Pittsburgh Diocese files new lawsuit against health care mandate
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh mounted a new legal challenge to the federal health care mandate on Tuesday, arguing that the Obama administration's promise to accommodate objections from faith-based employers turned out to be “empty words.”
The mandate in the Affordable Care Act effectively says, “Religious freedom is only a freedom to worship, it's not a freedom to act on your beliefs,” said Robert P. Lockwood, director of communications for the diocese.
Bishop David Zubik, the diocese and its Catholic Charities filed a federal lawsuit asking U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab to immediately block the government from enforcing the mandate, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. They also ask to be permanently exempted from it.
The mandate requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and related counseling services. The lawsuit claims the requirement would violate the diocese's rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that increases protections on religious practices.
There was no answer at the media office for the Department of Health and Human Services and no response to an email sent to the office. Like other federal agencies, the department has cut staff and services during the federal government shutdown.
In effect, the mandate tries to draw a line between “houses of worship” and the charities and educational services they provide, Lockwood said.
“Our contention is that this is an artificial and dangerous distinction,” he said.
The diocese filed a similar lawsuit in 2012, but U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry dismissed it because the government was responding to complaints and rewriting the regulation.
The administration promised to accommodate faith-based employers, who objected to providing coverage they oppose.
The administration's proposal to exempt religious employers by letting a third party provide the mandated coverage still violates the diocese's religious beliefs because the “organization's decision to offer a group health plan still results in the provision of coverage for abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization and related counseling,” the lawsuit states.
Lockwood said at least eight other dioceses, including the Erie diocese, and the archdioceses of New York, St. Louis and Washington, filed similar lawsuits since the government issued its final regulation in June.
The Pittsburgh diocese has a good chance of winning, said Ira C. Lupu, a retired George Washington University law professor and an expert in the law and religious liberty.
The diocese must prove under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the mandate poses a “substantial burden” to its religious liberty.
“That's what this case is going to come down to,” he said.
The government can argue that the diocese has avenues to reduce the burden, such as buying insurance instead of self-insuring and refusing to employ women who use the mandated services, Lupu said.
More than half of the federal judges who have ruled on similar challenges by for-profit corporations have agreed the mandate burdens their religious freedom. So it seems likely a judge would rule that the mandate burdens the diocese, he said.
The government then would have to convince the judge it has a “compelling interest” to impose that burden. That would be a tough argument because more than half the employers in the country are exempt from the mandate until they change health plans, Lupu said.
“I think the government is not going to be able to prove compelling interest,” Lupu said.
The church is pursuing its challenge through multiple lawsuits because no single entity is authorized to sue on behalf of them all, Lupu said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penn State rallies past Akron behind Newbill’s 26 points
- Ferguson protesters march on Pittsburgh streets
- Penguins notebook: Bennett status remains fluid
- Mo. governor adds guardsmen as protests continue
- Steelers notebook: Defense tasked with stopping Graham
- United Mine Workers responds to strike complaint
- Daily Courier roundup: Penn State Fayette women fall to Slippery Rock
- Household debt on the rise after 5-year decline
- Bars bulge at the seams night before Thanksgiving
- Brown family blasts prosecutor; Wilson speaks
- Protest in Cleveland over 12-year-old’s shooting death chokes off traffic