Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, accused Mr. Obama of 'strangling' the church with his birth control provision. Photo: Reuters.
Forty three Roman Catholic dioceses, schools and social services agencies are suing the Obama administration over the president’s healthcare overhaul, part of which will force the majority of employers to include birth control coverage in their employees’ health plans.
The lawsuits, which were filed in 12 different courts throughout the country, came in the wake of lengthy discussions between faith leaders across the spectrum and the Obama administration. Those leaders stressed that the birth control provision went against religious freedom.
“We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress,” said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And we’ll keep at it, but there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance. So we have to resort to the courts now,” he added.
Although the original legislation was amended in order to make health insurance companies, and not religious groups, bear the cost of birth control treatments, senior religious figures stated that the changes were not thorough enough and turned down the arrangement. The Obama administration’s legislation even included an exemption that enabled houses of worship to use an opt-out clause, although this provision did not apply to religiously-affiliated charities.
The institutions which filed lawsuits include the Archdioceses of New York, Washington and St. Louis; the Dioceses of Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rockville Centre (Long Island) and Springfield in Illinois, as well as the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America. A Catholic publication, Our Sunday Visitor, also decided to go down the same route. The catholic institutions will be represented by Jones Day, a worldwide law firm which agreed to assist them on a pro bono basis.
The Obama administration has so far not commented upon the legal action which will involve the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, it reiterated the comments made by President Obama back in February when he agreed to offer a compromise.
“These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women,” Mr. Obama stated at the time.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokeswoman, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said that Mr. Obama‘s attempts at reaching a compromise did not go far enough and still went against the catholic institutions’ religious beliefs, before adding that these arrangements sounded like “empty promises”.
University of Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, clearly explained his position and that of the institutions which decided to take legal action.
“We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others. We simply ask that the government not impose its values on the university when those values conflict with our religious teachings,” he stated.