Who are the plaintiffs?
In this particular lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, the plaintiffs are Bishop Thomas John Paprocki for the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois; Catholic Charities of the Springfield diocese; Bishop R. Daniel Conlon for the Catholic Diocese of Joliet; and Catholic Charities of the Joliet diocese.
Nationally, there are 12 lawsuits being filed representing a total of 43 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs include other dioceses, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic health systems, and Catholic charitable organizations that have been forced to facilitate and fund activities that violate their religious and moral convictions.
Who are the defendants?
The defendants are the various federal agencies responsible for formulating and enforcing the nationwide mandate that requires religious institutions to facilitate and fund activities that their religious and moral convictions forbid.
Why are you filing now?
The mandate was made final on Feb. 15, 2012, so it is the law right now, and it will go into effect soon (Aug. 1, 2012, for some and Aug. 1, 2013, for others). We have pursued all other avenues to correct the problem without litigation, by efforts with the White House and Congress, and they have not succeeded. We can't predict how the Supreme Court's decision in the Affordable Care Act lawsuit will affect this mandate, and we can't risk waiting in vain. So we must act as soon as possible to protect our rights before these deadlines come, and litigation takes time.
Isn't this a political move to influence the November election?
No. The lawsuit actually takes the issue out of politics. The courts exist to interpret and apply the law in a fair and impartial way. We have an independent judicial branch for the purpose of resolving disputes like these and protecting the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This is a case brought to protect core constitutional principles — the free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state.
The Catholic Church did not pick this fight or its timing; the federal government did. We've been seeking relief from this over-reaching mandate since we first learned of the possibility in 2010, but the regulation wasn't proposed until Aug. 2011 and finalized until Feb. 2012. The White House hasn't budged on the core issues, and we've exhausted our other options, including a bi-partisan legislative effort.
Couldn't the Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act affect the HHS mandate? Why not wait to file this challenge until after the Supreme Court rules in June?
It is impossible to predict with certainty how the Supreme Court will decide the pending constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or how that decision will affect this case. Waiting and hoping for the best outcome would be naïve and irresponsible on our part — there is too much at stake.
What about other (arch)dioceses? Aren't they impacted the same way? Why didn't others file lawsuits?
The Springfield diocese can only speak for itself. We filed suit because this mandate would force us to choose between violating our conscience and violating the law.
Other Catholic organizations have already filed suit, making the same claims as you are. Why did you decide to file additional lawsuits, instead of allowing those other plaintiffs to litigate the issue?
Although it is unnecessary for every Catholic entity in the United States to file, it is not enough for just a few to file. Each entity brings its own distinct set of facts, and interpretations of applicable federal law vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Until now, no Catholic dioceses or archdioceses have filed.
Aren't dioceses and archdioceses exempt from compliance with the mandate?
It is unclear. The exemption is worded in a way that makes it impossible to predict with certainty whether a particular religious entity is exempt. To be considered a "religious employer" for the purposes of the mandate, a Catholic organization must (among other requirements) serve "primarily" Catholics. But dioceses do not keep running tallies of the number of Catholics and non-Catholics they serve — they never even ask. As Catholics, we believe that our neighbors deserve our compassion because of their inherent human dignity, not because of their religious beliefs. For example, Catholic schools, which are often part of the diocese itself, educate students of all faiths. Do they "primarily" serve children who share our religious tenets? Is "inculcation" of religion "the purpose" of these schools? The answers to these questions are unclear, and can only be determined by an intrusive governmental examination into the nature of religious beliefs of the people we serve. This inquiry itself violates the constitution.
Why are only Catholic organizations involved? Aren't other religious organizations similarly impacted?
Every individual in our country, and every religious organization, should be concerned that the federal government believes it has the power to force its citizens to violate their consciences. Non-Catholic entities are similarly impacted by the mandate, and some of those entities are already involved in separate law suits. This particular lawsuit happens to include only Catholic entities, but we are hopeful that it will establish principles that protect all religious organizations.
Do you believe the proposed accommodation would address your concerns? If not, why not? If so, why are you filing suit?
No. No "accommodation" has been made. On Feb. 15, HHS finalized its rule "without change," which means that HHS has taken off the table dropping the objectionable services from the mandate, and changing the unreasonably narrow and intrusive exemption. These two provisions are the main problems that prompt this lawsuit. The Administration has only given us expressions of intent to pursue a vague proposal, which they have dubbed an "accommodation," for employers that they still refuse to exempt. In any event, none of the ideas mentioned in the possible "accommodation" would relieve us of the mandate's requirement to facilitate the use of drugs and procedures we consider morally wrong.
