Greensburg bishop testifies in case for injunction against contraception provisions
The government acknowledges it cannot enforce the preventive services mandate against two affiliates of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and claims it can't even enforce the mandate against the private insurance company that acts as the diocese's third-party administrator.
Instead of throwing in the towel on the diocese's challenge of that mandate, however, the government argued on Friday in federal court in Pittsburgh that a judge should throw out the challenge because the diocese can't show it will be harmed.
The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services. It exempts the diocese as a religious employer but doesn't exempt religious nonprofits such as Catholic Charities of Greensburg and St. John the Evangelist Regional Catholic School.
Instead, they are required to either provide coverage or certify to their third-party administrators that they object to the coverage. That would trigger the administrator, in this case, Highmark Inc., to provide the coverage at no cost to the diocese.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab has granted permanent injunctions to the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses, preventing the government from enforcing the mandate on their nonprofits.
The dioceses argued that even signing the certification form would make their nonprofits complicit in providing services they believe are immoral and, therefore, violate their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Action.
Using the same argument, the Greensburg Diocese is seeking the same protection.
The diocese doesn't need that protection; its health insurance plan is a self-insured “church plan,” said Brad Humphreys, a trial lawyer for the Justice Department.
“That means the government lacks any statutory or regulatory authority,” he said.
That lack of authority would extend to Highmark's handling of plans, and there's no reason to believe the insurer would provide the preventive services against the diocese's wishes, he said.
The government is inviting the diocese to have its affiliates gamble on whether they would participate in violating their religious beliefs, said Leon F. DeJulius, one of the lawyers representing the diocese.
“In effect, the government is asking the plaintiffs to play Russian roulette” by signing the certifications and hoping Highmark won't provide the services, he said.
Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt said he wouldn't sign the certification and would not allow the two affiliates to sign, even though fines the government would levy could force their closure.
“There can be no material cooperation with something that is intrinsically evil,” he said.
Schwab took the arguments under advisement. He didn't indicate when he would rule.
Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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