.- The Catholic Church has challenged the U.S. government's contraception mandate to protect faith, not to influence politics, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik explained in a June 7 USA Today editorial.
“These lawsuits have nothing to do with politics,” the Pittsburgh bishop wrote. “We did not pick this fight nor this timing during a presidential election year. The government chose to impose this on us now.”
“In fact, the lawsuits take the issue out of partisan politics and place it before courts that exist to protect our constitutional freedoms. These lawsuits ask that religious freedoms be recognized and respected as they were before the mandate.”
On May 21, 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations announced lawsuits against the mandate – which requires employers to provide health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, regardless of their moral objections. Eleven similar lawsuits had been filed previously.
In his editorial, Bishop Zubik highlighted the Obama administration's refusal to broaden an exemption for groups with religiously-rooted objections to the rule.
“The only church-sponsored organizations exempted are those that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith,” he noted. “This means that none of our social service agencies – hospitals, universities, free health clinics and soup kitchens – would be exempt.”
And despite the president's talk of a further “accommodation” for faith-based organizations, “the mandate remains firmly in place,” with ministries expected to come into compliance by August 2013.
Bishop Zubik stressed that representatives of the Catholic Church “already have” tried to negotiate with the administration.
“But what exactly can we negotiate when it comes to religious freedom already guaranteed by the Constitution?” he asked. “Why are we now forced to concede to the government religious freedom that has always been guaranteed by the Constitution?”
Some critics have suggested that the bishops are challenging the mandate as a political move against the Obama administration. But Bishop Zubik stressed that the Church was not acting on a partisan agenda.
The Church, he said, had been forced to defend its rights, and those of others, against an unwanted attack.
“The Church cannot be forced to violate its own sacred beliefs,” he stated. “To do so starkly contradicts everything we have been taught and know about religious freedom in the United States.”