The lawsuit of Priests for Life against the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate continues to move forward in the nation’s second highest court. On Tuesday, we filed a supplemental brief with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals addressing two key developments that have occurred since oral arguments were heard by that court in May. The brief declares that the religious freedom violations inflicted by the HHS mandate are not eliminated by the government’s new regulations, but rather perpetuated. It also states that rather than help the government’s case, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision strengthens the arguments contained in Priests for Life’s lawsuit.
The filing in Priests for Life v. HHS argues that the latest government “accommodation” to Obamacare’s HHS mandate offers no actual change in policy and, therefore, does nothing to alleviate the mandate’s harm to Priests for Life and other religious groups.
At issue in Priests for Life’s lawsuit is whether the federal government can compel a religious non-profit organization to violate the faith upon which it exists and operates. Even more to the point is the question of whether the government can force such a violation of faith when its purported policy goal can be achieved easily in other ways.
Before its latest regulations were issued, the Department of Health and Human Services had required religious non-profit groups to file a form with their insurance companies authorizing that their employees be provided with coverage for sterilization and birth control drugs and devices, including those which can cause abortions. The authorization of such drugs and devices would directly violate the teaching of the Catholic Church.
After two recent Supreme Court actions related to the HHS mandate went against the government, the Obama administration apparently realized that its so-called “accommodation” for non-profit religious groups would not withstand legal scrutiny. It issued yet another version of this accommodation. As stated in Priests for Life’s latest brief, though, “The new regulations… continue the Government’s pattern of attempting to create the illusion of accommodation while coercing religious organizations to act contrary to their beliefs.”
Call it a smokescreen, call it a ruse, the government’s latest scheme still would require Priests for Life and other religious organizations to violate their faith. Under the new regulations, Priests for Life would be mandated to send authorization for abortifacient, contraceptive, and sterilization coverage for its employees to the government instead of to an insurance carrier. In the words of Priests for Life’s latest brief, “the new regulations do nothing more than provide Plaintiffs with another avenue for violating their religion.”
Referring to the Hobby Lobby decision, the brief also pointed out that the Supreme Court, in effect, reaffirms the arguments that Priests for Life is making. Hobby Lobby made it clear that the government cannot force a believer to act against his or her faith, and that when a believer identifies an action as contrary to his or her faith, it is not up to the government to judge whether that is unreasonable. Mr. David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, has stated, “The religious freedom of believers of all denominations is under attack. Our family therefore joins in prayerful support of the Priests for Life case against the HHS mandate. As our Hobby Lobby case represents the concerns of businesses, so the Priests for Life case represents the concerns of the religious non-profit groups. Together, we stand against this injustice, and for the law of God.”
– Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life