Religious freedom issues at heart of HHS lawsuits, scholars say
- Religious freedom issues at heart of HHS lawsuits, scholars say
- Catholic dioceses, groups file federal lawsuit to stop HHS mandate
- Timeline of key events related to health reform, contraceptive mandate
- Cardinal Dolan applauds church agencies as they challenge HHS for violating religious freedom
- Obama mandate changes offer no fundamental change, attorneys say
- All Pages
LEVITTOWN, Pa. — The mass media have done the public a disservice by consistently referring to health reform law regulations so narrowly as the "contraceptive mandate," because it leads people to think the regulations are a matter of interest only to Catholics, according to Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon.
Rather, she said, the regulations that would require employers to provide free health insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations are a contravention of religious freedom, "and that's everybody's business."
Legal experts interviewed by Catholic News Service said the lawsuits filed May 21 by 43 Catholic entities in 12 federal district courts, as well as those filed separately by other organizations and concerned individual employers, are based on three principles.
The first is the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va., said the Supreme Court has ruled that statutes may breach religious freedom if a law is neutral with regard to religion and of general applicability, that is, applied across the board without exemptions.
But, she said, the Department of Health and Human Services regulations to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contain numerous exemptions affecting thousands of people -- unions, for example, and grandfathered programs -- and so cannot be considered generally applied.
A second reason cited for the lawsuits is the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law says that if the government is going to place a substantial burden on religious practice, the government must have a compelling interest to do so and must use the least restrictive means available.
The HHS regulations do not meet that test, the scholars agreed.
Finally, enforcing the regulations' narrow definition of religiously exempt entities would, Glendon said, require a searching government inquiry into what is and isn't religious activity, "intruding into religious affairs in an unprecedented way."
To be exempt, the religious employer must meet four criteria, that it "has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose"; primarily employs people "who share its religious tenets"; primarily serves people "who share its religious tenets"; and is a nonprofit organization under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.
Alvare said she thinks the case being made in the lawsuits is really strong but expects that however district courts rule the matter is likely to be appealed to higher courts, unless the Supreme Court rules the whole health Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in a case currently under consideration.
Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said no California diocese was among those bringing the current batch of lawsuits, but he said that was not a decision the bishops made together nor does it indicate that they disagree with the dioceses bringing suit.
Rather, he noted that the bishops of California went through a similar process in challenging California state law, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear their appeal.
The California statute, like the proposed HHS regulations has a very narrow religious exemption, for any employer offering insurance for pharmaceuticals. But he said the Catholic dioceses have been protected from it by federal and state laws that allow them to self-insure in a variety of ways.
However, that protection would be lost if the federal law goes into effect with its current regulations.
"We (in California) share the angst (of other U.S. Catholics) over allowing this definition of religious employer to remain" in force, he said, but different bishops are using different strategies.
Richard Garnett, professor of law and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame Law School, said that with respect to the district court suits filed by various Catholic entities, it is entirely possible that there will be different decisions in different jurisdictions.
He said that at least some of the plaintiffs will probably be successful, and in those cases the court may issue an injunction on enforcement of the HHS regulations within the area of the court's jurisdiction.
Garnett also said the Obama administration may just decide to change the regulations.
The Catholic Health Association, which has not joined in any of the lawsuits, told CNS its only statement on the lawsuits could be found in a May 21 blog post by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. In it, Michael Rodgers, CHA senior vice president for public affairs and advocacy, was quoted as saying in an interview that the association "was not made aware that lawsuits were being filed now."
Rodgers is quoted as adding that CHA is working with the administration to "broaden the exemption by broadening the definition of what a religious institution is."
Julie Billmeier, who serves in young adult ministry in the Diocese of Dallas -- which is among the groups suing the government over the regulations -- said the definition in the regulations "would completely change our Catholic approach to what it means to serve others."
She sees accessible health care for all as an important social justice issue, but says, "It can't happen at the expense of us being able to live out what we believe."
