Commentary Law and Policy

Eighteen For-Profit Companies Fighting to Eliminate the Birth Control Benefit

Jodi Jacobson

Eighteen for-profit companies have filed lawsuits to overturn the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, which requires that all insurance policies cover birth control without a co-pay as part of preventive care. These companies argue that including insurance coverage for birth control "violates their religious freedom." Here's a brief introduction to those companies and their cases.

Eighteen for-profit companies have filed lawsuits to avoid complying with the the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires that all insurance policies cover birth control without a co-pay as part of preventive care. Often misleadingly characterized as mandating “free birth control,” the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, requires that all insurance policies cover all forms of basic preventive care without a co-pay, including well-woman, well-baby, and well-child visits, as well as other basic prevention care for men and women. This coverage is intended to save costs and promote public health.

Basic preventive reproductive and sexual health-care services, including contraception, are therefore also covered without a co-pay; as part of the mandate, all insurance plans must provide coverage without a co-pay for all methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Employees earn their salaries and their benefits, and many pay for all or a portion of their health-care premiums out of their salaries. As such, none of this coverage is “free,” but is rather covered by the policies they are earning or for which they are paying.

Nonetheless, the 18 companies that have sued to overturn the birth control benefit are doing so based on several misleading claims. One is that providing insurance policies that cover birth control violates the “religious freedom” of the companies’ owners. It is difficult to see how a critical public health intervention accessed through an employee’s health plan violates the religious freedom of the owner of the company. In fact, the reverse seems to be true; not allowing an employee to access coverage he or she has earned would appear to violate the employee’s freedoms, first and foremost. 

The owners of these companies share the belief that a woman is pregnant as soon as there is a fertilized egg (the medical definition of pregnancy is successful implantation of an embryo in the uterine wall) and that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a born person. They also claim that the ACA forces them to cover “abortifacients,” with most pointing to emergency contraception methods such as Plan B to make their case. Emergency contraception, however, is just that: Contraception. It prevents ovulation, and therefore fertilization, and does not work after an egg has been fertilized.   

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These lawsuits, now in various phases of litigation, are posing a critical challenge not only to the Affordable Care Act, but ultimately to the ability of all people to make the most profoundly personal decisions about whether, when, and under what circumstances to have a child and build a family.

Below is a list of these companies and the status of their cases. And Planned Parenthood Federation of America has launched a campaign enabling you to tell these companies what you think.

1. Tyndale House

Summary: An Illinois publishing company focusing on Christian books (and Bibles). The founder’s argument is that he shouldn’t have to provide his 260 employees with contraceptives he equates with abortion.

Status: U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the district court granted a preliminary injunction.

Tyndale House President and Chief Executive Mark D. Taylor.

Tyndale House President and Chief Executive Mark D. Taylor.

President and Chief Executive: Mark D. Taylor

Taylor sees ACA birth control mandate as a test of God’s law vs. Man’s law. “I’ve always thought—in a theoretical way—that I might someday face a situation where the government was asking or telling me to do something that was counter to God’s law as I understood it. If such a situation arose, I hoped I would have the backbone to stand tall and disobey the government mandate. Well, that day seems to have come.” (World Magazine; October 2012)

Taylor equates Plan B and intrauterine devices (IUDs) with abortions because they prevent implantation. “As a Protestant, I don’t have a moral objection to contraceptives per se. But [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)] defines contraception to include abortifacients such as Plan B (the morning-after pill), Ella (the week-after pill), and intrauterine devices. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admits that one purpose of these drugs and devices is to keep the fertilized egg from “implantation” onto the wall of the uterus. In other words, their purpose is to cause an early abortion of a human being that is made in the image of God.” (World Magazine; October 2012)

Taylor feels he has biblical confirmation that his lawsuit is protecting the word of God. “The day after we filed the lawsuit, the daily reading from The One Year Bible included the first chapter of Jeremiah and these verses:

The LORD gave me this message: ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:4-5, NLT).

How’s that for biblical confirmation that the unborn baby is important in the eyes of God! After reading that passage, I felt confirmed in my responsibility to stand up against a government that is trampling on my religious liberty. May God be merciful to all of us.” (World Magazine; October 2012)

2. Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics

Summary: The produce processing and packing companies are Ohio-based but serve 23 states and employ about 400 people. “The government is requiring them to enter into a contract and to pay for things that they find morally objectionable, and they just want to be able to continue what they’ve been doing,” one of their lawyers argued. They’ve excluded contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs from their company health insurance for the past decade. Co-founders are two Catholic brothers.

The produce processing and packing companies are Ohio-based but serve 23 states and employ about 400 people.

The produce processing and packing companies are Ohio-based but serve 23 states and employ about 400 people.

Status: Complaint filed. In response to plaintiffs’ contention that their case is sufficiently related to the Tyndale case, the district court ordered plaintiffs to demonstrate as much by February 8.

