Forty-three Catholic organizations file lawsuits against HHS mandate

By Michelle Bauman

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President Obama and HHS Secretary Sebelius at the press conference on Preventive Health Services and Religious Institutions. Credit: C-SPAN.

Forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country have announced religious liberty lawsuits against the federal government to challenge the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

The announcement was applauded by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who called it “a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty.”

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there's still no fix,” said Cardinal Dolan, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now,” he explained in a May 21 statement.

The bishops’ conference is not a party to the lawsuits, although several individual dioceses across the country are.

Cardinal Dolan praised the “courageous action” as “a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate.”

The lawsuits argue that a federal mandate issued by the Obama administration violates their fundamental religious liberty. The controversial mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

The mandate has drawn heavy criticism from bishops in every diocese in the U.S. They warned that the regulation could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable agencies around the nation to close down.

At least 11 previous lawsuits have already been filed against the mandate by states, colleges, private employers and organizations throughout the U.S.

Now, 12 new lawsuits are being filed by 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies in a dozen different jurisdictions across the country. 

The Archdioceses of New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C, are part of separate lawsuits against the measure, as are Catholic Charities organizations in several dioceses and the Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor. Other dioceses filing lawsuits include, Rockville Centre, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Fort Worth, Jackson, Biloxi, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Joliet, and Springfield, Ill. --all in their respective districts of federal court.

An editorial in “OSV Newsweekly” explained that the organization “stands proudly with our fellow Catholic apostolates and with our bishops in resisting this challenge.”

It called on readers to support the effort, knowing that “whatever sacrifices we bear and whatever challenges we endure, we are only doing what is our responsibility as American citizens practicing our faith in the public square.”

The editorial recalled the spirit of Our Sunday Visitor’s founder, Fr. John Noll, “who resisted the power of the Ku Klux Klan when it was such a powerful political force.”

It explained that “it is in his courageous spirit that we invoke as we engage in this great struggle today.”

Several Catholic universities around the country also joined in the lawsuits, including The Catholic University of America, the University of Notre Dame and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., said the lawsuit was filed “neither lightly nor gladly, but with sober determination.”

“We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others,” he explained in an email to Notre Dame employees. 

Rather, he explained, “we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings.”

According to Fr. Jenkins, the lawsuit is about “the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.” 

He cautioned that when the government decides “which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission,” the nation has started down a path that could lead to “the end of genuinely religious organizations in all but name.”

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