Peoria joins in suits against HHS mandate
Hospitals offer NFP benefit
PEORIA, Ill. — Saying that he has "an obligation to protect the Church's ability to freely practice our religion," Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky has added his diocese to the list of those suing the federal government to overturn a requirement that employers provide contraceptives and sterilization to their employees.
"The suit filed today asks the courts to find the HHS mandate in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how government agencies propose and establish regulations," said Patricia Gibson, attorney and chancellor for the Diocese of Peoria, in an Aug. 9 statement.
Forty-three Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions filed suit in federal court in May to stop three government agencies from implementing a mandate that would require them to cover contraceptives and sterilization in their health plans. The mandate took effect Aug. 1 for nongrandfathered health plans that are not covered by a one-year "temporary enforcement safe harbor" for nonprofit organizations that oppose the mandate for religious reasons.
Gibson said the lawsuit "is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs."
Bishop Jenky "strongly believes that the lawsuit is necessary at this time because there does not appear to be any real effort on the part of the federal government to correct this intrusion upon our First Amendment rights," said a news release from the Diocese of Peoria.
The release quoted the bishop as saying Americans were fortunate to "have recourse to the Constitution and the strong conviction of our Founding Fathers who clearly intended to keep the government out of the internal affairs of the Church."
Meanwhile, a Catholic health system that is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the contraceptive mandate announced that it would start providing an employee benefit for natural family planning.
The Franciscan Alliance, based in Mishawaka, Ind., and made up of 14 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, said it would pay 80 percent of the cost of a natural family planning course, estimated to be $500.
Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairwoman of Franciscan Alliance, told the National Catholic Register newspaper that the natural family planning benefit, suggested by an employee, will give employees "a way to understand how to achieve or avoid pregnancy consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church."
In Erie, Pa., four organizations asked U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin to allow them to file friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to the Diocese of Erie's lawsuit against the contraceptive mandate.
Call to Action Pennsylvania, Catholics for Social Justice, Pax Christi of the Pittsburgh area and the Association of Pittsburgh Priests said they thought employees of the Diocese of Erie "should be free to make their own decisions" about birth control, which most religious organizations would be obligated to supply free of cost under the Obama administration's mandate.
"The (diocese's) complaint inappropriately inserts the Church into a civil dispute publicly viewed as partisan," the groups said in an Aug. 6 filing. "Becoming embroiled in the public, highly partisan controversy surrounding the issues raised in this complaint ... creates a divisiveness that harms the mission of the Church to serve all people."
— Catholic News Service
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