5/30/12 | 664 views
Cardinal Says ‘Fundamental Rights’ Threatened, as Suits Are Filed Against HHS Mandate
Cardinal Dolan and other Church leaders last week spoke out strongly in defense of religious liberty after filing a series of lawsuits against the Obama administration mandate requiring them to cover contraceptives and sterilization in their employee health plans, with the cardinal declaring that “time is running out.”
“Our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now,” the cardinal said May 21 after the suits were filed in various federal courts around the country.
The archdiocese was among the 43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions—including the University of Notre Dame—that filed 12 simultaneous lawsuits in a move to stop implementation of the mandate, which they say will force them to violate their religious beliefs.
“This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference,” said the opening statement of the suit filed by the Archdiocese of New York along with the Diocese of Rockville Centre and three health and charitable agencies in the dioceses.
Cardinal Dolan, in his statement, said the lawsuits reflect “a great show of the diversity of the Church’s ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate.”
The mandate contains a narrow exemption for religious organizations such as parishes and churches. But that exemption does not extend to Catholic organizations that serve the general public such as hospitals, charitable agencies and colleges, which the organizations say negates their religious affiliation and redefines their ministries.
In the days that followed the lawsuit filings, Cardinal Dolan made that point in appearances on television news shows and in other interviews and in his own blog postings.
“We’ve been pretty clear that this is about religious freedom, not about contraception,” he said May 22 on “CBS This Morning.”
“What we worry about…is the exemption given to the churches is so strangling, so narrow—and it’s also presumptuous, that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the Church the extent of its ministry and its ministers,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, whose archdiocese was among those filing a suit, wrote in a May 23 op-ed article in the Washington Post that “the mandate’s definition of a religious organization contradicts decades of precedent and practice.”
“Republicans and Democrats alike have long agreed that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty includes not only what goes on within the four walls of a church but also the religiously motivated acts of service that fulfill the mission of that church’s faith,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, in a Knights of Columbus-Marist poll released May 22 nearly three-quarters of Americans said freedom of religion should be protected in this country, even if it conflicts with other laws. The survey of 1,606 U.S. adults was conducted by telephone May 10-14, shortly before the lawsuits were filed.
Respondents were asked to choose which of two statements “comes closer to your view”: “Freedom of religion should be protected even if it goes against government laws” or “Government laws should be observed without exception even if it restricts freedom of religion.” Overall, 74 percent of the respondents agreed with the first statement and only 26 percent agreed with the second.
The New York groups’ lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, names as defendants the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury, and their heads: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Joining the archdiocese and the Rockville Centre Diocese as plaintiffs were Catholic Health Care System (ArchCare) in New York and Catholic Charities and Catholic Health Services in Rockville Centre.
Other plaintiffs, who filed in U.S. district courts in their regions, include the Archdiocese of St. Louis and nine other dioceses, the Michigan Catholic Conference, various schools and social service agencies and the national Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, which said in an editorial that it “stands proudly with our fellow Catholic apostolates and with our bishops in resisting this challenge.”
The Catholic universities that filed suits are Notre Dame, The Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and the University of St. Francis in Indiana.
Each of the lawsuits uses similar wording to make its case and each asks for a jury trial.
Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, said in a statement that the decision to file the lawsuit “came after much deliberation, discussion and efforts to find a solution acceptable to the various parties.”
“This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan, in his initial statement, said, “We have tried negotiations with the administration and legislation with the Congress—and we'll keep at it—but there’s still no fix.” Cardinal Dolan also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is not a party to the lawsuits.
Erin Shields, HHS director of communications for health care, told Catholic News Service May 21 that the department cannot comment on pending litigation.
Catholic News Service contributed to this article.
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