Birmingham, Ala., Oct 28, 2013 / 15:06 pm
The Obama administration's HHS mandate still compels the EWTN Global Catholic Network to violate Catholic beliefs, its new lawsuit in which both the network and the state of Alabama are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
"Version 2.0 of the mandate is just as bad as version 1.0," said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund. "It would still force the world's preeminent Catholic network to betray publicly the very teachings it was founded to promote, and which it promotes on a daily basis."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the Irondale, Alabama-based EWTN and the state of Alabama, the state constitution of which bars compulsory participation in any health care system.
Both are plaintiffs in a new lawsuit challenging the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide employees access to no co-pay sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including some drugs that can cause abortions.
The lawsuit charges that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, compels speech, interferes with internal religious governance, and discriminates against Catholics.
"We sincerely hoped that our concerns would be addressed," Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman said Oct. 28. "Instead, the government ignored our comments entirely and pressed forward with a rule that changed nothing. We are in the same position today as we were when the mandate was first published."
Warsaw said the mandate "has still placed us in a situation where we are forced to offer contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs as part of our employee health plan or to offer our employees and their families no insurance at all. Neither of these options are acceptable."
"The mission of EWTN is not negotiable."
Under current rules, EWTN will be required to certify its plan and deliver it to a third party administrator before July 1, 2014.
According to EWTN's lawsuit, the revised federal rule now simply provides "complex means" through which the plan administrator may seek to recover costs from an employer for payments for contraceptive and abortifacient services. However, the network says its Catholic beliefs preclude it from agreeing to these plans.
Warsaw said the Catholic network has "no other option but to continue our legal challenge to the mandate."
A previous lawsuit from EWTN, later joined by Alabama, was delayed for over a year and then dismissed March 25. The judge who dismissed the lawsuit cited the Obama administration's pledge to implement new rules to address concerns such as those raised by EWTN.
However, the Catholic network's federal lawsuit contends that the Department of Health and Human Services "deliberately ignored" the rule's impact on the religious liberty of "the vast majority of religious organizations" with conscientious objections to the federal rules.
The comment period on the revised federal rule and its putative religious accommodation lasted from Feb. 1 to April 8, 2013. It drew over 400,000 comments, including comments from EWTN and other religious organizations which were "overwhelmingly decrying" the rule as a religious liberty violation, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit noted that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke about the rule in an April 8 presentation at Harvard University in a way that indicated the critical comments would not be addressed.
"We have just completed the open comment period for the so-called accommodation, and by August 1 of this year, every employer will be covered by the law with one exception," Sebelius said.
While churches and church dioceses would be exempted, "Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities, other religious entities will be providing coverage to their employees starting August 1," she added.
The EWTN lawsuit objected: "It is clear from the timing of these remarks that defendants gave no consideration to the comments submitted."
Several hundred thousand comments had also been submitted in previous comment periods on the HHS rule. The rule was enacted under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
EWTN's lawsuit further contended that the federal rule is discriminatory against religious organizations that oppose contraception and abortion.
The lawsuit cited Sebelius' "staunch" support for abortion and described her as a "vocal critic" of religious teachings and beliefs regarding abortion and contraception, as when she told an October 2011 fundraiser for NARAL Pro-Choice America "we are in a war."
There are 75 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, with many Protestant-run businesses and institutions joining Catholic archdioceses, health care systems, universities in seeking legal remedies to their religious freedom violations.