Eden Foods CEO May Have Tanked His Own Anti-Obamacare Case

Eden Foods CEO Michael Potter couldn't stick with his original story, and the real one might force his attorneys to withdraw their lawsuit over the birth control mandate.

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If there's one thing I can't stand, it's companies that claim to be "socially responsible" while they shove a knife into the backs of women across the nation. Eden Foods qualifies. It pretends it's a crunchy company, full of organic goodness and "social responsibility" but really, it's run by a libertarian who just doesn't like government regulations very much.

Michael Potter, Eden Foods' CEO, didn't care for the birth control mandate in Obamacare, so he paired up with the Thomas More Center, a conservative legal services non-profit, in order to weasel out of it on religious grounds.

Check out the image at the top. That small print up in the right hand corner says "Organic, Independently Owned, Socially responsible, And UNDER ATTACK. As if slapping the term "organic" on your packaging somehow makes your product magically attractive to liberals who object to eating pesticides with their green beans.

At any rate, Mr. Pious Potter's religious sensibilities were so rocked by the meanness of the birth control mandate that he felt compelled to go to court, where he swore his faith would just be too harmed by having to include birth control as a benefit to employees under the Affordable Care Act. Uh huh. Sure.

Salon interviewed Mr. Potter about his Catholicism and fervent religiosity, and they had quite a conversation. It began this way:

I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills,” the unfamiliar voice on the phone said to me.

Oops, who was that masked man? It was Mr. Potter, calling the reporter to offer a comment to an earlier story about his quiet lawsuit. And then he went on...

It wasn’t that he was upset about my reporting or what his company was doing. He was just sorry my request for comment had gone unanswered due to an oversight. I accepted the apology, and asked why he said he didn’t care about birth control, since he filed a suit about it and all.

“Because I’m a man, number one and it’s really none of my business what women do,” Potter said. So, then, why bother suing? “Because I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” He added, “I’m not trying to get birth control out of Rite Aid or Wal-Mart, but don’t tell me I gotta pay for it.”

Oh, I see now. It's not about being Catholic or having a religious objection. At least, it's not if you're talking to a publication that is read by a mostly-liberal readership who might actually be a large chunk of those who consume your product. No, what it's about is having to pay for birth control coverage. Never mind that it's cheaper than maternity coverage. Oh, he had an answer for that contradiction too:

Potter replied, “One’s got a little more warmth and fuzziness to it than the other, for crying out loud.”

I guess that depends on who you ask. Women might disagree.

ThinkProgress points out that he just let the cat out of the bag about his motive. He's a libertarian type who just doesn't think the government should tell him, the CEO, what health coverage to provide for his employees. If he wants to cover Viagra and not birth control, that's his damn right! Maybe, maybe not, but whatever it is, it's not religious, and so he may have just made a mess out of his lawsuit.

The reason why these quotes matter is because there is nothing in federal law allowing someone to sue because they generally object to having the government tell them what to do — if that were the case, speed limits, workplace safety laws and the minimum wage would all be illegal. Instead, a federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) permits people to challenge federal laws only when those laws “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Potter can’t get into federal court because he does not like the birth control law, he can only get into court if he has a religious objection to birth control. And yet, here he is telling a reporter that “the beginning and end” of his objection to the Obama Administration’s rules is that he does not think the federal government should have the power to tell him to provide certain benefits to his employees — not that he believes that such laws burden his faith.

If Potter does not actually object to the birth control rules on religious grounds, then that’s the end of his case. As a federal appeals court explained in a decision that is binding upon the judge hearing the Eden Foods case, a plaintiff may only invoke the protections of RFRA when a law burdens “a religious belief rather than a philosophy or way of life,” and when the plaintiff’s purported religious belief is “sincerely held.

Aww, that's too bad. After this week, Potter ought to re-examine his attitude toward government and regulations. More often than not, those pesky regulations do things like save lives, make workers more productive, and actually protect the people government should be protecting.

As for me, I won't be buying Eden Foods products unless and until Mr. Potter stands up and agrees that women should be entitled to fair health coverage just like men have had for eons.

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