The Diocese of Peoria, Ill., filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 9 against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration. The lawsuit challenges the Obama administration’s unprecedented mandate that attacks the freedom to practice religion without government interference.
Under the HHS mandate, employers must provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. The Diocese of Peoria maintains that the requirement to fund and facilitate such activities violates core religious and moral convictions.
Patricia Gibson, attorney and chancellor for the Diocese of Peoria stated, “This lawsuit is about 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.”
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago joined the lawsuits on July 9.
Forty-three Catholic institutions, including dioceses, hospitals, universities and other Catholic Charities agencies joined in filing 12 similar lawsuits in district courts across the country on May 21. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago formally joined the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois by the Dioceses of Joliet and Springfield and their respective Catholic Charities organizations.
Jones Day, an international law firm, is handling all the suits on a pro bono basis.
The suits all turn on the idea that the government can decide what qualifies as a religious employer. Under the mandate an employer must meet four criteria to be consider religious: that it “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose”; primarily employs people “who share its religious tenets”; primarily serves people “who share its religious tenets”; and is a nonprofit organization under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.
Several other Catholic institutions had already filed their own lawsuits before May 21, and non- Catholic religious institutions including the evangelical Wheaton College have also filed suit.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria believes that his diocese’s lawsuit is necessary at this time because there does not appear to be any real effort on the part of the federal government to correct this intrusion upon our First Amendment Rights.
“I have an obligation to protect the church’s ability to freely practice our religion,” he stated in a statement. “Fortunately, we have recourse to the Constitution and the strong conviction of our Founding Fathers who clearly intended to keep the government out of the internal affairs of the church. America’s great history and tradition of religious freedom is embedded in the First Amendment. As bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, I cannot remain silent while the right of Catholics to practice our faith is being so gravely threatened.”
Source: The Catholic Post of the Diocese of Peoria and Catholic New World archives.