Also in Dallas Kate Dailey, principal of Bishop Dunne Catholic School, said hers is a very diverse school where some 50 percent of students require financial aid. She sees her ministry at the school, which serves grades six through 12, as "who we are, the heart and soul of who we are" as the Catholic Church, and is appalled that the HHS regulations would not consider it a religiously exempt institution.
But she is optimistic the suits will be successful or the regulations changed, saying, "I don't think it (contraceptive requirement) will happen."
— Liz O'Connor, Catholic News Service
- Next >>
Mecklenburg County Bar honors diocesan attorneyLucey recognized for distinguished service to families CHARLOTTE — It's hard to surprise a seasoned attorney, but the Mecklenburg County Bar managed to pull off an unexpected award presentation for Diocese of Charlotte attorney Richard Lucey...
PHOTO GALLERY: Crowning Mary during Family Rosary ProcessionCHARLOTTE — Patricia Jane (P.J.) Pickhardt crowns a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the Family Rosary Procession sponsored by the Charlotte Catholic Women's Group on May 3 at St. Ann Church. Pickhardt, a parishioner at St. Ann Church,...
First healing Mass to be offered at St. Margaret ChurchMAGGIE VALLEY — Everyone is invited to a healing Mass on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Maggie Valley. This first-ever healing Mass, sponsored by the Holy Spirit Charismatic Prayer Group, will be celebrated...
Monroe pastor leads pilgrimage to National Shrine of St. DymphnaMONROE — On a blustery day in March, Father Benjamin Roberts made good on a promise made to St. Dymphna more than 14 years ago. Father Roberts, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Monroe, boarded a charter bus with 52 pilgrims from North...
Charlotte food pantry gets refrigeratorsCHARLOTTE — Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte's food pantry in Charlotte now offers perishable goods to clients, thanks to several refrigerators that were recently set up in the pantry at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Charlotte. Catholic...
Asheville parishioners honor Father Thomas on his 40th anniversary as priestASHEVILLE — Member of Asheville's historic St. Lawrence Basilica filled the church's Laurentine Hall recently to honor their pastor, Father Wilbur Thomas, on his 40th anniversary as a priest. Pictured: Father Wilbur Thomas, pastor and rector...
Holy Cross in Kernersville responds to call for life, liberty and marriageKERNERSVILLE — Parishioners at Holy Cross Church in Kernersville have been active in the U.S. bishops' campaign "Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty" that began earlier this year. The campaign launched by the U.S. Conference...
Consecration to the Sacred HeartHUNTERSVILLE — Latino Catholics gathered at St. Mark Church in Huntersville on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, for consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through Mary. A similar gathering was held on Dec, 8, the Feast of the Immaculate...
St. John of Avila, diocesan priest, graces Our Lady of Lourdes ChapelMONROE — Thanks to an anonymous donor and the work of a talented North Carolina artist, parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Church have an original commissioned image of St. John of Avila in the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. Father Benjamin...
Sacraments celebrated at St. Elizabeth of the Hill CountryBOONE — On May 1, 22 young adults at the parish received the sacrament of confirmation during Mass at St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country Church in Boone celebrated by Bishop Peter J. Jugis. Eight children received their first Holy Communion...
Bishop Morneau: 'Gratitude is the key to good stewardship'CONCORD — Gratitude is the key to good stewardship. That was the message from Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., to more than 225 stewardship leaders from the Carolinas and Georgia who gathered in Concord...
Sylva Knights volunteer, raise money and give it awaySYLVA — Members of Knights of Columbus Council 9722 of Sylva volunteered April 12 at the Veterans Restoration Quarters in Asheville, a residential facility providing housing, food, job training and counseling to veterans who need a helping...
Marquette University honors Alzheimer's advocateCHARLOTTE — Ellen Nowak Belk, whose career includes working on behalf of individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia, has been honored with the James T. Tiedge Memorial Award from Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Belk,...
Celebrating the Ascension: Eastern, Western Catholics observe different datesCHARLOTTE — The traditional day to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church is the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, or 40 days after Easter. But not all Catholics celebrate the feast on this day. That doesn’t...
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy