More than three dozen Catholic archdioceses and institutions filed suit in federal courts on Monday challenging the constitutionality of the so-called contraception mandate in President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul.
Claiming that their “fundamental rights hang in the balance,” a total of 43 plaintiffs filed a dozen separate suits against the requirement that employers’ health insurance plans cover birth control.
The mandate created a storm of controversy when it came to light as part of Obamacare. The Obama administration softened its position on the mandate several months ago.
"We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and will keep at it — and there's still no fix," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. "Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."
In a statement, the archdioces said: "The Archdiocese of New York has filed this suit because the federal government is requiring religious organizations, under penalty of law, to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to services that are contrary to their deeply held and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs."
Obama shifted responsibility for paying for reproductive procedures from religious institutions to health insurance companies. But employees of Catholic institutions will still be able to get contraceptive coverage from their health plans.
Just last month, Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl
told Newsmax.TV, “This is the invasion of our religious freedom by a government mandate.”
A statement from the University of Notre Dame on Monday said the requirement would call on religious-affiliated groups to “facilitate” coverage “for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church."
“The federal mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures” and “authorizes the government to determine which organizations are sufficiently ‘religious’ to warrant an exemption from the requirement.”
The Archdiocese of Washington also issued a statement reading in part: “Today, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a legal action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) unprecedented mandate dramatically redefining religious ministry and requiring religious organizations to provide coverage for drugs and procedures in direct conflict with their religious beliefs.
“Archbishop Carroll High School, Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; and The Catholic University of America are also plaintiffs in the same action.
“The archdiocese’s complaint maintains that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment and federal law by forcing the plaintiffs, all Catholic organizations, to sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving all people in need.
“Specifically, the suit stems from the mandate’s new definition of what constitutes a religious organization. Contrary to long-standing precedent, the law exempts from the mandate only those religious institutions that primarily serve and employ individuals of their own faith. Any other religious organizations, like Catholic schools, universities, hospitals and charities that serve all individuals regardless of their faith, do not themselves qualify as religious for purposes of the exemption.
“Consequently, the HHS mandate forces these organizations to act in direct violation of their Catholic beliefs.”
Cardinal Wuerl said in the statement that the mandate forces Catholic institutions “to provide coverage for drugs and procedures that we believe are morally wrong.”
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