Tenn. bishop backs religious freedom lawsuit after alternatives fail

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Bishop David Choby of Nashville.

Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville says he has “encouraged and supported” a lawsuit from the Diocese of Nashville and seven other Catholic entities against the federal HHS mandate because efforts to protect the right to religious freedom through other channels have been “rebuffed.”

“There is no doubt that we do need to find ways to improve the delivery of health care to people; but we must begin with the recognition of the fundamental dignity of every person. That fundamental dignity includes the value of religious freedom,” Bishop Choby said in a Sept. 14 letter.

The Nashville diocese, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Aquinas College, two Catholic high schools, a retirement home, an assisted living home and a Catholic child development center have challenged the federal mandate in court on the grounds it violates their religious freedom. The latter three institutions do not qualify for a “safe harbor” provision delaying the federal rule’s implementation because they discovered their insurance plan covered oral contraceptives after a federal deadline.

The Department of Health and Human Services requires that most employers with over 50 employees provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. Its narrow religious exemption may not apply to many Catholic institutions and the Obama administration’s promised accommodation has yet to be finalized.

Bishop Choby said the bishops would rather not be in the position of filing legal challenges.
“In seeking to force the Church to act or make provision to act against her moral principles, the government is asserting its interest over those appropriate and proper to the Church,” he said.
The bishop pointed to the efforts of Cardinal Francis George and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to engage President Obama and congressional leaders to express their concerns.

Bishop Choby said that despite assurances from the Obama administration that Catholic moral values would be protected, “those assurances have been (for whatever reason) set aside.”

The bishop asked for Catholics’ “prayerful support” at “such an important moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States.”

The bishop said the lawsuit’s cost to the diocese will be “very modest” because of pro bono work from Jones Day law firm, which is leading several other lawsuits.

There are 29 active lawsuits representing over 80 institutions and individuals which are challenging the federal mandate.

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