Faith Under Fire : How the HHS Mandate Is Hurting Us Right Now

Editor’ Note: In this latest installment of Faith Under Fire, Gail Finke gives us a round-up of the latest and most significant developments in the deepening conflict between church and state. You won’t find these stories jumping out at you from the headlines of secular news sources–which is why Catholic Exchange makes it a point to bring them to your attention in our ongoing Faith Under Fire series.

 New York Catholic HHS Suit Allowed to Proceed!

A District Court judge ruled early this month that the Archdiocese of New York and several other Catholic institutions are entitled to sue the US government over the HHS mandate, even though it will not apply to them until 2014.

The Archdiocese of New York and the other entities (including the Diocese of Rockville Centre and several Catholic health care systems) asked for an injunction on the grounds that the law, which will not apply to religious organizations for another year, will cause serious injury when it does take effect. The government’s lawyers had argued (as they did successfully in Pittsburgh — see below) that the three groups could not sue until and unless they were actually injured by the law when it took effect.

Judge Brian Cogan ruled that the three plaintiffs did not have to accept the government’s assurances that the parts of the law they find unacceptable will be fixed by the time it takes effect, and could sue on the basis of what they projected the effects will be based on the law as it is now.

The Archdiocese, which self-insures, has 370 employees and insures 9,000 people.

You can read the New York Law Suit here:

 Proposed NC “Choose Life” Plates Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled last week that license plates bearing the words “Choose Life” violate the First Amendment to the US Constitution because the North Carolina legislature, which approved the plates, did not approve “pro-choice” plates as well.

U.S. District Court Judge James Fox said that issuing the plate would amount to “viewpoint discrimination.” The ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, which filed the suit, called the ruling a “great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians.”

License plates with the words “choose life” are available in 29 US states.

 Supreme Court Orders Liberty U. HHS Case Returned to Appeals Court

On Nov. 19, the US Supreme Court ordered an appeals court to reconsider a case brought against the US government by Liberty University.

The private Christian school objected to the HHS mandate that it provide birth control drugs and devices in its insurance policies. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond,  VA, had ruled that the school could not sue because, under the Anti-Injunction Act, no one can challenge a tax until someone pays it.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that the Affordable Care Act is legal because people and groups who will not purchase insurance are assessed what it determined was a legal tax by the government, and not an illegal fine.

In this case, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply, so lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act can proceed.

 Judge Tells Pittsburgh Diocese: No Right to Sue Over HHS Mandate…Until After It Goes Into Effect

A federal judge dismissed the suit brought by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and two other Catholic entities on Nov. 27, saying none of the groups had the right to sue until at least 2014.

Because the law will not take effect for religious organizations until 2014, U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry said, none of them has the right to sue until after the January 2014 because they are not yet affected. Judge McVerry also noted that HHS is working on amendments that might address the complaints before the 2014.

The diocese said the current law would make it difficult to begin collective bargaining sessions with teachers in January or set tuition rates for schools. Judge McVerry dismissed this objection, saying that the diocese had to have an actual or imminent injury, not a “conjectural or hypothetical injury” before it could sue.

The suit was dismissed “without prejudice,” which means that diocese and organizations are free to sue in the future.

Read Bishop David Zubik’s statement on the dismissal here:

 Missouri Business Wins Emergency Relief in HHS Case

A federal appeals court granted a motion for temporary relief against the HHS insurance coverage mandate to Frank R. O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, on Nov. 28.

The Missouri company sued the federal government to block the HHS mandate requiring nearly all employers to include birth control devices and drugs, voluntary sterilization for women, and “morning after” abortion-causing drugs in their employee insurance coverage.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization, argues that employers have the right to operate their businesses according to their religious principles.

OIH operates several businesses and employs 87 people. O’Brien is Catholic, and operates his business according to his principles. The OIH mission statement includes the phrase, “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society,” and its “statement of values” begin: “Integrity. Our conduct is guided by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. We will not discriminate based on anyone’s personal belief system.”

The lawsuit was filed in March and in October a federal court judge ruled for the government. ACLJ filed an immediate appeal.

 Pennsylvania Restaurant Must Give Church Bulletin Discount to Atheists

A Pennsylvania Cajun restaurant sued by atheists because it offered a 10% discount on Sundays to anyone producing a church bulletin will now offer a “bulletin discount” to anyone with a pamphlet of any sort from any faith, including atheist groups. The agreement is part of a settlement negotiated by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission between Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen restaurant and atheist John Wolff.

Wolff was represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), known for high-profile suits and publicity campaigns. According to local reports, the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, which handled the restaurant owners’ case, argued that the discount was merely a marketing scheme to bring in more Sunday business, while the FFRF argued it amounted to excluding people from a deal based on their religion or lack of one.

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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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