Statement of Archdiocese of Washington Regarding its New Complaint Filed Against the “HHS Mandate” on September 20, 2013

September 23, 2013

On September 20, 2013, the Archdiocese of Washington and several of its affiliated ministries filed a new complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The complaint challenges the HHS mandate that fundamentally redefines the nation’s longstanding definition of religious ministry and requires certain religious organizations to provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing products, contraceptives, and sterilization.

A related lawsuit, filed in May 2012, had been dismissed on the procedural ground that it was not ripe for adjudication prior to issuance of HHS’s final rule. The new complaint challenges the final rule which was promulgated on June 28, and will take effect for health plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Four additional plaintiffs have joined the Archdiocese’s challenge to the mandate: Mary of Nazareth Roman Catholic Elementary School, Inc.; Victory Housing, Inc.; the Catholic Information Center, Inc.; and Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.

According to the now-finalized rule, the HHS mandate does not apply to group health plans established or maintained by a “religious employer,” as that term is defined by HHS. The Archdiocese meets the definition of a “religious employer” and is exempt from the mandate. The Archdiocese’s group health plan will continue to exclude coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization.

However, similar to Archbishop Carroll High School, Catholic Charities, and the Consortium of Catholic Academies, which were part of the original lawsuit, the four new plaintiffs do not meet HHS’s definition of a “religious employer” and are not exempt. Despite the fact that these affiliated ministries participate in the archdiocesan health plan, the final rule does not permit the Archdiocese to extend its exemption to them.

The complaint asserts these affiliated ministries are indisputably “religious” and should not be forced by the government to act contrary to their religious beliefs. Moreover, it maintains that the HHS mandate’s artificial division between the Church and its ministries is unlawful. The ministries represented in the new complaint are integral to the exercise of the Catholic faith, participate directly in the Church’s charitable mission to minister to God’s people, and are required to remain faithful to the Church’s teachings and beliefs.

The Catholic University of America and Thomas Aquinas College are also co-plaintiffs in the complaint.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools, located in Washington, DC, and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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