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Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh appeals dismissal of suit, saying birth-control mandate unconstitutional

| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 10:44 a.m.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh will appeal the dismissal of its lawsuit against the Obama administration and continue challenging a federal requirement on birth control, the diocese announced on Friday.

“We feel so strongly about this issue. It's an issue of our religious freedom, and we have to take every option to preserve our rights,” said Rita F. Joyce, general counsel for the diocese.

The diocese in May filed one of about 40 similar cases nationwide, declaring unconstitutional a portion of the federal health-care mandate. Specifically, the diocese argued, the government breached its religious freedom by demanding that it facilitate and, in some cases, pay for abortion-inducing drugs, birth control and other services that violate its religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry dismissed the lawsuit in November. The health-insurance law has not harmed the diocese because most of the regulations will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, McVerry wrote.

He noted the government already has “begun the process of amending the regulations to address the specific religious objections” raised by the diocese.

Federal officials are expected to introduce by late March an amendment to accommodate the religious concerns, Joyce said. She said the diocese is “cautiously optimistic.”

But “we filed the appeal (notice) to preserve our right and to proceed further,” Joyce said. Without it, “we would be precluded from once again raising all of our issues.”

The diocese filed its notice Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Downtown.

Joyce said the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals may look at the matter “in a totally different light.”

The diocese's lawsuit lists as defendants Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the federal agencies they lead. Plaintiffs include the diocese, Bishop David Zubik, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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