What is the reason for the lawsuit?
This lawsuit is about religious freedom and our ability to serve the public, not about contraception. The Church maintains that the First Amendment protects the Catholic Church’s ability to serve the public in accordance with its faith and to operate its religious institutions without government interference. The argument challenges the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines what is, and is not, a religious institution. By including an exemption at all, the government apparently agrees that, in keeping with decades of practice and precedent, religious institutions should not be compelled to purchase drugs or procedures that violate deeply held religious or moral beliefs. But, the Administration’s HHS mandate defines religious ministry so narrowly that religious schools, hospitals, and social services don’t qualify as religious, and must therefore provide these drugs and procedures. This violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. It forces religious organizations to sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving the public.
Who is filing this lawsuit?
In this particular lawsuit, the plaintiffs are the Archdiocese of Washington; Archbishop Carroll High School, Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; The Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; and The Catholic University of America.
Nationally, there are 12 lawsuits being filed in total on behalf of 43 separate Catholic institutions. The plaintiffs include other dioceses, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic health systems, and Catholic charitable organizations that have been forced to facilitate and fund activities that violate their religious and moral convictions.
Why file the lawsuit now?
The mandate was made final on February 15, 2012, so it is the law right now, and it will go into effect soon (August 1, 2012, for some and August 1, 2013, for others). We have pursued all other avenues to correct the problem without litigation, through efforts with the White House and Congress, and they have not succeeded. We can’t predict how the Supreme Court’s decision in the Affordable Care Act lawsuit will affect this mandate, and we can’t risk waiting in vain. So we must act as soon as possible to protect our rights before these deadlines come, and litigation takes time.
Which court will hear the suit?
The legal action for the Archdiocese of Washington and other plaintiffs is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Why fight over contraception?
Many politicians, and some in the media, want people to think this controversy is about access to contraception. It is not. The government claims it only wants to ensure access to abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, but these services are already widely available (even to teenage girls) at little or no cost. In fact, with a prescription, birth control pills cost just nine dollars a month, or can be obtained at no cost to the individual at certain health care clinics. No part of the lawsuit challenges women’s established legal right to purchase contraception
Aren’t dioceses and archdioceses exempt from compliance with the mandate?
It is unclear. The law is worded in a way that makes it impossible to predict with certainty whether a particular religious entity is exempt. To be considered a “religious employer” for the purposes of the mandate, a Catholic organization must (among other requirements) serve “primarily” Catholics. But dioceses do not keep running tallies of the number of Catholics and non-Catholics they serve—they never even ask. As Catholics, we believe that our neighbors deserve our compassion because of their inherent human dignity, not because of their religious beliefs. The only way a diocese can know for sure if it is exempt is by undergoing an intrusive governmental examination into the religious beliefs of our employees and the people we serve. This kind of inquiry itself violates the Constitution.
What would happen if the mandate stands?
There is no way out of the dilemma the mandate forces on us. Under the government’s new rules, religious organizations are only free to serve the public if they provide these drugs and procedures. Religious organizations with moral objections have no meaningful options if they want to continue their mission of serving the public: they must either violate their beliefs or incur crippling fines. How big a fine? Well, if a Catholic university employs 3500 people, and refuses to comply with the mandate, the fine will be seven million dollars per year. However, we believe we are right, as a matter of principle and as a matter of law. Our hope is that we will never be forced to make the unconscionable choice that the mandate would require.
Catholic entities receive government money – shouldn’t they abide by government rules?
The mandate has nothing to do with government funding. The mandate applies to all employers, regardless of whether they receive government funds. Even if Catholic entities were to cease their many cooperative relationships with the government to serve the needy, those entities would still be subject to the mandate.