The big news today is the coordinated filing of 12 lawsuits by 43 Catholic dioceses and institutions across country, all challenging the HHS contraception-coverage mandate. A complete list of the plaintiffs—including the Archdioceses of Washington and New York, the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, and numerous Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations, and schools—can be found here.
A statement about the lawsuit from the Archdiocese of Washington, DC stresses that it “is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs”:
The HHS mandate that all employers provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization includes only a narrow exemption for certain organizations that the government deems sufficiently “religious.” … This radical and narrow definition of what constitutes a “religious employer” attacks religious freedom by defining it away: by extending religious freedom protection only to houses of worship, HHS’s exemption reduces religious freedom to the freedom of worship.
The Archdiocese of Washington also has posted a video message from its chancellor, Jane Belford, explaining the reasons behind the lawsuit.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said regarding his archdiocese’s suit: “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress, — and will keep at it — and there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”
At National Review Online, George Weigel describes the lawsuits as taking the battle between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration into “the second quarter”:
While the media’s attention to this battle has typically focused on the U.S. bishops’ conference and the administration, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan (the conference president) in one corner and President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the other, the number and character of the litigants now challenging the administration’s mandate ought to make it clear that this is not “the bishops vs. the administration” during an election year; it is the administration vs. the Catholic Church on an issue of first principle. That one of the litigants is the University of Notre Dame, which in 2009 gave President Obama an honorary doctorate of laws and invited him to address its commencement ceremony, ought to underscore the point that the mandate is regarded as a threat to religious freedom far beyond the boundaries of the bishops’ conference.
As Weigel points out, Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, has stated, “This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission.” In his email to Notre Dame faculty and staff explaining the school’s decision, Jenkins continued, “For if one Presidential Administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another Administration will do the same for another very different set of policies, each time invoking some concept of popular will or the public good, with the result these religious organizations become mere tools for the exercise of government power, morally subservient to the state, and not free from its infringements.”
Law professor Helen Alvare—whose open letter to the administration opposing the mandate has been signed by 28,000 women in the last three months—writes in the Washington Post that those who see a “war on women” in the objections to the HHS regulations should consider the fact that women are more likely than men to practice a religious faith. “So when you undercut religious freedom, you undercut women,” she argues.
The editorial board of Our Sunday Visitor—which is among the entities suing the government—describes the HHS mandate as “an enormous violation of religious liberty, forcing Catholic organizations to fund medical procedures and drugs that the Church teaches are morally wrong”:
In opposing the HHS regulations, the Church is also defending the religious liberty of all believers guaranteed to us in the Constitution. Even those who may not be inclined to agree with the Church’s position on issues like contraception and sterilization recognize that once this precedent has been set, once the guarantee of religious liberty has been breached, other governments and other elected officials will find it much easier to impose their standards and their priorities on our Church or others.
Today, Our Sunday Visitor stands proudly with our fellow Catholic apostolates and with our bishops in resisting this challenge. We ask all of our readers to stand with us — in charity, praying first and foremost for conversions of heart; in civility, arguing the facts of this case without recourse to bitter partisanship or political rhetoric; and in solidarity, 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.
“All of this probably makes the New York Times’ analysis of how Obama will win Catholic votes little more than wishful thinking,” writes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. “This oppressive move may well cast Catholics off from the Democratic Party for a generation. This will be a ‘come to Jesus’ moment for many Catholics, and a wake-up call to the USCCB about the nature of government mandates in general.”