Archdiocese refiles lawsuit on health care mandate

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The Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities of St. Louis have refiled a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the legality of the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on health care insurance coverage the Church finds morally objectionable.

A statement from the archdiocese noted that the lawsuit was filed at this time because the U.S. government's implementation of the HHS mandate is approaching and no acceptable compromise respecting religious liberty has been offered.

In May of 2012, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities originally filed a lawsuit against the government which challenged the constitutionality of the mandate. The mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, would require all employers, including many religious institutions, to provide free coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

In January of this year, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing the as-of-then developing regulations on the mandate. Judge John A. Ross issued an order Jan. 29, noting that the federal government had not yet finalized the regulations of the mandate and to litigate the issue at that time would be fruitless.

New proposed rules were issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding insurance coverage of contraceptives in February. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a Feb. 7 statement that the rules showed movement but fell short of addressing the U.S. bishops' concerns. Cardinal Dolan noted that the government would require all employees of "accommodated" ministries in religious institutions to have access to contraception coverage, noting that they "may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children."

The rules were open for a 60-day comment period and were finalized this summer. Catholic and religious employers said they still did not go far enough to accommodate their moral objections to complying with the mandate.

The archdiocese's statement Nov. 15 noted that the refiling comes at a time when the USCCB has reaffirmed its commitment to the protection of religious freedom. The U.S. bishops issued a "special message" at the close of it general assembly earlier this month, saying religious liberty remains a priority, especially as it is threatened by the HHS Mandate.

"The Catholic Church has long been a provider and advocate for accessible, affordable, life-affirming health care. If the federal government's accommodations had adequately safeguarded the religious liberty of U.S. citizens, we could have spent this time working together toward a common goal," the archdiocese's statement explained.

The statement added that "this is the first time in history that the U.S. government has forced Catholic citizens to provide a product that violates our beliefs. This lawsuit is not about contraceptives. It is about religious liberty, our first most-cherished freedom, which must be protected or it will be lost. The Archdiocese of St. Louis continues its appeal to the government and to the faithful, urging all to pray for religious liberty in our nation and in our world."

The archdiocese's earlier statement noted that "we maintain that no citizen should be forced to pay for or provide products or services they find morally objectionable, including sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. We will continue to demand that the conscience rights of every citizen are protected."

The archdiocese's lawsuit was one of 12 separate suits that were filed across the country on a single day last year by dioceses and archdioceses, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic health systems and Catholic charitable organizations. Other lawsuits have been filed by individual business owners and other organizations since the mandate was announced.

Tom Buckley, general counsel for the archdiocese, said in January that "we will continue to demand that conscience rights are protected not just for the archdiocese but for individual business owners, because there is no safe harbor for them." 

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