Obama in Catholic bishops’ cross hairs
No president in U.S. history has been targeted en masse in lawsuits filed by Catholic bishops and institutions until now: President Obama is facing a tsunami of suits opposing the contraception mandate in his healthcare reform law.
What’s worse for the president, the suits have been filed in an election year, and have a decidedly political edge. New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., is a leading plaintiff.
In a rush to appear even-handed, Dolan’s office said last week his RNC appearance was not an endorsement, and he will speak at the upcoming Democratic National Convention as well.
Nevertheless, Catholic bishops simply do not want employees of religious institutions to be guaranteed contraception coverage in their employer-provided health insurance. Official Catholic doctrine bans artificial birth control — as opposed to the “rhythm method,” which relies on menstrual cycles to prevent pregnancy and can be used after consultation with a priest. Only within the last few decades has Catholic doctrine conceded even married couples could have sex for purposes other than producing children.
One of the mandates in Obama’s Affordable Care Act, part of its preventive care provisions, requires religious hospitals, schools and charities to include co-pay-free birth control in their employer-provided health insurance coverage. Churches, such as Catholic parishes, are exempt.
The mandate has caused in uproar in the Catholic hierarchy, which rejected an administration compromise requiring insurance companies to pay for the contraception coverage, not the religious institutions.
In May, 12 lawsuits challenging the mandate were filed involving more than 40 Catholic organizations.
The Catholic organizations include Dolan’s Archdiocese of New York, the University of Notre Dame and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the conservative American Center for Law and Justice said.
The ACLJ, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, has filed briefs in all 12 cases opposing government motions for dismissal. The organization also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in all the cases on behalf of 79 members of Congress.
In a statement, senior ACLJ counsel Edward White said, “The mandate devastates the religious freedom of all employers seeking to comply with their religious beliefs. This is not just an issue negatively impacting Catholics. This is an issue negatively impacting employers of all faiths.”
The president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, explained his university’s suit this way, Commonweal reported.
“Today the University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana regarding a recent mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Jenkins said in a letter to the university community. “That mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are contrary to Catholic teaching. The decision to file this lawsuit came after much deliberation, discussion and efforts to find a solution acceptable to the various parties.” [More]