Archdiocese of St. Louis joins others in suing federal government to stop HHS mandate

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Noting that “time is running out,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson announced May 21 that the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities of St. Louis has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the United States government, challenging the legality of its health care mandate to be enforced beginning this August.

Accompanied by Catholic Charities president Brian O’Malley, archdiocesan chancellor Nancy Werner, legal counsel Tom Buckley and others, the Archbishop made the announcement at an afternoon press conference held at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury.

The archdiocese’s lawsuit is one of 12 separate suits that were filed across the country May 21. Forty-three plantiffs in total are represented, include dioceses and archdioceses, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic health systems and Catholic charitable organizations. All are being represented by Jones Day, an international law firm with more than 2,400 attorneys on five continents. During the press conference, Archbishop Carlson stressed that no money from the Annual Catholic Appeal or other ministries of the archdiocese is being used for the lawsuits.

The defendants in each case were Sebelius; Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, along with their departments.

The mandate, which is part of the new federal Affordable Care Act instituted by the Department of Health and Human Services, would require all employers, including many religious institutions, to provide free coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations. The mandate is set to take effect in August.

“The Catholic Church, led by the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) has pursued every imaginable avenue to correct this problem without litigation,” Archbishop Carlson said in a prepared statement. “It is critical that I take legal action now about a serious threat to our first, most-cherished freedom — that is the right to religious liberty.”

As part of the mandate, the government created a “religious employer” exemption; however, many religious institutions have called the exemption “narrow,” adding that it would only apply to religious organizations that are primarily working with people of their own faith.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that this exemption falls drastically short in protecting the religious liberties of Catholic St. Louisans,” said the Archbishop. As the mandate currently stands, it is not clear if an organization such as Catholic Charities would qualify for the exemption, as the organization primarily serves people of other faiths or no faith background.

“We help people because we are Catholic, not because they are,” the Archbishop said.

During the press conference, Archbishop Carlson stressed that the lawsuit is not about access to contraceptives, nor is it about politics.

“Contraceptives are widely available at low or no cost, and will remain so if our suit prevails,” he said. “The Church did not pick this fight or its timing; the federal government did.”

He also stressed that the issue at hand is not about women.

“It is a human issue, a moral issue and an American issue,” he said. “Never before has the U.S. government forced the Catholic Church to provide a product that violates our religious beliefs. I cannot – will not – stand by and watch this happen to the flock entrusted to my care.”

Religious institutions, including the Catholic Church and others locally, have spoken in strong opposition to the mandate, citing that it is a violation of the right to religious freedom. Last March, leaders from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Missouri Baptist Convention joined Archbishop Carlson before a crowd of about 2,000 people at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo., at a Rally for Religious Liberty. (See Archbishop Carlson’s speech from the rally.)

As a response to the outcry about the narrow exemption, the government announced in February that it would “accommodate” religious employers, citing that they could shift the requirement to cover contraception and other items included under the mandate to their insurance providers. However, numerous religious organizations, like many businesses and nonprofit organizations, are self-insured.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, whose archdiocese is among the plaintiffs, said the lawsuits were "a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty" and "a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate."

"We have tried negotiations with the administration and legislation with the Congress -- and we'll keep at it -- but there's still no fix," the cardinal said in a May 21 statement . "Time is running out and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."

Cardinal Dolan also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is not a party to the lawsuits.

Catholic News Service provided some information for this story.

More on this story

To see a copy of the lawsuit filed by the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, a video from the press conference, a letter from Archbishop Carlson and more, visit archstl.org/liberty.

To read more stories about the HHS health care mandate and how it affects the Church, visit the Review’s archives at stlouisreview.com/conscience.

Lawsuits across the country

The following are the 12 separate lawsuits filed May 21 against the federal government, challenging its health care mandate:

1. District of Columbia — Archdiocese of Washington, Consortium of Catholic Academies, Archbishop Carroll High School, Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America

2. Eastern District of New York — Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare

3. Western District of Pennsylvania (Erie) — Diocese of Erie, St. Martin Center, Prince of Peace Center

4. Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) — Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities of Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Cemeteries Association of Diocese of Pittsburgh

5. Northern District of Texas (Dallas) — Diocese of Dallas

6. Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth) — Diocese of Fort Worth

7. Southern District of Mississippi (Gulfport) — Diocese of Jackson, Catholic Charities of Jackson, Vicksburg Catholic School, St. Joseph’s Catholic School, Diocese of Biloxi, De l’Epee Deaf Center Inc., Catholic Social & Community Services Inc., Resurrection Catholic School, Sacred Heart Catholic School, St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital

8. Southern District of Ohio (Columbus) — Franciscan University of Steubenville, Michigan Catholic Conference

9. Northern District of Indiana (South Bend) — University of Notre Dame

10. Northern District of Indiana (Fort Wayne) — Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, St. Anne Home, Franciscan Alliance, Our Sunday Visitor, University of St. Francis

11. Northern District of Illinois — Diocese of Joliet, Catholic Charities of Joliet, Diocese of Springfield, Catholic Charities of Springfield

12. Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) — Archdiocese of St. Louis, Catholic Charities of St. Louis

In addition, other Catholic entities have filed separate lawsuits against the mandate. These include Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina (November 2011), Eternal Word Television Network in Birmingham, Ala. (Feb. 9), Priests for Life in Staten Island, N.Y. (Feb. 15), Ave Maria University in Florida (Feb. 21) and the Florida-based group Legatus (May 8).

Catholic employers Frank R. O'Brien of O'Brien Industrial Holdings in St. Louis (March 15) and William Newland, James Newland, Paul Newland, Christine Ketterhagen and Andrew Newland of Hercules Industries in Denver (April 3) also have filed suit against the mandate.

Catholic News Service provided some information.

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