Notre Dame, Catholic Groups Suing Obama Administration Over Birth Control Mandate
The Huffington Post | may 21, 2012
NEW YORK — Roman Catholic leaders opened a new front against the Obama administration mandate that employers provide workers birth control coverage, filing federal lawsuits Monday on behalf of dioceses, schools and health care agencies that argued the requirement violates religious freedom.
Among the plaintiffs is the University of Notre Dame, which in February had praised President Barack Obama for pledging to accommodate religious groups and find a way to soften the rule. Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said the school had since decided to sue because "progress has not been encouraging" in talks with administration officials.
The lawsuits have been filed in eight states and the District of Columbia by the Archdioceses of Washington and New York, the Michigan Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Indiana, health care agencies in New York and two dioceses in Texas.
"We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress, and we'll keep at it, but there's still no fix," said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."
Erin Shields, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, said Monday the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The liberal advocacy group Catholics United accused the bishops of serving a "right-wing political agenda."
Health and Human Services adopted the mandate to improve health care for women. Last year, an advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government, recommended including birth control on the list of covered services, partly because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies.
However, many leaders across faith traditions and political ideology argued that the mandate's exception for religious groups was too narrow. The original rule generally allowed churches and other houses of worship to opt out, but kept the requirement in place for religiously affiliated nonprofits, including hospitals, colleges and charities.
The political furor caught the administration by surprise. In response, Obama offered to soften the rule so that insurers would pay for birth control instead of religious groups. However, the bishops and others have said that the accommodation, which is still under discussion, doesn't go far enough to protect religious freedom. An Obama administration official said the rule was still under discussion with religious leaders.
The lawsuits are the latest in the intensifying standoff between Roman Catholic bishops and the Obama administration during this election year.
The bishops plan a national campaign for religious freedom in the two weeks leading up to the July Fourth holiday. Last week, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl lambasted Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, for inviting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make a graduation speech. Sebelius, who defended religious freedom in her talk, was named as a defendant in the lawsuits Monday, along with her agency and others.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm, had previously filed four other federal lawsuits challenging the mandate on behalf of religious schools and others. Still, observers had been closely watching for Notre Dame's next step.
The university, dubbed the Catholic Harvard, in the past indicated willingness to work with Obama, despite his support for abortion rights. Notre Dame came under unprecedented criticism from U.S. bishops and others in 2009 for inviting Obama as commencement speaker and presenting him with an honorary law degree.
In February, when Obama responded to the complaints of religious leaders about the mandate, Jenkins said in a statement that, "we applaud the willingness of the administration to work with religious organizations to find a solution acceptable to all parties."
On Monday, Jenkins said, "although I do not question the good intentions and sincerity of all involved in these discussions, progress has not been encouraging."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not a plaintiff in the lawsuits. Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, whose diocese is among those suing the government, said the law firm Jones Day was handling the lawsuits pro bono nationally.
A group of Roman Catholic leaders and institutions sued the Obama administration over the federal mandate to provide birth control to employees, saying it violated religious freedom. Gwen Ifill and The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy discuss the lawsuit.
What more do they want? President Obama has already compromised by making insurance companies responsible for providing contraception to Catholic employees. Catholic institutions do not have to provide contraception directly to the employee.
I could understand it, if, Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities, only hired Catholics. But they don't. Many of their employees are non Catholics and they have a right to contraception if they want it. The catholic employees are not being forced to use contraception. It is only being made available to them if they want it.
It just seems like much ado about nothing. OK, the Catholic Church claims their first amendment right is being violated, but I just don't see it. They are free to practice their religion and no one is forcing Catholics to use contraception. Which is pretty funny really, since a recent Guttmacher research report found 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women said they have used artificial forms of birth control — like the pill or condoms. Go figure.
Why is the HRCC so against birth control? Good question. Here is why, according to Dr. Heaney, a philosophy professor at the University of St. Thomas and Jim Laine, Director of the religious studies program at Macalester College.
“The church doesn’t think it’s wrong for Catholics to use contraception, the Church thinks it’s wrong to use contraception,” said Dr. Steve Heaney, a philosophy professor at University of St. Thomas who serves on several boards and advises the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“So when we put things into our bodies, or snip parts out to make them not work right, we’re attacking ourselves. Not just our bodies — ourselves,” said Heaney.
The Catholic Church essentially stands alone on this policy, with most other Christian churches allowing at least some types of artificial birth control in some circumstances starting in the 1930′s.
Catholic popes have always been opposed to anything other than natural birth control, whenever the Popes have spoken on the topic.
It doesn’t come out of the Bible, rather, “It’s a philosophical tradition known as natural law,” said Jim Laine, Director of the religious studies program at Macalester College. Laine said he’s also a Catholic.
“Natural law suggests any conjugal act, any sexual act, should be open to the transmission of life,” said Laine.
Basically, the theory is that God made our human bodies with parts that are designed to create life, and so having sexual intercourse and artificially blocking that process is wrong.
What a load of bullshit eh? There is no rule against using contraception in the bible? This is a man made law posing as natural law?
I think it's time the HRCC pulled its head out of its ass and joined the 21st century.