Archdiocese of Washington Files Lawsuit Defending Religious Freedom

The Archdiocese of Washington files a lawsuit defending religious freedom.

Today, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a legal action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) unprecedented mandate dramatically redefining religious ministry and requiring religious organizations to provide coverage for drugs and procedures in direct conflict with their religious beliefs.  Archbishop Carroll High School, Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; and The Catholic University of America are also plaintiffs in the same action.  This local lawsuit is one of 12 actions filed nationwide today, on behalf of 43 separate Catholic institutions around the country.

The archdiocese’s complaint maintains that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment and federal law by forcing the plaintiffs, all Catholic organizations, to sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving all people in need. Specifically, the suit stems from the mandate’s new definition of what constitutes a religious organization. Contrary to long-standing precedent, the law exempts from the mandate only those religious institutions that primarily serve and employ individuals of their own faith.  Any other religious organizations, like Catholic schools, universities, hospitals and charities that serve all individuals regardless of their faith, do not themselves qualify as religious for purposes of the exemption.  Consequently, the HHS mandate forces these organizations to act in direct violation of their Catholic beliefs.

“For the first time in this country’s history, the government’s new definition of religious institutions suggests that some of the very institutions that put our faith into practice—schools, hospitals, and social service organizations—are not ‘religious enough,’” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. “Catholic institutions of the Archdiocese of Washington, including its schools and social service ministries, do not qualify as religious and the mandate forces them to provide coverage for drugs and procedures that we believe are morally wrong,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

The current law states that a Catholic institution is exempt from the mandate only if the federal government determines that the inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization and that it mainly serves and employs Catholics. So, the mandate gives special power to a federal government official to regulate and investigate religious organizations and their ministries.  The archdiocese’s complaint maintains that this government interference with the free exercise of religion violates the First Amendment.

“There is no way out of the dilemma the mandate forces upon us.  Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and social service ministries employ and serve millions of people in this country and do so without regard to their religious beliefs.  Under the government’s new rules, religious organizations will face an impossible choice,” said Jane Belford, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington. “Serving our neighbor is part of our baptismal calling.  We do what we do because we are Catholic, not because those we serve are.  We have always asked:  Are you hungry?  Are you sick?  Now, we will be forced to also ask:  Are you Catholic?” said Mrs. Belford.  “This is wrong. Our mission is to serve the needs of our neighbors regardless of their faith or their beliefs.”

Through the legal action filed today, the archdiocese aims to defend through judicial means the fundamental human right to religious freedom.  The plaintiffs are seeking a solution supported by the First Amendment and federal law, which permits all religious organizations, not just houses of worship, to follow their religious convictions and continue to serve all who are in need.

For more information, visit www.preservereligiousfreedom.org.


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LeszX May 23, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Then let the employees pay for their own contraception. Religous freedom does not mean that everything we want - and is acceptable to our religion - should be provided to us free of charge.
Bora Mici May 25, 2012 at 05:35 AM
No - there is no correlation between religious freedom and the provision of benefits free of charge. The problem this article sets out is one of religious freedom and its infringement by the federal government. Unfortunately the author does not define religious freedom but offers a line of complaint that suggests that religious freedom is something unique to established religious organizations and that these particular organizations can impose their beliefs on their employees, whether the employees choose to adhere to these beliefs or not. Creating special interest insurance pools might or might not be viable, but employers need to be respectful of the beliefs of all their employees, even if they constitute a minority.
LeszX May 25, 2012 at 10:55 AM
I'm not sure I understand how failing to provide contraception coverage to an employee imposes the employer's beliefs on the employee. Under the law, the employee is still free to procure contraception with her own resources - thus is not prevented from by the employer's beliefs from doing what she wants. On the contrary, if the employee forces (by dint of federal regulation) the employer to pay for her contraception coverage, she is imposing her beliefs on the employer who may have religious objections to the practice. But I agree, religious freedom is not something that is unique to established religious organizations. Individuals - such as owners of a private business which has no connection to any organized religious activity - should have the freedom to practice their business in accord with their religious beliefs.
ArlVaPete May 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Freedom of religion = my freedom from your religion. Freedom of religion = my freedom from my employer's religion. I should have the same choices as everyone else regardless of my employer's religion. End of story.
LeszX May 25, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Fine, ArlVaPete, as long as I do not have to pay for your choices. End of story.


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