An injunction against the federal contraception mandate granted to a group of non-profit Catholic organizations in Western Pennsylvania has been hailed as a key win for religious liberty.
Brandon McGinley, field director for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, told CNA on Nov. 22 that the decision is a “victory for religious freedom.”
He pointed to the judge’s “strong argument that the Free Exercise of Religion cannot be reduced to a ‘Freedom of Worship,’” saying that this should guide other courts in considering the mandate.
The case was brought by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as well as its affiliates the St. Martin Center and Prince of Peace Center of the Diocese of Erie, along with Erie Catholic Preparatory School.
It challenged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate on grounds of religious freedom.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering early abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees, even if doing so violates their deeply-held religious convictions.
The regulation has drawn widespread criticism, as well as lawsuits from more than 200 plaintiffs. Faced with opposition from religious groups and individuals, the Obama administration issued a revision, exempting houses of worship and their affiliated organizations, but placing other religious non-profits under a separate “accommodation,” so that their insurers would directly provide the coverage.
Critics of the mandate have argued that the accommodation is insufficient, still requiring objecting groups to facilitate the coverage and possibly leading them to indirectly fund it.
In deciding the Pennsylvania case, the U.S. district judge ruled that the mandate would redefine “the Right to the Free Exercise of Religion as set forth in the First Amendment to a Right to Worship only,” a move which will “sever the Catholic Church into two parts,” - “worship and faith, and ‘good works.’”
He also commented that the government “has failed to offer any testimony or other evidence” showing that employees who do not receive contraception from religious employers “have, in fact, suffered in the past, or will in the future, any ‘negative health or other outcomes,’ without the enforcement of the contraceptive mandate.”
“In fact, the evidence was to the contrary,” the judge said.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh commended the decision in a statement for the diocese, saying that the Catholic commitment to providing healthcare and services for the poor is “central” to “the practice of faith,” and that the decision took “an important step in recognizing this obvious, fundamental truth.”
Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing some of the organizations challenging the contraception mandate, called the decision “a huge victory.”
“The injunction is the first one that has been thoroughly litigated for a Catholic non-profit organization, and only the second one so litigated for a non-profit entity of any kind,” he said in a post on CatholicVote.org.
The decision, he explained, “defeats the so-called ‘accommodation’ that President Obama has attempted to thrust on non-profit religious groups,” and “vindicates the U.S. Bishops’ uncompromising stance on the abortion-pill and birth control mandate, which they recently reaffirmed at their annual meeting.”
“America cherishes religious freedom for all people,” Bowman commented.
“Its jurisprudence is now doing so against an increasingly massive and insistent federal government that desires to impose its own anti-life and anti-fertility image on every citizen and organization in the nation.”