On May 21, 2012, 43 Catholic organizations in the United States filed lawsuits against the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, asking various federal courts to "Enter an order vacating the U.S. Government Mandate" that forces religious institutions to violate their beliefs by providing insurance coverage for artificial contraception. The plaintiffs include 14 dioceses and archdioceses and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which represents all 7 dioceses in the state of Michigan, 4 Catholic universities, several Catholic schools, and a number of official Catholic charities and healthcare organizations.
Framing the lawsuit in terms of religious freedom, the Catholic organizations ask the courts to rule that the Obama administration's contraception mandate violates both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as federal government's own rules on how changes to the law are to be made.
The lawsuit, among other things, points out that the administration's supposed exemption for religious organizations still forces many explicitly religious institutions, such as those that self-insure, to provide contraceptive coverage. It exposes the administration's February 10, 2012, "compromise" as a mere shell game (as I wrote at the time). It makes it clear that Kathleen Sebelius, the nominally Catholic secretary of Health and Human Services, has continued to advocate her radical pro-abortion views while in office, declaring, for instance, at a National Abortion Rights Action League Fundraiser in October 2011 that "we are at war" with those who regard abortion and artificial contraception as immoral.
The coordinated effort, supported by many other Catholic organizations and Catholic bishops in the United States (including the newly installed bishop of Rockford, Illinois, David Malloy), spells trouble not only for the Obama administration's contraception mandate but for the President's reelection campaign. Barack Obama would not have been elected in 2008 without significant Catholic support, but this lawsuit will force Catholics who supported him to come to grips with the fact that not only did he violate his own promise (in his 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame) to (in the words of an Our Sunday Visitor editorial) "respect freedom of religious conscience in the health care debate," he and his administration have also deliberately targeted the Catholic Church.
The latter is proved (as the lawsuit points out) by the fact that the administration had other ways in which it could have achieved its stated goal of free contraceptive coverage for women, including the "expansion of its existing network of family planning clinics funded by HHS." By placing the burden on Catholic organizations instead, the administration has placed itself in the position of dictating what the Catholic Church and other religious organizations can and cannot believe.
The administration's counterattack will start immediately; expect to see claims that the Catholic organizations that filed the lawsuit do not care about the health of women. But attempting to redefine the issue, to make it one of women's health and not one of religious freedom, is a losing battle. Other non-Catholic religious organizations are beginning to understand what is at stake here: Nothing less than the freedom to exercise one's religion.
If the contraception mandate is allowed to stand, all religious believers in the United States, no matter what their churches teach about contraception, will lose.
More on the Contraception Mandate:
- The Obama Administration's Contraception Mandate
- A Fifth Column in the Church: Georgetown University Invites Kathleen Sebelius to Speak
- Our Sunday Visitor's background material on the lawsuit