Have you stopped working with the White House in looking for a resolution? If so, why? If not, won't this lawsuit impede the progress of the discussions?
This diocese is not in direct contact with the White House on these matters. Those contacts are coordinated through the Office of Government Relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
What happens if you are not successful in your case — will you close your schools? Will Catholic Charities close?
We simply don't know. We believe we are right, as a matter of principle and as a matter of law. Our hope is that we will never be forced to make the unconscionable choice that the mandate would require. The Catholic Church will not stop defending itself from this unjust and illegal mandate. If we lose in court, we will continue (and redouble) our efforts with the legislative and executive branches. If they still do not succeed, we will have to make some extraordinarily difficult choices, pitting some of our most deeply held convictions against each other. We will not speculate now as to how we would resolve those dilemmas, because we hope never to reach that point.
Catholic entities receive government money — shouldn't they abide by government rules?
The mandate has nothing to do with government funding. The mandate applies to all employers, regardless of whether they receive government funds. Even if Catholic entities were to cease their many cooperative relationships with the government to serve the needy, those entities would still be subject to the mandate.
Don't 28 states already have a law mandating employers to provide contraceptive coverage?"
The federal mandate is much stricter than existing state mandates. HHS chose the narrowest state-level religious exemption as the model for its own. That exemption was drafted by the ACLU and exists in only three states (New York, California, Oregon). Even without a religious exemption, religious employers can already avoid the contraceptive mandates in 28 states by self-insuring their prescription drug coverage, dropping that coverage altogether, or opting for regulation under a federal law (ERISA) that pre-empts state law. The HHS mandate closes off all these avenues of relief.
Is it really in the best interest of the country to wage this battle right now?
It is certainly in the best interest of the country to defend the fundamental human right to religious freedom. The government forced this battle on the Catholic Church; we did not choose it or the timing of it. It would have been better for the country if this threat had never been posed. But it was, and justice demands a fair and impartial decision in a court of law.
Since 98 percent of Catholic women reportedly already use birth control, isn't the Church out of touch with its members — particularly women?
Even those who may disagree with the church's teaching can recognize that the church should not be forced to provide to its employees coverage that violates its own teaching. That is what makes this a religious liberty question. In addition, the 98 percent statistic is misleading and has been misused throughout this debate, earning its proponents "two pinocchios" from the Washington Post fact checker. Finally, the mandate is not limited to contraception, but also includes sterilization and certain abortion-inducing drugs.
Why is the Catholic Church trying to force its views on the rest of the country?
It's the other way around. The purpose of the lawsuit is to prevent the federal government from forcing its views on the Catholic Church. Individuals are free to buy and use contraception — the Supreme Court settled that question a long time ago. Employers are free to cover it in the health insurance they sponsor, and insurers are free to write policies covering it. This has long been the case and is not in dispute. The issue here is whether the government can force the Catholic Church to furnish its own employees with coverage it considers morally and religiously objectionable.
Last week my family and I took a short vacation to Green Bay, Wisconsin. We enjoyed the usual sites, including a visit to the National Railroad Museum (for the kids) and a tour of Lambeau Field (for my wife and me).
But the highlight of the trip was on the second day when we drove 20 minutes to Champion, Wisconsin, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. This shrine is located at the spot of the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the United States.
In 1859 Adele Brise, a youth Belgian immigrant, saw a woman in white standing between two trees. She was frightened by the vision, which reappeared a second time the following Sunday as she was walking to Mass. She asked a priest for advice and he told her she should ask it, "In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?"
On her way home the lady appeared again and Adele did as she had been instructed. The lady replied, "I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same." Adele was also told to "gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation."
Adele dedicated the rest of her life to catechizing the children of rural Wisconsin, walking from community to community and later founding a school at the spot of the apparition. (It was closed in the 1920s and is now a sandwich shop, but some of the original blackboards are still hanging up!)
Adele Brise is a wonderful example of the humility and perseverance needed for catechists today. The Blessed Mother’s call to “teach them what they should know for salvation” remains our calling whether as parents, catechists, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers, RCIA team members, or any number of other roles we play in our lives.
I pray that, during this month of Mary, the Queen of Heaven will pray for you and all the catechists of our diocese so that we may fulfill her son’s will to make disciples in his Church.
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us!