By Robert Patrick, Religion News Service
ST. LOUIS -- A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked the enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate while a Catholic business owner appeals a lower court's ruling that tossed out his suit.
Opponents of the law said that it was the first time that an appeals court had weighed in on the issue, which has spawned multiple suits across the country, and called it a "significant victory."
"The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government," said Francis Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the lawyers representing Frank O'Brien.
In a two-sentence order issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to grant O'Brien's company a delay while the appeal is heard.
O'Brien Industrial Holdings and O'Brien, a devout Catholic, sued the federal government in March, alleging the contraception mandate that's part of the 2010 health care reform law would force him to choose between his moral and religious beliefs and possibly face stiff fines.
The law requires coverage of prescription birth control pills and implants in all private health insurance policies, starting in 2013.
A lower court ruled in late September that the health care law does "not impose a 'substantial burden' on either Frank O'Brien" or his company, or violate their rights.
At the time, the law's opponents said the lower court ruling was the first on the law's merits among 30 similar suits.
After O'Brien's suit was tossed out by a lower court, his lawyers asked for an expedited appeal.
O'Brien's company includes several businesses that process ceramic materials, and the charitable St. Nicholas Fund.
Robert Patrick writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Religion News Service