On Monday the University of Notre Dame became the latest Catholic institution to challenge the Obama administration over its contraception mandate in the health care reform law.
The lawsuit argues that the mandate requiring insurance plans cover birth control for women without a co-pay violates the religious freedom of Catholic institutions, per se, regardless of any additional accommodations made to those institutions by the administration.
The lawsuit was one of 12 similar actions filed on Monday around the country, bringing the total number of legal challenges pending over the mandate to more than 30.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, praised the trend in a statement. “We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there’s still no fix,” he said. ”Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which Dolan leads, had warned lawsuits were coming in a letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week. ”Absent prompt congressional attention to this infringement on fundamental civil liberties, we believe the only remaining recourse … is in the courts,” lawyers for the group wrote May 15.
The Archdiocese of Washington also denounced the mandate for not providing an exception for some Catholic institutions, such as hospitals or schools, because they serve and employ non-Catholics and do not primarily strive to “inculcate religious values.” This came after significant controversy around HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday at Georgetown University.
“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,” Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement.
Of course, what Wuerl and Dolan intentionally exclude is the part of the mandate that requires insurance companies to bear the burden and expense of providing the contraception coverage for those religious-affiliated institutions such as Catholic hospitals and schools that are not exempted from the mandate because they provide services to people of all faiths.
Instead, the Catholic leadership has chosen to mislead and misdirect the public and the courts as to the true nature of their objection. So the next question is, will the public and the courts fully grasp the extent of their deception?
Photo from Paul Everett via flickr.