Court issues injunction in archdiocese's lawsuit against HHS mandate

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The Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities of St. Louis scored a court victory Monday in what proved to be a banner day for religious liberty in the United States.

They received a preliminary injunction from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in their lawsuit challenging the legality of the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on health care insurance coverage the Church finds morally objectionable.

Specifically, the HHS provision in the Affordable Care Act mandated that employers, including many religious institutions, provide free coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations. Employers would be punished for failing to comply, with onerous fines.

The preliminary injunction was issued on Monday evening on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision affirming two closely held for-profit organizations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, did not have to comply with the HHS mandate, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, that ruling didn't apply to non-profit institutions such as the archdiocese and Catholic Charities, which still were required to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients contrary to Church teaching.

Until Monday evening, that is.

In granting the injunction Judge John A. Ross wrote that "Plaintiffs have shown they are likely to succeed on their RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) claim. ... The Court finds it in the public interest to preserve the status quo and enjoin enforcement of the mandate."

The case involving the archdiocese and Catholic Charities was among cases in which preliminary injunctions were handed down Monday. EWTN Global Catholic Network also received an injunction at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, preventing the government from forcing the HHS mandate on it. Courts around the nation now have granted injunctions in at least 60 cases challenging the mandate, including the Hobby Lobby case now settled by the Supreme Court.

Although critics contend that the rulings Monday amounted to an attack on women's health, the main issue for the archdiocese, Catholic Charities, Hobby Lobby and others was religious freedom. In essence, the courts agreed with that position, ruling that the government could not compel or force non-profit and for-profit institutions to provide coverage contrary to their religious beliefs.

In a statement, the archdiocese said it was "grateful for this temporary relief from the burden of the HHS mandate." Further, the archdiocese stated that the injunction "simply preserves our God-given rights that should not have been infringed upon in the first place. Under the leadership of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, every other imaginable option to correct this problem had been pursued prior to this lawsuit being filed. Any scenario that forces us to violate our moral convictions is unacceptable."

The archdiocese and Catholic Charities first filed suit challenging the mandate in May 2012. That case was dismissed in January 2013 because the federal government had not finalized the Affordable Care Act, rendering litigation fruitless.

Adjustments were made in an attempt to molify religious protestations, but fell woefully short. As New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), stated in February 2013, 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 archdiocese and Catholic Charities refiled the case in November 2013, and the USCCB backed them up, issuing a "special message" at the close of its general assembly, stating that religious liberty remained a priority, especially as it is threatened by the HHS mandate.

"Despite opinions to the contrary, the contention with the HHS mandate is about religious liberty, our first, most-cherished freedom," the archdiocese statement read. "During this, the week in which we celebrate the founding of our country, it is important to remember the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, when he said, 'No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to men than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprise of civil authority.'"

According to the archdiocese's statement, "Access to contraceptives and abortifacients should never trump the right to religious freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States."

It noted that the Catholic Church always has been "on the forefront of providing quality health care for all. She will continue to do so, unless burdensome government regulations and heavy fines that would be incurred by the enforcement of the HHS mandate go into effect."

The Hobby Lobby ruling and the preliminary injunction come as the Roman Catholic Church is in the midst of its third "Fortnight for Freedom," which began in order to call attention to religious liberty under attack from the HHS mandate.

"Our freedom of religion requires constant vigilance or else it will be lost," Archbishop Carlson said. 

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