Co-founder and CEO: Frank Gilardi

Co-founder and President: Phil Gilardi

“Freshway Foods trucks bear signs stating, ‘It’s not a choice, it’s a child,’ as a way to promote the owners’ anti-abortion views to the public, according to [a] legal complaint.” (Journal News; January 2013)

Freshway Foods has deliberately excluded contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs from its company health coverage for 10 years. “’Our clients believe that having to pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization will cause them to violate their religious beliefs and moral values,’ said Edward White, Senior Counsel of the [American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)]. ‘They have specifically excluded such things from their company’s health insurance plan for the past ten years. The HHS mandate, however, will require them to pay for such drugs and services on April 1st. They have filed this lawsuit seeking an injunction against the mandate so they can continue to run their business in accordance with their religious beliefs and moral values.’” (ACLJ; January 2013)

3. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation

Norman Hahn.

Norman Hahn.

Summary: A Pennsylvania-based wood cabinet and specialty products manufacturer run by Mennonites who think some birth-control products such as Plan B are “sinful and immoral” and “an intrinsic evil and a sin against God.” The company employs 950 people.

Status: The court dismissed a motion for preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Third Circuit last month.

Owners: Norman Hahn, Elizabeth Hahn, Norman Lamar Hahn, Anthony N. Hahn, and Kevin Hahn 

The owners argue they are acting in accordance with their faith by not covering contraception, and being forced to cover it is “un-American.” “‘People of faith should not be punished for making decisions according to the deepest convictions of that faith,’ said Attorney Charles W. Proctor, III, who is representing the Hahn family. ‘When government grows so invasive to force persons to violate their conscience, government is out of control and clearly outside the bounds of our Constitutions’ Bill of Rights .… The Health and Human Services abortion pill mandate would unconstitutionally force the Hahn family, owners and operators of Conestoga Wood Specialties, to do something offensive to their conscience—under threat of onerously large fines and penalties,’ he continued. ‘This is un-American.’” (Christian News; December 2012) 

They argue that Plan B is equivalent to an abortion, and call it “intrinsic evil.” “‘The Mennonite Church teaches that taking of life, which includes anything that terminates a fertilized embryo, is intrinsic evil, and a sin against God to which they are held accountable,’ said the lawsuit brought by Norman Hahn, Norman Lemar Hahn and Anthony H. Hahn. Both abortion and any abortifacient contraception that may cause an abortion are ‘equally objectionable,’ they said.” (Washington Times; December 2012) 

They have said mandating that they offer contraception is “sinful and immoral.” “Conestoga Wood in December had sued the U.S. Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury, alleging it would be ‘sinful and immoral’ to make the company comply with the law by paying for or supporting certain forms of contraception.” (Lancaster Online; January 2013) 

4. Hercules Industries, Inc.

Summary: A Colorado corporation that manufactures heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products and employs 303 staffers. 

James Newland, Paul Newland, William Newland, Andrew Newland

James Newland, Paul Newland, William Newland, Andrew Newland

Status: The district court granted an injunction. The government has appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

Founders and Owners: James Newland, Paul Newland, William Newland, and Andrew Newland

Number of children: The Newlands are five sibling-owners of Hercules Industries. The number of children they each have is unknown. 

Hercules is a for-profit, secular employer, but is incorporating Catholicism into its “corporate culture.”  “Although Hercules is a for-profit, secular employer, the Newlands [founders] adhere to the Catholic denomination of the Christian faith. According to the Newlands, ‘they seek to run Hercules in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ Thus, for the past year and a half the Newlands have implemented within Hercules a program designed to build their corporate culture based on Catholic principles.” (Court files; July 2012)

Hercules Industries’ previous health insurance plan intentionally left out contraceptive coverage because of the Newlands’ Catholic beliefs. “According to Plaintiffs, Hercules maintains a self-insured group plan for its employees ‘[a]s part of fulfilling their organizational mission and Catholic beliefs and commitments.’ Significantly, because the Catholic Church condemns the use of contraception, Hercules self-insured plan does not cover abortifacent drugs, contraception, or sterilization.” (Court files; July 2012)

Ironically, Hercules Industries was going to be awarded a Good Citizenship Award for a number of features, including its health-care coverage. The award was taken away when the company won its court injunction. “Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning manufacturer that employs 300 workers and has been in business in the Mile-High City for 50 years, was to be honored with a ‘Good Citizenship Award.’ The laurel was in recognition of contributions to the community, including the historic restoration of company headquarters and, ironically, its ‘generous employee health care coverage.’” (Fox News; August 2012)

5. Hobby Lobby

Summary: A national craft supply chain based in Oklahoma City that employs over 13,000 people across the country. 

David Green.

David Green.

Status: The district court denied the preliminary injunction, but Hobby Lobby appealed to the Tenth Circuit, which denied separate injunctive relief but has not yet decided whether to grant the preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court for the separate relief, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Founder: David Green

Green argues that his religious beliefs support his thousands of employees and their families. “’Our family is now being forced to choose … between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families,’ Green said … during a conference call. ‘We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.'” (The Oklahoman; September 2012)

Green says the foundation of his business is “honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” “‘The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles,’ a statement on the Hobby Lobby website reads, adding that one outgrowth of that is the store is closed on Sundays to give its employees a day of rest.” (CNN; January 2013)

6. Sioux Chief Manufacturing

Summary: A Missouri plumbing products company that employs 370 people.

