NEW YORK (CNS) — Priests for Life, which has been battling in court over the federal Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, won one skirmish June 10 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stayed any fines the organization would have to pay for not complying with the mandate.
The appellate court, though, had refused May 20 a petition from Priests for Life to give its case against HHS a hearing before the full court.
Priests for Life responded by filing a petition June 9 asking the Supreme Court to hear its HHS challenge on the merits of the case.
“The injunction protecting us from the mandate will remain in place while the Supreme Court considers our case,” said a June 10 statement form Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life.
“Without the stay granted today, we would have been in the positon of being fined for failing to comply with the mandate,” Father Pavone added. “But no matter what happens, we will not obey the mandate, nor will we pay fines to the government.”
In its 33-page petition to the Supreme Court, Priests for Life said: “The question presented is whether the contraceptive services mandate of the Affordable Care Act as applied to non-exempt, nonprofit religious organizations violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.”
Priests for Life also cited 19 other challenges to the HHS mandate, including those posed by Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame, the Eternal Word Television Network, Wheaton College and the Archdiocese of Washington.
“The federal appellate courts are divided over whether the challenged regulations impose a ‘substantial burden’ on a nonexempt, nonprofit religious organization’s religious exercise, and if so, whether the government has used the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling interest such that the regulations satisfy strict scrutiny,” the Priests for Life brief says.
Beyond the Catholic entities named in the group’s petition to the high court, dozens more Catholic and other organizations have lawsuits against the mandate working their way through the courts.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, most employers, including religious ones, are required to cover employees’ artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if employers are morally opposed to such coverage.
Only those religious employers that meet narrow criteria set by the Obama administration are exempt from the mandate. Nonexempt religious employers can opt out of providing the coverage using what the administration calls a “work around.” They must notify HHS in writing of their religious objections. Then HHS or the Department of Labor government in turn tells insurers and third-party administrators that they must cover the services at no charge to employees.
But many religious groups object to the notification, saying they still would be complicit in supporting practices they oppose.
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