Breaking: Another Catholic Challenge to Health Care Law

Breaking: Another Catholic Challenge to Health Care Law March 13, 2014

A coalition of Catholic employers has filed a new lawsuit against the federal government, demanding that they be excluded from the HHS Mandate. The Catholic Business Association, one of the plaintiffs in the case, represents nearly 200 Catholic dioceses, agencies and businesses which together employ more than 19,000 staff nationwide.  The CBA objects to providing health insurance which includes coverage for contraceptives and abortions.  The association explains that the so-called “compromise” does nothing to protect the conscience rights of Roman Catholic employers, including Catholic hospitals, universities and social service groups that oppose birth control. The plaintiffs in this newest lawsuit include The Catholic Benefit Association and its affiliate, The Catholic Insurance Company; The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Inc.; All Saints Catholic School in Oklahoma; Archbishop William E. Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore; The Cathedral Foundation in Baltimore; Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Kansas City, KS; and Good Will Publishers in North Carolina. Named as defendants were Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary; Thomas E. Perez, secretary of the Department of Labor; Jacob J. Lew, secretary of the Department of the Treasury; and each of those departments. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City, explained the plaintiffs’ disagreement with the current Administrative policy, saying,

“Religious liberty encompasses more than the right to worship; it includes the right to freely exercise religion, to allow religion to inform not merely our private beliefs, but also our public actions.” 

While Catholic dioceses and archdioceses are themselves exempt from the mandate, their Catholic affiliates which are separately incorporated–such as high schools and charitable institutions–are not. Other Catholic ministries, including hospitals and colleges, and Catholic businesses have also been ordered by the government to comply. An Associated Press report published today explains:

Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals. …The government has argued that the church-related entities have to do very little to be “exempted,” but Catholic groups say signing that form makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage, and therefore violates their religious beliefs. The Catholic Benefits Association wants to offer insurance that wouldn’t provide contraception coverage.

The Catholic plaintiffs are asking the judge to temporarily block the law, saying the federal government’s definition of a “religious employer” is too narrowly interpreted as a house of worship. They also say countless other exemptions have been carved out for small businesses, “grandfathered” plans and some other religious groups, including the Amish and three health care-sharing ministries that are evangelical Protestant. Two years ago, in February 2012, I published a list of organizations and businesses which had been granted exemptions from the federal mandate.  That list (which was not exhaustive, but which I obtained in just a few minutes of internet research) included the following:

RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS Muslims are exempt.  A strict interpretation of Islamic Law (Sharia) forbids Muslims from participating in public or private insurance because it is considered to be “like gambling.”  Muslim sensibilities would be offended, were they to be compelled to participate in such a healthcare program.  American Muslims who pay Social Security taxes and receive Social Security benefits will be forced to accept the insurance provided by ObamaCare.  However, according to the Counter Jihad Report, “…Muslims can be exempted from ObamaCare if they are part of a “health-sharing ministry,”—a religious non-profit organization in which members contribute money to cover the medical expenses of those in need. Alternately, if Muslims have or purchase Sharia-compliant insurance which is available in all 50 states, and have Sharia-compliant insurance, then they would not be required to pay for the insurance provided by ObamaCare. They would be exempt from any taxes, requirements, mandates, or penalties of ObamaCare.” Christian Scientists are exempt because they have a long-standing moral conflict with insurance, and because they lobbied effectively in Congress for the exemption. The Amish are exempt, as well, because they have opted out of Social Security and any type of government-sponsored insurance.  The Amish take care of their own sick and elderly and have done so for generations, without benefit of government subsidies or support., in an article published in March 2010, quoted Third District Congressman Mark Souder:  “The fundamental question is, ‘Is religious freedom trumped by a public health care program?’  There will be a religious liberty fight, but the Amish likely will be part of a bigger category than just themselves.” Mennonite groups have also opted out of coverage, while at the same time opting out of participation in Social Security payroll taxes and Medicare under 26 U.S. Code 1402(g)(1). CULTURAL GROUP EXEMPTIONS American Indians are exempt, due to financial hardship—that is, because they cannot afford to pay.  The exemption is just one part of their longstanding “special relationship” with the United States government. UNION EXEMPTIONS reported a list of 34 labor unions and collective bargaining groups that would be exempted from providing full ObamaCare coverage.  The list included:

  • United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund – 351,000 people.  The largest single waiver, according to an article in USA Today, the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund, a New York union which provides coverage for city teachers, was granted a one-year waiver.  Waivers were granted to insurance plans and companies that demonstrated that employee premiums would rise, or that workers would lose coverage should no waiver be granted.
  • United Agriculture Benefit Trust – 17,347 people.  This California-based cooperative offers coverage to farm workers.
  • Bricklayers Local 1 of MD, VA and DC
  • International Brotherhood of Trade Unions Health and Welfare Fund – Local 713
  • IndianaTeamsters Health Benefits Fund
  • Amalgamated Welfare Fund
  • Local 1102 Health & Benefit Fund
  • Local 1102 Welfare Fund
  • Local 338 Affiliated Benefit Funds
  • Operating Engineers Local 835 Health and Welfare Fund
  • Texas Carpenters and Millwrights Health and Welfare Fund
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 New Hampshire
  • Plumbers and Pipefitters Local No. 630 Welfare Fund
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1000
  • 1199 SEIU GreaterNew York Benefit Fund
  • Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers Local No. 52
  • Social Service Employees Union Local 371
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Union
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1459
  • United Food and Commercial Workers and Participating Employers Interstate Health and Welfare Fund
  • And 16 other union funds


  • McDonald’s – 115,000 people.  McDonald’s will be exempt from rules intended to keep people from having to pay for all of their care once they reach a preset coverage cap.  McDonald’s, which offers an insurance plan for its part-time employees, told HHS that it would need to reevaluate the plans unless the company was granted a waiver.
  • Jack-in-the-Box – 1,130 people.
  • Insurers Aegis (HIV-AIDS database)
  • HealthPort, a health information technology company
  • FleetPride, a trucking company
  • Regis Corp. hair salons
  • Cracker Barrel
  • Waffle House
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Denny’s
  • Darden Restaurants
  • Carlson Restaurants
  • Cigna
  • DISH Network
  • Convergys
  • Sensient Technologies
  • Universal Orlando
  • Meijer Supermarkets
  • O’Reilly Auto Parts
  • Adecco Group
  • HCR Manor Care
  • Carington Health
  • Telesis Management
  • Adventist Care Centers
  • AMF Bowling Worldwide

The question which I raised then–and which is still relevant today–is this:

With so many groups which DO qualify for exemption for religious or economic reasons, why has the Obama Administration dug in their heels and refused to expand the exemption for Catholics? 

Lawyers representing the Catholic groups make the same point:

“The government’s interest in the widespread availability of contraception cannot be compelling when defendants have exempted millions of plans, covering tens of millions of employees, from the mandate.” 

The attorneys note that there is no reason for the government to favor other religions over the Catholic Church.

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