Status: Complaint filed.

Joe Ismert.

Joe Ismert.

CEO: Joe Ismert

The Ismert family alleges that the contraception mandate interferes with their desire to embody the moral teachings of the Catholic Church in their business. “‘The Mandate illegally and unconstitutionally coerces Plaintiffs to violate their sincerely held Catholic beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties,’ reads the suit in part. ‘The Mandate also forces Plaintiffs to fund government-dictated speech that is directly at odds with the religious ethics derived from their deeply held religious beliefs and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church that they strive to embody in their business.'” (Christian Post; January 2013)

The Ismerts’ lawyer has called the contraception mandate “unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”  “‘Americans should be free to honor God and live according to their consciences wherever they are,’ said [lawyer Jonathan R.] Whitehead. ‘They have the God-given freedom to live and transact business according to their faith, and the First Amendment has always protected that. Forcing Americans to ignore their faith just to earn a living is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.'” (Christian Post; January 2013)

7. Domino’s Farms

Summary: The Michigan-based property management company owned by Tom Monaghan, the same man who founded Domino’s Pizza. Forty-five full-time and 44 part-time employees work there.

Status: The district court granted a temporary restraining order. Court heard motion preliminary injunction on January 31.

Tom Monaghan.

Tom Monaghan.

Owner: Tom Monaghan

Monaghan’s case refers to contraception as “a grave sin” and likens Plan B to abortion. “The lawsuit, filed in federal court, claims that the new law ‘attacks and desecrates a foremost tenet of the Catholic Church,’ which considers contraception ‘a grave sin.’ It adds that the mandate compels insurance issuers to cover the morning-after pill, ‘despite their known abortifacient mechanisms of action.’” (AOL; December 2012)

Before the ACA rule, Monaghan specifically crafted an insurance plan that did not include contraceptives or sterilization. “Before Obamacare, however, Monaghan had been able to ‘engineer’ an insurance policy through Blue Cross and Blue Shield that had exemptions for contraceptives and sterilization, according to [Thomas More Law Center President and Chief Counsel Richard] Thompson.” (AOL; December 2012)

Monaghan once countered the idea that contraceptive coverage extends equal opportunity to women in the workforce by citing that his lead counsel, Erin Mersino, won their case’s first victory while more than seven months pregnant. “‘The federal government says we need this law so that women have an equal opportunity in the workforce, so they can choose if and when they have children,’ said Thompson. But Mersino managed that legal victory, he points out, while seven-and-a-half months pregnant.” (AOL; December 2012)

8. Autocam Corporation

Summary: A West-Michigan-based company that makes parts for transportation and medical equipment and employs 680 people across the United States. CEO John Kennedy and family are Catholic.

Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which denied injunction and motion to reconsider.

John Kennedy.

John Kennedy.

CEO: John Kennedy

Kennedy made this video in association with CatholicVote.org to explain his opposition to the ACA mandate. In it, he likens Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “The Affordable Care Act forces me to pay for things that violate my deeply held beliefs, such as abortion-inducing drugs, and makes it difficult for us to offer these great benefits to our associates. I can’t in good conscience choose between violating my beliefs and meeting my associates’ needs,” he says in the video.

Again, Kennedy has likened Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “‘Why is the Obama administration prioritizing life- ending drugs over lifesaving drugs?’ said Kennedy, who filed the lawsuit with the support of the Catholic Vote Legal Defense Fund and the Thomas More Society of Chicago.” (MLive.com; October 2012)

9. O’Brien Industrial Holdings

Summary: A Missouri company that processes ceramic materials and employs 87 people.

Status: After the district court granted motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit. Last November, the Eighth Circuit issued a stay pending the appeal, over the dissent of one judge.

Frank R. O'Brien.

Frank R. O’Brien.

Owner: Frank R. O’Brien

The company website says, “Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system.” Mission: Our mission is to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society …. Integrity: Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system …. People: We are an organization that will attract and keep outstanding personnel. Mean spirited behavior will not be tolerated.” (O’Brien Industrial Holdings)

O’Brien’s lawyer has argued that businesses should be governed by moral values, not government. “‘We have argued from the beginning that employers like Frank O’Brien must be able to operate their business in a manner consistent with their moral values, not the values of the government,'” said attorney Francis Manion. (Associated Press; November 2012)

10. American Pulverizer Company

Summary: Owned by founders Paul and Henry Griesedieck, who have controlling interest in four Missouri-based companies involved in the business of wholesale scrap metal recycling. Their companies employ about 150 people.

Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction in part because of the O’Brien stay precedent.

Paul and Henry Griesedieck.

Paul and Henry Griesedieck.

