Courts urged not to dismiss Catholic lawsuits against HHS mandate
Published: August 29, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a dozen courts around the country, attorneys representing more than 40 Catholic dioceses or institutions have filed briefs arguing against the federal government's call to dismiss lawsuits against its contraceptive mandate. The Catholic entities are seeking to overturn a requirement that most religious employers provide contraceptives and sterilization to their employees. The simultaneous filings Aug. 27 were in response to an Aug. 6 brief in which the Obama administration asked the courts to summarily dismiss the suits, saying they were premature and that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate. "This case is about important rights to religious freedom protected by our founders under the First Amendment, assured by Congress under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but trampled by Defendants under haphazard rulemaking," says the 36-page brief filed on behalf of the University of Notre Dame. Forty-three Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions initially filed suit in federal court May 21 to stop three government agencies from implementing a mandate that would require them to cover contraceptives and sterilization in their health plans. The Diocese of Peoria, Ill., and Catholic Charities of Chicago have since joined the lawsuits. Catholic organizations have objected to the contraceptive mandate since it was announced Aug. 1, 2011, by Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary. Unless they are subject to a narrow religious exemption or have a grandfathered health plan, employers will be required to pay for sterilizations and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, as part of their health coverage. In the briefs, filed by Jones Day, an international law firm with more than 2,400 attorneys on five continents, the dioceses and Catholic institutions rebut arguments that the courts should not hear the cases because a "temporary enforcement safe harbor" protects them from immediate government action against them if they fail to comply with the mandate.
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