The lawsuit filed Monday against the U.S. government by the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese and other groups is an effort to defend the constitutional right to freedom of religion, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said at a news conference.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, University of Saint Francis, Our Sunday Visitor and the University of Notre Dame are among a group of organizations that have filed federal lawsuits stemming from the federal mandate regarding, among other things, the providing of contraceptive products and abortion-inducing drugs, according to a news release from the diocese Monday.
“Religious freedom, protected in the U.S. Constitution and other laws and statues, is rooted in the dignity of every human person. It is inherent in our humanity, a God-given right. It is a cornerstone of basic human rights and is necessary for the flourishing of society. We are obliged to defend it for ourselves and for others. We are asking in this lawsuit that this right be respected by our government,” Rhoades said during his statement to the media.
According to a release from the diocese earlier Monday, the defendants named in the lawsuit were the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Labor and their respective secretaries. The lawsuit stems from the recently enacted Health and Human Services mandate in which religious employers who do not qualify for an exemption must provide abortion-inducing drugs, access to sterilization procedures, and contraceptive products and services at no cost to employees.
According to Rhoades, the lawsuit was among 12 that were filed across the country Monday. The suits encompass 43 different agencies.
Rhoades said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has tried since December to get the government to change the policy and has found legal recourse to be the only option left open to them to change the law.
The new legislation will come into play Aug. 1. Organizations affected by this change will have one year to comply.
According to a statement of the Administrative Committee of the USCCB, made March 14 and posted on its website, “the mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a 'religious employer' deserving exemption — employers who, among other things, must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith. We are deeply concerned about this new definition of who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry.”
Rhoades said Monday he was doubtful the church would fall within that definition, as many of the people it employs and serves are not Catholic. All of the other local organizations included in the suit – Catholic Charities of the diocese, Saint Anne Home and Retirement Community, Franciscan Alliance, the University of Saint Francis, Our Sunday Visitor and the University of Notre Dame – would not qualify under this exemption.
“The government has no place defining 'religious employer' so narrowly that it only includes houses of worship. This reduces the freedom of religion to the freedom of worship,” Rhoades said.
The international law firm Jones Day is handling all 12 of the nationwide law suites.