Founders: Paul and Henry Griesedieck

The Griesediecks have argued that “it would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.” “In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks contend that compliance with the Obamacare mandate would force them to violate their religious and moral beliefs. In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks state that ‘it would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.’” (Life News; January 2013)

The Griesedieck brothers have likened Plan B to abortion. “The owners, who are Evangelical Christians, contend that the HHS mandate requiring coverage for abortion-inducing drugs—including the ‘morning-after pill’—violates their religious beliefs.” (ACLJ; October 2012)

11. Sharpe Holdings, Inc.

Summary: A Missouri corporation that is involved in the farming, dairy, creamery, and cheese-making industries and employs at least 100 people.

Charles N. Sharpe.

Charles N. Sharpe.

Status: The district court granted a temporary restraining order that’s in effect until the court rules on further injunctive relief.

Founder and CEO: Charles N. Sharpe

Sharpe has likened Plan B and IUDs to abortion. “Rather, the focus of their claims for injunctive relief is the ability of these devices to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus, thereby leading to the ejection of the fertilized egg from the woman’s body, in other words, the abortion of the live fetus.” (Court files; December 2012)

Sharpe believes that Plan B and IUDs are “abortion on demand.” “In accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, the individual plaintiffs oppose the use, funding, provision, or support of abortion on demand and believe that the use of Plan B, Ella, and copper IUDs constitutes abortion on demand.” (Court files; December 2012)

12. Annex Medical, Inc.

Summary: Plaintiffs Stuart Lind and Thomas Janas are Minnesota business owners, the former of whom owns and operates Annex Medical and Sacred Heart Medical, companies that design, manufacture, and sell medical devices and employ 16 full-time and two part-time workers. Janas is an entrepreneur who has owned several dairy businesses in the past and intends to purchase another in 2013. He currently operates Habile Holdings and Venture North Properties, companies that lease commercial properties but currently have no employees.

medicalannex

Annex Medical and Sacred Heart Medical, companies that design, manufacture, and sell medical devices and employ 16 full-time and two part-time workers

Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit in January and got an injunction pending appeal, relying on the O’Brien order.

Owners: Stuart Lind and Thomas Janas

Lind and Janas believe insurance plans covering contraception are “sinful” and “immoral.” “Lind and Janas believe that paying for a group health insurance plan that complies with Defendants’ Mandate is sinful and immoral because it requires them and/or the businesses they control to pay for contraception, sterilization, abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling in violation of their sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church.” (Court files; November 2012)

Lind and Janas believe that any action intended to prevent procreation is forbidden, whether before, during, or after intercourse. “Plaintiffs Stuart Lind and Tom Janas are devout Catholics who are steadfastly committed to biblical principles and the teachings of the Catholic Church, including the belief that life involves the creative action of God, and is therefore sacred. Lind and Janas therefore believe that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation is an evil forbidden by God.” (Court files; November 2012)

Lind and Janas have likened Plan B to abortion. “Among the products the Mandate requires Plaintiffs’ group plans to fund are Plan B (the ‘morning after pill’) and Ella (the ‘week after pill’), drugs that are designed to destroy early human life shortly after conception.” (Court files; November 2012)

13. Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc.

Summary: An Illinois-based full-service construction contractor that employs about 90 workers. The Kortes “are adherents of the Catholic faith” and “wish to conduct business in a manner that does not violate their religious faith,” according to the suit.

Status: The district court denied preliminary injunction, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which issued an order granting the emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal over the strong dissent of one judge.

Cyril "Pete" Korte.

Cyril “Pete” Korte.

Owners: Cyril “Pete” Korte and Jane Korte

President: Cyril “Pete” Korte

Secretary: Jane Korte

The majority of the company’s employees choose to take coverage from their unions, rather than the company. “They employ about 90 full-time employees, about 70 of whom belong to and receive health insurance coverage from unions. The other 20 non-union employees receive coverage under a group plan provided by the Kortes’ company, according to their complaint.” (Madison-St. Clair Record; October 2012) 

The Kortes take issue with Plan B, likening it to abortion. “Complying with the mandate would require the Kortes to violate their religious beliefs because it requires them to pay for, provide or otherwise support contraception, sterilization and abortion, the suit states, specifically noting the ‘morning-after pill.’” (Madison-St. Clair Record; October 2012)

14. Triune Health Group

Summary: A secular Illinois corporation that specializes in facilitating the re-entry of injured workers into the workforce. The health group employs 95 people.

Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction.

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep.

Christopher and Mary Anne Yep.

