Illinois dioceses, other Catholic groups sue over White House insurance mandate

May 22, 2012
By Manya A. Brachear, Chicago Tribune reporterThe Roman Catholic dioceses of Springfield and Joliet have joined 41 other religious institutions filing simultaneous lawsuits that challenge the Obama administration’s mandate that many religious employers have their health insurance cover the cost of birth control for employees.

Catholic Charities programs in both dioceses also filed simultaneous lawsuits in U.S. District Court on Monday.

At issue is a requirement that employers provide insurance plans that include contraception for women at no cost. Under the rules announced in January, religiously affiliated organizations such as Catholic schools, charities and hospitals would not be exempt from providing care that includes FDA-approved contraception and sterilization procedures.

Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the Joliet andSpringfield organizations are the first of many Catholic entities across the state considering legal action, including universities and hospitals.

“We’ve talked to the administration about our concerns and tried to persuade them to amend the regulation that they proposed. It doesn’t seem like they’re willing to do that,” Gilligan said. “We’re engaged in the executive branch, legislative branch and now the judicial branch.”

The 12 lawsuits filed jointly Monday accuse the U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services and their respective secretaries — Hilda Solis, Timothy Geithner and Kathleen Sebelius — of violating the Catholic Church’s religious liberty by defining what qualifies as a religious institution and excluding schools, hospitals and charities from that definition.

“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,” said Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a trained lawyer and former auxiliary bishop in Chicago.

In February, the Obama administration offered a compromise that required insurance companies to cover the cost of any care, not religious employers. But many of the plaintiffs in the suits filed Monday argue that accommodation doesn’t help because they self-insure. The government is still finalizing a regulation for self-insured groups.

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