Diocese of Marquette Joins Lawsuit

Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) today filed documents in U.S. District Court as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the mandate established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that requires many faith-based employers to provide in their health benefit plans abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and artificial contraception, all of which the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable. The nine-count lawsuit asserts violations of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

MCC, of which the Diocese of Marquette is a member, is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state. It is guided by a board of directors that includes the seven arch/diocesan bishops in the State of Michigan, five laypersons, a religious sister and a diocesan priest. In 1970, MCC began to provide employees of the state’s seven arch/dioceses and their institutions with a medical insurance benefit under a self-insured plan. Today, over 10,000 Catholic institution employees and their dependents receive the medical benefit from the Michigan Catholic Conference. Therefore, through the MCC, the Church is in effect the employer and the insurance provider.

Bishop Alexander K. Sample of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette and MCC board member, said, “I regret that the efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to resolve this matter by asking the Administration to rescind its HHS mandate have proved unsuccessful. Now we must take this battle to the courts. If we do not stand up for our religious liberty and rights of conscience, then I fear that this would open the door for further intrusion of government into the life of all religious institutions. We must do this for ourselves and to protect the rights of all citizens of this great land.”

“The HHS mandate represents a very serious violation of religious liberty,” said MCC President and C.E.O. Paul A. Long. “Never before has the federal government sought to coerce religious institutions into acting contrary to their conscience with the threat of paying a substantial and perhaps even crippling penalty for non-compliance.”

The Michigan Catholic Conference’s lawsuit was filed today as several dozen Catholic entities across the country filed similar lawsuits citing, among others, the HHS mandate’s excessive entanglement into the internal governance of religious organizations, a clear violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. The lawsuit filed by the MCC also alleges that HHS has violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the latter of which Congress passed in 1993 and was signed into law by President Clinton.

According to the MCC complaint: “This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available. Here, however, the Government seeks to require Plaintiffs – Catholic entities – to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing, paying for, and/or facilitating access to those services.”

“The HHS mandate seeks not only to coerce religious organizations into providing a medical service that is contrary to the Catholic Church’s firmly held religious belief, it also could have the effect of financially crippling organizations that courageously stand against an unjust law,” says Long. “In effect, Michigan Catholic Conference has been told by the federal government to either facilitate services that violate our conscience or potentially open ourselves up to substantial monetary penalties.”

The lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which is where co-plaintiff Franciscan University of Steubenville is located. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor; and Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, along with their respective agencies, are named as the defendants in the lawsuit.

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