Founders: Christopher and Mary Anne Yep

The Yeps have likened Plan B to abortion. “The Yeps embrace a belief which is embedded in Triune’s mission statement that each individual be ‘treated with the human dignity and respect that God intended.’ They say the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, administered by HHS and the other federal agencies named in the lawsuit, as well as the Illinois insurance contraceptive mandate, administered by Illinois’ Department of Insurance, require the Triune to provide and pay for abortion-related and contraceptive coverage for its employees and their families.” (Life News; January 2013)

The Yeps have said that the contraceptive mandate imposes a “gravely oppressive burden” on their religious beliefs. “‘The federal and state governments are coercing our clients to violate their conscientious convictions in a fashion that is completely at odds with the resounding declarations of our Founding Fathers and our modern Supreme Court jurisprudence,’ said Samuel B. Casey, Managing Director and General Counsel for the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project.” (Life News; January 2013)

Ironically, Triune Health Group was recently awarded “Best Workplace for Women” by Crain’s Chicago Business. “In Crain’s survey, Triune employees said it’s not the company’s written policies or benefits that stand out—in fact, some even expressed a desire for more than three weeks’ vacation. But workers seemed to value the flexible approach that management takes with each employee’s needs. For years, the company has posted a 95 percent employee retention rate. Most employees work out of their homes and are given flex-time, part-time and telecommuting options.” (Crain’s Chicago Business; May 2012)

15. Grote Industries

Summary: An Indiana-based privately held manufacturer of vehicle safety systems. The family-owned company has 1,448 full-time employees. The Grote family is Roman Catholic.

William "Bill" Grote.

William “Bill” Grote.

Status: The district court denied a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which consolidated the case with Korte (#8) and granted Grote Industries a temporary injunction pending appeal, over the strong dissent of one judge.

Owner: William “Bill” Grote

Before the ACA, Grote Industries did not offer contraception in its company health insurance plan, citing the family’s Catholic beliefs. “The [Grotes] are Catholic and claim to operate their business according to the ‘precepts of their faith.’ This includes adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding ‘the moral wrongfulness of abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization’ and denying their employees contraception coverage in the company’s plan.” (Rewire; February 2013)

16. Weingartz Supply Company

Summary: A secular Michigan company that sells outdoor power equipment and employees 170 people. Owner Daniel Weingartz is Roman Catholic.

Daniel Weingartz.

Daniel Weingartz.

Status: The district court granted a preliminary injunction for plaintiff Daniel Weingartz and Weingartz Supply Company, but not Legatus, a non-profit organization comprising more than 4,000 Catholic business owners and organizations that also got involved with the case. Defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit in January. The government has filed a cross-appeal.

President: Daniel Weingartz

Weingartz has deliberately excluded contraceptive coverage in his company’s health-care plan. “Mr. Weingartz, a Roman Catholic, said he had devised a health plan that, in keeping with his religious beliefs, excluded coverage of contraceptives.” (New York Times; November 2012) 

 17. Infrastructure Alternatives, Inc.

Dredging.

Dredging.

Summary: A Michigan contractor in the fields of environmental dredging, contaminated sediment remediation, geotextile tube installation, and water treatment operations.

Status: Complaint filed. 

 

 18. Tonn and Blank Construction, LLC

construction

Indiana Construction company launches suit.

Summary: An Indiana construction company. The suit hasn’t gotten any publicity.

Status: Awaiting responses to motion for preliminary injunction, motion to dismiss, and motion to consolidate with Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

 

 

Sign the petition and read about the Birth Control Bosses here: http://ow.ly/iKVko

Sign the petition and read about the Birth Control Bosses here.

See our other coverage of these cases:

Tyndale:
The Sliding Scale of Sin: Tyndale Publishers and Contraception Without a Co-Pay
What’s Next In The Litigation Over The Obamacare Contraception Mandate?

Freshway:
Legal Wrap: Personhood, Statutory Rape, and the Second-Class Legal Status of Women

Conestoga:
Mennonite Business Latest To Challenge Contraception Mandate

Hercules Industries:

Federal Judge In Michigan Rules Against Birth Control Benefit in Favor of Business Owner
Will the Religious Right Succeed? An Examination of the Hercules Ruling on the Birth Control Benefit

Hobby Lobby:
Vajazzling for Jesus: Hobby Lobby Aims a Glue Gun at the Birth Control Benefit

Sotomayor Is Right: Hobby Lobby’s Legal Claims Are Not “Indisputably Clear”

Hobby Lobby Appeals Contraception Ruling

Bush Appointee Rejects Hobby Lobby Arguments Against Birth Control Benefit

In Hobby Lobby Case, Federal Court Weighs Whether Secular Employers Can Exercise Religious Rights

DOJ Makes The Case For Dismissing Hobby Lobby Suit Against Birth Control Benefit

Religious and Activist Groups Petition Hobby Lobby to Stop Birth Control Lawsuit

Domino’s:
Domino’s Pizza Founder Latest To Try And Block Contraception Mandate

Dominos Pizza Founder Wont Have To Comply With Contraception Mandate, Judge Rules 

O’Brien:
The O’Brien Decision: A Gift to the Obama Administration From a Bush Appointee 

Sharpe: Missouri Cheesemaker Wins Temporary Injunction Against ACA Birth Control Benefit

Korte: 7th Circuit Blocks Contraception Mandate, Suggests Expansion of “Religious Liberty” for Corporations

Grote: Latest Seventh Circuit Decision on Birth Control Benefit Paves Another Path To SCOTUS 
Weingartz: Federal Judge In Michigan Rules Against Birth Control Benefit in Favor of Business Owner

 

Analysis Human Rights

From Protected Class to High-Priority Target: How the ‘System Is Rigged’ Against Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Tina Vasquez

Vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation.

