A pro-life group of Catholic priests is refusing to obey a court ruling that it must provide birth control for employees as part of health insurance plans.
The United States DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a claim from Priests for Life that it should be exempt from the Obamacare legislation on grounds of religious freedom. A three-judge panel said that the regulations "do not impose a substantial burden on the Plaintiffs' religious exercise."
A statement from the national director of Priests of Life and Gospel of Life Ministries, Father Frank Pavone, denounced the judgement as "absurd".
"Priests for Life will not obey the mandate! Not today. Not tomorrow. Now ever!" he said.
Father Pavone also told the Washington Times that "To ask a group of priests to cooperate in the government's plan to expand access to birth control and abortion-inducing drugs is about as contrary to religious freedom as you can get."
However, Judge Nina Pillard said that organisations that wish to opt out of the Affordable Care Act (AFA) are able to do so via a letter or two-page form in which they express their beliefs.
"Religious non-profits are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms," she added.
"The ACA shifts to health insurers and administrators the obligation to pay for and provide contraceptive coverage for insured persons who would otherwise lose it as a result of the religious accommodation."
Priests for Life has refused to do so, however, arguing that this would make it complicit in the provision of birth control, which it deems against God's will.
The challenge, bought forward by the group, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and another non-profit, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, follows last June's US Supreme Court ruling in favour of Hobby Lobby.
The arts and crafts chain was embroiled in a lawsuit to gain exemption from the AFA legislation regarding the morning and week after pills. After a lengthy battle, the court ruled that closely-held businesses can uphold religious objections which allow them to opt out of contraceptive health law requirements.
After Friday's judgement, Father Pavone wrote on Facebook: "I am convinced that God will bring us through this setback. Faithfulness to His plan will render success, by resisting those who would throw religious freedom to the wind as in this case.
"Far from a political motivation, what galvanizes PFL in pursuing the appeal to the Supreme Court is first, the commitment to our Catholic Church whose moral principles themselves remain severely compromised in the Mandate; and second, as a needed agent to resist brazen government intervention against religious freedom of the First Amendment. This is a threat to ALL religious freedom...This is about any American. It is about life, religion and, yes, even our freedom. It is about God's sovereignty over Caesar."
The group is now hoping to take its case to the Supreme Court, where it hopes to receive a favourable ruling, as in the Hobby Lobby case.