Catholic dioceses sue US government over employer insurance requirements

[JURIST] More than 40 Catholic dioceses and other Catholic institutions around the US filed suits on Monday against the Obama administration, alleging that certain employer insurance requirements issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website] violate their right to religious freedom [materials] protected by the first amendment. The mandate in question [HHS press release] was added to the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act (PPACA) and requires nearly all health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved drugs, including contraception, sterilization and Plan-B-type drugs, with a narrow exception for some religious institutions. The exception only applies to organizations whose mission is strictly religious in nature and thus will not exempt Catholic schools, hospitals or universities. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, explained the lawsuit:

This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs.
Twelve separate lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the HHS mandate. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction preventing the enforcement of the HSS mandate.

The PPACA is currently being challenged in the US Supreme Court [official website]. In March the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in United States Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida [materials], the suit challenging the PPACA. In January 26 states submitted a brief [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the expansion of Medicaid for the poor and disabled in the PPACA. Also in January the federal government filed a brief [JURIST report] before the US Supreme Court arguing that the minimum coverage provision of the PPACA, which requires almost every US citizen to obtain health insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty, is constitutional. The court granted certiorari to rule on health care reform law [JURIST report] in three separate cases last November, reserving five-and-half-hours for oral argument on the issue.

 

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