This is the first article in Rewire’s two-part series about the U.S. immigration system’s effects on unaccompanied children.

Earlier this month, three North Carolina high school students were released from a Lumpkin, Georgia, detention center after spending more than six months awaiting what seemed like their inevitable fate: deportation back to conditions in Central America that threatened their lives.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta, Josue Alexander Soriano Cortez, and Yefri Sorto-Hernandez were released on bail in the span of one week, thanks to an overwhelming community effort involving pro bono attorneys and bond money. However, not everyone targeted under the same government operation has been reprieved. For example, by the time reports emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detained Acosta on his way to school in Durham, North Carolina, the government agency had already quietly deported four other young people from the state, including a teenage girl from Guatemala who attended the same school.

Activated in January, that program—Operation Border Guardian—continues to affect the lives of hundreds of Central American migrants over the age of 18 who came to the United States as unaccompanied children after January 2014. Advocates believe many of those arrested under the operation are still in ICE custody.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the goal of Operation Border Guardian is to send a message to those in Central America considering seeking asylum in the United States. But it’s not working, as Border Patrol statistics have shown. Furthermore, vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation. These youth arrived at the border in hopes of qualifying for asylum, but were unable to succeed in an immigration system that seems rigged against them.

“The laws are really complicated and [young people] don’t have the community support to navigate this really hostile, complex system. That infrastructure isn’t there and unless we support asylum seekers and other immigrants in this part of the country, we’ll continue to see asylum seekers and former unaccompanied minors receive their deportation orders,” said Julie Mao, the enforcement fellow at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

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“A Grossly Misnamed” Operation

In January, ICE conducted a series of raids that spanned three southern states—Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—targeting Central American asylum seekers. The raids occurred under the orders of Johnson, who has taken a hardline stance against the more than 100,000 families who have sought asylum in the United States. These families fled deadly gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in recent years. In El Salvador, in particular, over 400 children were murdered by gang members and police officers during the first three months of 2016, doubling the country’s homicide rate, which was already among the highest in the world.

ICE picked up some 121 people in the early January raids, primarily women and their young children. Advocates argue many of those arrested were detained unlawfully, because as people who experienced severe trauma and exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression, they were disabled as defined under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ICE did not provide reasonable accommodations to ensure disabled people were not denied meaningful access to benefits or services.

Just a few weeks later, on January 23, ICE expanded the raids’ focus to include teenagers under Operation Border Guardian, which advocates said represented a “new low.”

The media, too, has also criticized DHS for its seemingly senseless targeting of a population that normally would be considered refugees. The New York Times called Operation Border Guardian “a grossly misnamed immigration-enforcement surge that went after people this country did not need to guard against.”

In response to questions about its prioritization of former unaccompanied minors, an ICE spokesperson told Rewire in an emailed statement: “As the secretary has stated repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered removed by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities.”

DHS reports that 336 undocumented Central American youth have been detained in the operation. It’s not clear how many of these youth have already been deported or remain in ICE custody, as the spokesperson did not respond to that question by press time.

Acosta, Cortez, Sorto-Hernandez, and three other North Carolina teenagersSantos Geovany Padilla-Guzman, Bilmer Araeli Pujoy Juarez, Pedro Arturo Salmeron—have become known as the NC6 and the face of Operation Border Guardian, a designation they likely would have not signed up for.

Advocates estimate that thousands of deportations of low-priority migrants—those without a criminal history—occur each week. What newly arrived Central American asylum seekers like Acosta could not have known was that the federal government had been laying the groundwork for their deportations for years.

Asylum Seekers Become “High-Priority Cases”

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced it would begin reviewing immigration cases individually, allowing ICE to focus its resources on “high-priority cases.” The assumption was that those who pose a threat to public safety, for example, would constitute the administration’s highest priority, not asylum-seeking high school students.

But there was an indication from DHS that asylum-seeking students would eventually be targeted and considered high-priority. After Obama’s announcement, ICE released a statement outlining who would constitute its “highest priorities,” saying, “Specifically individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats, as well as repeat immigration law violators and recent border entrants.”

In the years since, President Obama has repeatedly said “recent border crossers” are among the nation’s “highest priorities” for removal—on par with national security threats. Those targeted would be migrants with final orders of removal who, according to the administration, had received their day in court and had no more legal avenues left to seek protection. But, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported, “recent border entrant” is a murky topic, and it doesn’t appear as if all cases are being reviewed individually as President Obama said they would.

“Recent border entrant” can apply to someone who has been living in the United States for three years, and a border removal applies “whenever ICE deports an individual within three years of entry—regardless of whether the initial entry was authorized—or whenever an individual is apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” explained Thomas Homan, the head of ICE’s removal operations in a 2013 hearing with Congress, the ACLU reported.

Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, added that “[b]ecause CBP refuses to screen the individuals it apprehends for their ties to the U.S., and DHS overuses procedures that bypass deportation hearings before a judge, many ‘border removals’ are never fully assessed to determine whether they have a legal right to stay.”

Over the years, DHS has only ramped up the department’s efforts to deport newly arrived immigrants, mostly from Central America. As the Los Angeles Times reported, these deportations are “an attempt by U.S. immigration officials to send a message of deterrence to Central America and avoid a repeat of the 2014 crisis when tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the U.S. border.”

This is something Mao takes great issue with.

“These raids that we keep seeing are being done in order to deter another wave of children from seeking asylum—and that is not a permissible reason,” Mao said. “You deport people based on legality, not as a way of scaring others. Our country, in this political moment, is terrorizing young asylum seekers as a way of deterring others from presenting themselves at the border, and it’s pretty egregious.”

There is a direct correlation between surges of violence in the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and an uptick in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the United States. El Salvador, known as the murder capital of the word, recently saw an explosion of gang violence. Combine that with the possible re-emergence of so-called death squads and it’s clear why the number of Salvadoran family units apprehended on the southern border increased by 96 percent from 2015 to 2016, as Fusion reported.

Much like Mao, Elisa Benitez, co-founder of the immigrants rights’ organization Alerta Migratoria NC, believes undocumented youth are being targeted needlessly.

“They should be [considered] low-priority just because they’re kids, but immigration is classifying them at a very high level, meaning ICE is operating like this is a population that needs to be arrested ASAP,” Benitez said.

The Plight of Unaccompanied Children

Each member of the NC6 arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied child fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Acosta, for example, was threatened by gangs in his native Honduras and feared for his life. These young people should qualify as refugees based on those circumstances under international law. In the United States, after they present themselves at the border, they have to prove to an immigration judge they have a valid asylum claim—something advocates say is nearly impossible for a child to do with no understanding of the immigration system and, often, with no access to legal counsel—or they face deportation.

Unaccompanied children, if not immediately deported, have certain protections once in the United States. For example, they cannot be placed into expedited removal proceedings. According to the American Immigration Council, “they are placed into standard removal proceedings in immigration court. CBP must transfer custody of these children to Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within 72 hours.”

While their court proceedings move forward, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of the children until they can ideally be released to their parents already based in the country. Sometimes, however, they are placed with distant relatives or U.S. sponsors. Because HHS has lowered its safety standards regarding placement, children have been subjected to sexual abuse, labor trafficking, and severe physical abuse and neglect, ThinkProgress has reported.

If while in the care of their family or a sponsor they miss a court date, detainment or deportation can be triggered once they turn 18 and no longer qualify for protections afforded to unaccompanied children. 

This is what happened to Acosta, who was placed with his mother in Durham when he arrived in the United States. ICE contends that Acosta was not targeted unfairly; rather, his missed court appearance triggered his order for removal.

Acosta’s mother told local media that after attending his first court date, Acosta “skipped subsequent ones on the advice of an attorney who told him he didn’t stand a chance.”

“That’s not true, but it’s what they were told,” Benitez said. “So, this idea that all of these kids were given their day in court is false. One kid [we work with] was even told not to sign up for school because ‘there was no point,’ it would just get him deported.”

Benitez told Rewire the reasons why these young people are being targeted and given their final orders of removal need to be re-examined.

Sixty percent of youth from Central America do not ever have access to legal representation throughout the course of their case—from the time they arrive in the United States and are designated as unaccompanied children to the time they turn 18 and are classified as asylum seekers. According to the ACLU, 44 percent of the 23,000 unaccompanied children who were required to attend immigration court this year had no lawyer, and 86 percent of those children were deported.

Immigration attorneys and advocates say that having a lawyer is absolutely necessary if a migrant is to have any chance of winning an asylum claim.

Mao told Rewire that in the Southeast where Acosta and the other members of the NC6 are from, there is a pipeline of youth who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied children who are simply “giving up” on their valid asylum claims because navigating the immigration system is simply too hard.

“They feel the system is rigged, and it is rigged,” Mao said.

Mao has been providing “technical assistance” for Acosta and other members of the NC6. Her organization doesn’t represent individuals in court, she said, but the services it provides are necessary because immigration is such a unique area of law and there are very few attorneys who know how to represent individuals who are detained and who have been designated unaccompanied minors. Those services include providing support, referrals, and technical assistance to advocates, community organizations, and families on deportation defense and custody issues.

Fighting for Asylum From Detention

Once arrested by ICE, there is no telling if someone will linger in detention for months or swiftly be deported. What is known is that if a migrant is taken by ICE in North Carolina, somewhere along the way, they will be transferred to Lumpkin, Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. As a local paper reported, Stewart is “the last stop before they send you back to whatever country you came from.”

