Update from Jane Belford, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Washington
Earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Washington and several other Catholic organizations filed a brief opposing the federal government’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit against the HHS mandate. As you may recall, our lawsuit was one of several filed in federal courts across the country on May 21. The government has filed motions to dismiss all of those cases on procedural grounds and thereby deny us our day in court.
As stated in our brief in opposition, our case is about freedom protected by the First Amendment, assured by federal law, and trampled by the government’s unprecedented regulations. The HHS mandate, which requires all employers’ health plans to include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization, includes a very narrow exemption for “religious employers.” Contrary to long-standing precedent, only those religious institutions that primarily serve and employ individuals of their own faith are deemed “religious enough” to be exempt from the mandate. Catholic schools, universities, hospitals and other charities that serve all individuals regardless of their faith, do not qualify as religious for purposes of the exemption. Consequently, the HHS mandate forces these organizations to act in direct violation of their Catholic beliefs.
For most businesses across the country, the mandate took effect on August 1, but we and other religious organizations were given another year before we are put to an impossible choice: 1) acquiesce to the mandate and violate our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of life, something we obviously cannot do; 2) attempt to qualify for the mandate’s radically narrow exemption and thereby violate our faith’s call to serve all in need, which we also cannot do; or 3) pay massive fines for not complying with the mandate.
In order to continue to practice our faith’s teachings, we would either have to stop providing our employees with health care coverage altogether—which could carry a fine of at least $4 million a year and violate the archdiocese’s moral commitment to care for its employees—or continue providing health care coverage consistent with our religious beliefs, and be forced to pay a penalty of $100 a day per covered individual. With approximately 4,000 people currently enjoying excellent health care coverage, the archdiocese could be forced to pay penalties that could exceed $100 million per year—all for practicing our Catholic faith.
The government’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit argued that the administration has promised to come up with a way to resolve our concerns about the mandate, and that we should just wait it out. In fact, the government argued that we could wait until the day before the mandate takes effect and still not suffer any harm. But the mandate’s impact would be so severe that we cannot be required to take that risk. You can read in our opposition brief how the mandate is already having an impact on the archdiocese and why we must know now whether we will be made to pay such a price for practicing our faith.
For the most up-to-date information on the HHS mandate, our legal challenge and the broader effort to protect religious liberty, please visit The Issue section of PreserveReligiousFreedom.org. The Latest News and Information section includes the most recent articles and columns on these topics. Watch for developments in the coming weeks as our case makes its way through the legal system and as related events take place here in this archdiocese and around the country.
I hope you will continue to stay informed about this matter which is so critical to the protection of freedoms we have always enjoyed in our nation. Be sure to share the facts with your family and friends. And most importantly, please pray for the protection of religious liberty, our first and most sacred freedom.
Jane G. Belford
Archdiocese of Washington