In a statement on May 21, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), applauded 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies for filing 12 lawsuits around the country that contend that the Health and Human Services mandate within the Obama administration’s healthcare reform package. At issue is the constitutionality of the mandate that would force Catholic and other non-profits to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptive services and sterilization in their insurance plans. Cardinal Dolan's New York Archdiocese filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. Joining the archdiocese as plaintiffs are the Catholic Health Care System, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Services of Long Island.
"We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress -- and we'll keep at it -- but there's still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now. Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate -- ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all."
Echoing his colleague of the Big Apple, Cardinal Donald Wuerl declared in a statement, "The First Amendment enshrines in our nation’s Constitution the principle that religious organizations must be able to practice their faith free from government interference." "This morning, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a lawsuit to challenge the mandate”, declared the cardinal, “recently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that fundamentally redefines the nation’s long-standing definition of religious ministry and requires our religious organizations to provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs." He added, "Just as our faith compels us to uphold the liberty and dignity of others, so too, we must defend our own."
Regarding criticism from some quarters that the Catholic Church seeks to limit access to contraception, Cardinal Wuerl said in the statement, "The lawsuit in no way challenges either women’s established legal right to obtain and use contraception or the right of employers to provide coverage for it if they so choose. This lawsuit is about religious freedom." Explaining the Church’s contention that essential freedoms are at stake, Cardinal Wuerl said "The First Amendment enshrines in our nation’s Constitution the principle that religious organizations must be able to practice their faith free from government interference."
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has established a special website, PreserveReligiousFreedom.org--to explain its lawsuit and present news and developments concerning it. "This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference," the archdiocese says on the website. "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."
Cardinal Wuerl of Washington said in an open letter posted online on May 21, "Just as our faith compels us to uphold the liberty and dignity of others, so too, we must defend our own." He added, "The lawsuit in no way challenges either women’s established legal right to obtain and use contraception or the right of employers to provide coverage for it if they so choose." Said Cardinal Wuerl, "This lawsuit is about religious freedom."
The suits filed by Catholic organizations focus on the regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last August and finalized in January that requires virtually all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including abortifacients.
Among those filing suit are: the Archdiocese of New York; the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; the Archdiocese of St. Louis; the Diocese of Rockville Centre; the Diocese of Dallas; the Diocese of Fort Worth; the Diocese of Pittsburgh; the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend; the Michigan Catholic Conference (which represents all seven dioceses in the state); Catholic University of America; Franciscan University of Steubenville; and the University of Notre Dame. Entities ranging from retirement homes to publishing houses joined the lawsuits. Other plaintiffs include Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese, the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington (which includes four parochial schools), Archbishop Carroll High School, and the Catholic University of America.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented the lawsuits, “This is a great day for those who believe in religious liberty. Suing the Obama administration for seeking to trash the First Amendment rights of Catholics are 43 Catholic dioceses and institutions from all over the nation.”