Denver, Colo., Apr 30, 2014 / 15:19 pm
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has welcomed a federal court's injunction against the HHS mandate that the student missionary organization says threatens the freedom of religious ministries.
"Affirming the freedom of FOCUS to operate as a Christian ministry is the only constitutionally correct solution to this government-created problem," John Zimmer, vice president of training and formation for the organization, said April 29. "The court was absolutely right to block enforcement of the HHS mandate against FOCUS, and we are grateful for this decision."
The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate on April 23. The court order said that there was no "timely filed" response in opposition to the FOCUS request for an injunction.
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires most U.S. employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions. Many Catholic organizations do not qualify for the narrow exemption from the mandate, despite their religious and moral objections to providing the coverage.
Zimmer told CNA that the mandate "ignores freedom" and forces institutions to provide employees with "life-destroying drugs" or "be punished with crippling fines."
"No individual, business, or ministry should be forced to make that decision," he said. "If the government can fine religious ministries like FOCUS out of existence because they want to uphold their faith, there is no limit to what other freedoms it can take away."
"One of the blessings we have as Americans is the right to act in accordance with our faith in God," Zimmer continued. "The Constitution protects religious freedom and forbids government from forcing anyone to act against their deeply-held convictions."
The Colorado-based Catholic organization is represented by the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
"In America, we don't try to separate what people do from what they believe," said Michael Norton, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, April 23. "Faith-based organizations should be free to operate according to the faith they espouse and live out on a daily basis."
FOCUS has 400 employees, including missionary teams working at more than 80 national college campuses in Catholic outreach and evangelization. FOCUS staff members take a voluntary oath of fidelity to Catholic teaching, which rejects use of abortifacient drugs, contraception and sterilization.
The FOCUS lawsuit is one of more than 90 that have been filed against the HHS mandate, representing over 300 plaintiffs across the U.S.