Peoria diocese challenges ‘intrusive’ HHS mandate exemption process

Peoria, Ill., Aug 10, 2012 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill. on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the HHS mandate, charging that it requires an “intrusive government investigation” to determine whether the diocese is exempt from the controversial federal rule.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria believes the new federal lawsuit is necessary because of a lack of effort on the part of the federal government to correct the mandate’s flaws, the diocese said.

“I have an obligation to protect the Church’s ability to freely practice our religion,” he said Aug. 9. “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.”

The mandate requires most employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.

The diocese is unsure whether it qualifies for the mandate’s narrow religious exemptions, which exempt organizations that primarily employ and serve their co-religionists for the purpose of the instilling religious values.

The lawsuit said that to discover whether the diocese is exempt, it must “submit to an intrusive governmental investigation” to determine whether it qualifies. The lawsuit says the diocese’s schools, parishes and social services are “open to all.”

Bishop Jenky said that the United States’ Founding Fathers “clearly intended to keep the government out of the internal affairs of the Church.”

Patricia Gibson, Chancellor and Attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, further explained the reasons for the suit.

“This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms; the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference,” she said. “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.”

The lawsuit contends that the mandate violates the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Diocese of Peoria pointed out that the mandate’s religious exemption excludes Catholic hospitals, schools, universities and social service providers.

“To qualify for the exemption as it now stands, Catholic institutions would have to stop serving non-Catholics in need and stop employing non-Catholic employees,” the diocese said. “This is in direct opposition to the Church’s commitment to serve others, not because of their religious beliefs, but because of their inherent human dignity.”

The dioceses of Springfield and Joliet have filed suit against the mandate, as have more than 40 Catholic dioceses, organizations and institutions. The Chicago-based law firm Jones Day is handling the Diocese of Peoria’s suit and several other anti-mandate cases.

 

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