South Bend, Ind., Dec 5, 2013 / 12:06 am (CNA).- Lawsuits from the University of Notre Dame and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students are challenging the HHS mandate for forcing them to violate Catholic teaching or face crippling fines.
Notre Dame’s president Father John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said the university’s lawsuit is about the freedom to “live out a religious mission” with broader significance than a debate about contraception.
“For if we concede that the government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately will undermine those institutions,” Fr. Jenkins said in a Dec. 3 statement.
John Zimmer, FOCUS vice president of training and formation, said his student missionary organization works to provide “just and affordable healthcare for its employees” in accord with Catholic principles.
However, the federal mandate requiring organizations to provide employees access to health coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs, would force the organization to violate “our most sincere religious convictions” and participate in actions that it considers “gravely immoral.”
“If we resist these demands, we face exorbitant fines that would severely cripple, if not destroy, our organization and its missionary activities,” he said in a Dec. 3 blog post on the FOCUS website.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, requires Notre Dame, FOCUS and similar religious organizations to provide the controversial coverage in insurance plans or through third-party administrators. The mandate’s narrow religious exemptions apply only to houses of worship, and not religious non-profit ministries, schools, hospitals or charities.
Notre Dame has re-filed its May 2012 lawsuit, which was dismissed in December 2012 on the grounds it was premature. Its new filing asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to declare that the HHS mandate violates the university’s rights under the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the Colorado-based FOCUS pro bono. It filed its suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Dec. 3.
“Faith-based organizations should be free to live and operate according to the faith they teach and live,” said Mike Norton, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. “If the government can fine Christian ministries out of existence because they want to (Read More)