Keystone Good News for Living Good News

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania yesterday issued a preliminary injunction keeping the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, and social-service organizations including Catholic Charities from having to comply with the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, female-sterilization mandate.

This is the first preliminary injunction granted to religious non-profits under HHS’s final rule.

The court concluded that:

After hearing the testimony of Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Zubik, Bishop Persico, and all of the other witnesses for Plaintiffs, the Court made the factual determination that Plaintiffs possess a sincerely-held belief that the burden imposed by the execution of the self-certification form is not de minimis. Plaintiffs sincerely believe that by signing the self-certification form, required by the “accommodation,” they will facilitate/initiate the provision of contraceptive products, services, and counseling. Plaintiffs also sincerely believe that this facilitation/initiation is no different than if Plaintiffs directly provided those same products, services, and counseling. The Court concludes that the “accommodation,” in effect, causes these Plaintiffs to comply with the contraceptive mandate which violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs – that “the sanctity of human life which begins at conception,” and “facilitation of evil is the same as proliferation of evil” – and thus, places a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ ability to exercise their religion. The Court also concludes that the Government has, thus far, in this litigation, failed to show these regulations meet a compelling governmental interest and are sufficiently narrowly-tailored to meet those interests, and/or to demonstrate that the “accommodation” is the least restrictive means to meet those stated interests.

The court found that “plaintiffs stand to suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were not granted” and that:

[t]he public interest also is best served if Plaintiffs (non-profit, affiliated/related organizations) can continue to provide needed educational and social services, without the threat of substantial fines for non-compliance with the contraceptive mandate as imposed upon them via the “accommodation.” As previously noted, such fines would impede the provision of those services to thousands of individuals who have no other means of obtaining necessary food, shelter, and other basic assistance.

The Obama administration’s “accommodation” for religious liberty is no such thing and forces choices between conscience and service that are simply not American. Thankfully, another court has seen this, for now. A small step toward the protection of religious liberty in America. Thank you, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab!

Matt Bowman of Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents some of those suing over the HHS mandate, comments: 

This is a huge victory. Among other things it defeats the so-called “accommodation” that President Obama has attempted to thrust on non-profit religious groups. That alleged compromise draws a bright line between churches and other non-profit religious groups, and it forces those groups to trigger contraceptive insurance coverage by means of a shell game where they are supposed to pretend they aren’t involved. In some situations, involving self-insured plans, it explicitly forces the religious group to secure a third party to provide the exact coverage the religious group itself objects to covering (by “designating” their plan administrator to do it). As if you could hire someone else to commit a moral evil that you believe sinful.

The Obama administration’s proposal of this moral kabuki dance has even convinced some Obama-supporting Catholics to claim that the bishops should stop opposing Obamacare’s attack on religious freedom. The government’s “accommodation” is also entirely illegal and disconnected from any statutory authority to engage in its workaround.  Just like every other ad hoc “fix” that the White House has conjured up for problem after problem in Obamacare, it was hastily drafted to try to change poll numbers and appease Planned Parenthood instead of to respect freedom and the rule of law.

Today’s court decision also vindicates the U.S. Bishops’ uncompromising stance on the abortion-pill and birth control mandate, which they recently reaffirmed at their annual meeting, both for non-profit organizations and for lay Catholics and people of good will who are threatened by this government coercion just because they are trying to earn a living for their families in business. In 2012 those families started their lawsuits with victory after victory against Obamacare’s attack on religious freedom. With this victory by Pennsylvania Dioceses, and the earlier one by Geneva College, Obamacare’s attack on religious non-profit activity is starting out on the same losing foot.

The Obama administration is expected to appeal. Pittsburgh bishop David Zubik said that he was “relieved” by the decision, adding that “if it has to go to the Supreme Court, I’m moving with it all the way.” 

When he testified in federal court earlier this month, Bishp Zubik made the case that “the integrity of our beliefs” is at issue for Pennsylvanian Catholics and the government should not be forcing people of faith to violate their conscience or cease service. “The government,” he said “is now reversing what our founding fathers said was religion.” Whatever you believe theologically, these are people who help make civil society flourish, who make America better, reaching people government could never adequately serve with the same kind of love and efficiency.