Adding to the dozens of lawsuits against the HHS mandate, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and three other Catholic institutions have filed a legal challenge to the federal rule.
“We are undertaking this action because the stakes are so incredibly high,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said Oct. 10. “The unchallenged results of the HHS mandate would require that we compromise or violate our religious faith and ethical beliefs.”
The archbishop, a past president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the mandate affects the religious liberty of the archdiocese, of Catholics, and people of other beliefs throughout the country.
“We become one more voice that must be heard by the courts as they consider the legality of this action,” he said.
The Atlanta archdiocese is joined in the lawsuit by the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Christ the King Catholic School in Atlanta.
Over 100 plaintiffs have filed 33 other lawsuits against the federal government challenging the Department of Health and Human Services mandate.
The Atlanta archdiocese’s lawsuit says the existing legality of contraception and sterilization “does not authorize the government to co-opt religious entities” into providing or facilitating access to them.
The mandate’s existing religious exemption is “so narrowly worded” that religious institutions like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Christ the King Catholic School may not qualify for it, the archdiocese said.
Joseph Krygiel, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta, said the charity board feels that religious freedom is “the cornerstone of every basic human right.” He said the mandate is “an unprecedented direct attack on our Catholic faith and our religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
“This lawsuit is not about contraception, it is about religious freedom and it always has been,” he said.
The religious exemption applies only to religious organizations that primarily employ and serve co-religionists and that mainly aim to instill religious values.
Krygiel said that the majority of poor and needy people his agency serves are not Catholic and clients are never asked about their religious beliefs before they are provided help.
“There is a saying in Catholic Charities agencies across the country, ‘We help people not because they are Catholic; we help people because we are Catholic,’” he said.
The Obama administration has proposed an accommodation for religious employers, but the details are not yet clear. The administration has opposed congressional efforts to provide a broad religious exemption to the controversial coverage mandate.
Employers who do not comply with the mandate face fines of $100 per employee per day. Prominent Catholic institutions like the University of Notre Dame or EWTN Global Catholic Network could face annual six- or seven-figure fines.
Minor children on their parents’ health plans are included in the mandate. About half of U.S. states allow minors to consent to contraception, meaning they could receive the drugs without parental involvement.
Several non-Catholic employers and religious institutions have challenged the suit, including Hobby lobby, Wheaton College, two Baptist universities and the Bible publisher Tyndale House.