“Plaintiff Stephen W. Briscoe is a believing and practicing Evangelical Christian,” the brief in the case filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom in federal district court in Colorado explains. Briscoe runs several assisted-living centers and skilled nursing facilities for seniors and “sincerely holds religious beliefs that God mandates respect for the sanctity of each human life and that abortion and abortion-inducing drugs result in the wrongful taking of a human life. Mr. Briscoe seeks to run his businesses in accord with his sincerely held religious beliefs,” the brief reads. Briscoe, who became the first business owner to join over 130 plaintiffs suing over the HHS mandate since the latest insufficient “accommodation” was issued, talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why are you suing the federal government over this mandate?
STEPHEN W. BRISCOE: This mandate requires me and the business I own, built, and operate with God’s blessing to cover abortion-inducing drugs in violation of my religious beliefs. I built this business and should be free to run it according to my values and faith. Washington politicians should not be able to run roughshod over the God-given freedom to live and do business according to my faith.
LOPEZ: What does abortion have to do with running centers for seniors?
BRISCOE: Abortion involves the destruction of a human being created, at the moment of conception, in the image of God. The government should not be able to force my business to provide free abortion-inducing drugs in the health-insurance plan I provide for the employees of my business. The insurance plan I provide to our employees is very generous. But I should be free to conduct my business according to my convictions and without being forced by the government to violate my beliefs in order to stay in business.
LOPEZ: Why does your religious faith have anything to do with your employees?
BRISCOE: The employees of my business are free to exercise their faith as they see fit. The only one imposing its views in this abortion-pill mandate is the government. As an American and family-business owner, I should be free to live and do business according to my faith.
LOPEZ: But is this really about religious liberty when you still retain the right to go to church on Sunday and say your prayers when you like?
BRISCOE: In America, we have the God-given freedom, protected by our First Amendment, to live according to our faith seven days a week — at home, in church, in our place of business, or in the public square. The government cannot take that right away from us and require us to confine our beliefs to the four walls of our church or home.
LOPEZ: Does it bother you that all the focus has been on the birth-control aspect of this mandate in the media, while there’s been almost no attention given to the abortion-drug aspect?
BRISCOE: The government’s entire abortion-pill mandate is a deception. The government calls these drugs “contraceptives” when really many of them are abortion-inducing drugs. I don’t really have any objections to covering contraceptives. I do object to being mandated to cover abortion-inducing drugs. The media should fairly cover these issues.
LOPEZ: Why couldn’t you just comply?
BRISCOE: Without a court order, I will be forced to choose between complying with the abortion-pill mandate and deserting my religious beliefs or refusing to comply with the abortion-pill mandate and facing massive fines. The calculation of the fines is very complicated; but it has been estimated that I would face fines of at least $340,000 per year, and perhaps more. It is not right that I should be forced to comply.
LOPEZ: Aren’t you being unfair to the women who work for you?
BRISCOE: My business offers good pay and a generous health-insurance plan to its employees. The only one being unfair is the government. All of these drugs are readily available, often free, now. Every woman has access to those things if they choose to use them. What is unfair is for the government to force me to violate my religious beliefs by paying for other people’s abortion drugs.
LOPEZ: What is conscience, really? Isn’t it outdated in our day and age?
BRISCOE: What our Founding Fathers said in our Declaration of Independence over 200 years ago — all are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain God-given rights — is an eternal truth. These rights, enshrined in our First Amendment, will never be outdated; even if the government seeks to deprive us of such rights.
LOPEZ: The Department of Justice has been arguing in similar cases that folks like you do not have a religious-liberty claim. As an American, how do you process that?
BRISCOE: I find that claim to be mind-boggling. Just because I do business as a corporation does not mean that I forfeit my religious beliefs. Like most Americans, I don’t want the Justice Department or other Washington politicians and bureaucrats deciding what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how my faith may be lived out.