Stewart is the largest detention center in the country, capable of holding 2,000 migrants at any time—it’s also been the subject of numerous investigations because of reports of abuse and inadequate medical care. The detention center is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison provider and one that has become synonymous with maintaining inhumane conditions inside of its detention centers. According to a report from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Stewart’s remote location—over two hours away from Atlanta—hinders the facility from attracting and retaining adequate medical staff, while also creating barriers to visitation from attorneys and family members.

There’s also the matter of Georgia being notoriously tough on asylum seekers, even being called the “worst” place to be an undocumented immigrant. The Huffington Post reported that “Atlanta immigration judges have been accused of bullying children, badgering domestic violence victims and setting standards for relief and asylum that lawyers say are next to impossible to meet.” Even more disconcerting, according to a project by Migrahack, which pairs immigration reporters and hackers together, having an attorney in Georgia had almost no effect on whether or not a person won their asylum case, with state courts denying up to 98 percent of asylum requests. 

Acosta, Cortez, and Sorto-Hernandez spent over six months in Stewart Detention Center before they were released on baila “miracle” according to some accounts, given the fact that only about 5 percent of those detained in Stewart are released on bond.

In the weeks after ICE transferred Acosta to Stewart, there were multiple times Acosta was on the verge of deportation. ICE repeatedly denied Acosta was in danger, but advocates say they had little reason to believe the agency. Previous cases have made them wary of such claims.

Advocates believe that three of the North Carolina teens who were deported earlier this year before Acosta’s case made headlines were kept in detention for months with the goal of wearing them down so that they would sign their own deportation orders despite having valid asylum claims.

“They were tired. They couldn’t handle being in detention. They broke down and as much as they feared being returned to their home countries, they just couldn’t handle being there [in detention] anymore. They’d already been there for weeks,” Benitez said.

While ICE claims the average stay of a migrant in Stewart Detention Center is 30 days, the detention center is notorious for excessively long detainments. Acosta’s own bunkmate had been there over a year, according to Indy Week reporter David Hudnall.

As Hudnall reported, there is a massive backlog of immigration cases in the system—474,000 nationally and over 5,000 in North Carolina.

Mao told Rewire that the amount of time the remaining members of the NC6 will spend in detention varies because of different legal processes, but that it’s not unusual for young people with very strong asylum cases to sign their rights away because they can’t sustain the conditions inside detention.

Pedro Arturo Salmeron, another NC6 member, is still in detention. He was almost deported, but Mao told Rewire her organization was able to support a pro bono attorney in appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to stop proceedings.

Japeth Matemu, an immigration attorney, recently told Indy Week’s David Hudnall that “the BIA will tell you that it can’t modify the immigration judge’s ruling unless it’s an egregious or obvious miscarriage of justice. You basically have to prove the judge is off his rocker.”

It could take another four months in detention to appeal Salmeron’s case because ICE continues to refuse to release him, according to the legal fellow.

“That’s a low estimate. It could be another year in detention before there is any movement in his case. We as an organization feel that is egregious to detain someone while their case is pending,” Mao said. “We have to keep in mind that these are kids, and some of these kids can’t survive the conditions of adult prison.”

Detention centers operate as prisons do, with those detained being placed in handcuffs and shackles, being stripped of their personal belongings, with no ability to move around freely. One of Acosta’s teachers told Rewire he wasn’t even able to receive his homework in detention.

Many of those in detention centers have experienced trauma. Multiple studies confirm that “detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being” and in the particular case of asylum seekers, detention may exacerbate their trauma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“People are so traumatized by the raids, and then you add detention on top of that. Some of these kids cannot psychologically and physically deal with the conditions in detention, so they waive their rights,” Mao said.

In March, Salmeron and fellow NC6 member Yefri Sorto-Hernandez received stays of deportation, meaning they would not face immediate deportation. ICE says a stay is like a “legal pause.” During the pause, immigration officials decide if evidence in the case will be reconsidered for asylum. Sorto-Hernandez was released five months later.

Benitez said that previously when she organized around detention, a stay of deportation meant the person would get released from detention, but ICE’s decision to detain some of the NC6 indefinitely until their cases are heard illustrates how “weirdly severe” the agency is being toward this particular population. Mao fears this is a tactic being used by ICE to break down young people in detention.

“ICE knows it will take months, and frankly up to a year, for some of these motions to go through the court system, but the agency is still refusing to release individuals. I can’t help but think it’s with the intention that these kids will give up their claims while suffering in detention,” Mao said.

“I think we really have to question that, why keep these young people locked up when they can be with their communities, with their families, going to school? ICE can release these kids now, but for showmanship, ICE is refusing to let them go. Is this who we want to be, is this the message we want to send the world?” she asked.

In the seven months since the announcement of Operation Border Guardian, DHS has remained quiet about whether or not there will be more raids on young Central American asylum seekers. As a new school year approaches, advocates fear that even more students will be receiving their orders for removal, and unlike the NC6, they may not have a community to rally around them, putting them at risk of quietly being deported and not heard from again.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

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