries, which employs 56 full-time employees, regularly has Mass celebrated in the main conference room of its plant facility, which visitors, customers and staff are invited to join. According to the Thomas More Law Center, the company also supports numerous Catholic and pro-life nonprofits, including Priests for Life, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, and the Knights of Malta.

Paul Barron is a member of Legatus, the nation’s largest organization of Catholic business leaders.

Under the contraception mandate, if Barron Industries chooses not to comply, it would be fined nearly $2 million per year.

“Using the HHS mandate, the Obama administration declared war on the Catholic Church,” Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, said in a statement. “And I applaud the Barron family as well as the many other Catholic businessmen who are standing up for their faith. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput stated in 2009, ‘It doesn’t matter what we claim to believe if we’re unwilling to act on our beliefs. What we say about our Catholic faith is the easy part. What we do with it shapes who we really are.’”

Meanwhile, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 17 that another Michigan business must comply with the mandate even though the Catholic owner is morally opposed to such coverage.

In a suit filed by Autocam and Autocam Medical in Grand Rapids, the Catholic family that owns the two companies said the mandate violates their pro-life beliefs.

However, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the 6th Circuit, in writing the opinion for a three-judge panel, said the requirement does not violate the family’s religious convictions nor does it violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs claim, saying the family does not have standing to challenge the mandate.

The 1993 law prohibits the federal government from imposing a “substantial burden” on a person’s exercise of religion unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and the measure is the least restrictive method of achieving that interest.
John Kennedy, CEO, said in a statement that he has “a right to live his faith and practice my beliefs freely, and being a good Christian to me means living my faith in all areas of my life, not just at church.”

Kennedy said his companies — contract manufacturers for the automotive and medical industries — are now are faced with providing the coverage, dropping the health plan for their 661 employees, or refusing to provide the coverage and pay IRS fines. Paying the fines would put him out of business, he said.

— Catholic News Service contributed to this report.