Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Catholics Are Suing the Government It Has No Right to Force Us to Choose between Our Religious Beliefs and Those We Serve

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Catholics Are Suing the Government It Has No Right to Force Us to Choose between Our Religious Beliefs and Those We Serve

Article excerpt

The announcement that the Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Inc., along with 40 other Catholic institutions in our beloved country, have filed lawsuits against federal agencies has no doubt raised some eyebrows. Institutions of the Catholic Church of Pittsburgh are not the usual suspects in taking on the federal government. Why have we filed this lawsuit?

Last August the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that by August 2012 all individual and group health insurance plans -- even self-insured plans -- cover all FDA- approved contraception and sterilization procedures, including drugs that cause abortions. The only exemption is for church-related institutions that primarily employ and serve individuals of their own faith and whose purpose is instruction in that faith.

Under the new HHS mandate, our church-sponsored organizations -- everything from hospitals for the sick to soup kitchens that feed the hungry -- are required to let the federal government be the final arbiter in determining which of our beliefs we can follow and not follow as we carry out our ministries of service to the community, ministries that in many cases we have performed for nearly 170 years here in Pittsburgh.

Our lawsuit states that since the HHS mandate requires religious organizations to provide, pay for and facilitate insurance coverage for services that violate our religious beliefs, the mandate is in violation of the religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal laws.

When controversy erupted over the HHS mandate, President Barack Obama responded with an "accommodation" for religious institutions, giving the impression that the problem was resolved. It was not.

First, no accommodation exists. The mandate was made final Feb. 15. It is the law and will go into effect for some institutions this August, for others next August. The mandate remains in place exactly as first written, as the president proudly stated in his commencement address at Barnard College May 14.

"Accommodating" ideas have been floated by representatives of the administration -- for example, that insurance carriers for religious institutions would "pay" for the coverage rather than the faith- based institutions themselves. When it was pointed out that many faith-based institutions -- including the Diocese of Pittsburgh -- self-insure so they would be the "carriers" paying the cost, the idea was then floated that the "manager" of the health care plan might be dunned for the coverage instead, as if the increased cost to the manager would somehow vanish into thin air.

The fact is that talk of accommodation is smoke and mirrors. The mandate holds as originally written.

Nothing has changed to expand in any way the very narrow so- called religious exemption. Nothing has changed in the federal government forcing faith-based institutions to provide access to services our church considers morally and religiously objectionable, even if "accommodations" had been written into the guidelines. Nothing has changed in the federal government forcing virtually every Catholic social service agency, university or hospital in the United States to violate their religious beliefs.

This is unprecedented. Never has the U. …

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