Statement of the Archdiocese of Washington – Motion for Summary Reversal in HHS Mandate Lawsuit Filed; Comments Filed with HHS on Latest Mandate Proposal

Religious Freedom concerns remain unresolved

April 05, 2013

The Archdiocese of Washington took two steps yesterday to further its ongoing challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services Mandate, which requires employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization in their employee health plans, or face crippling penalties for noncompliance.

First, the Archdiocese filed formal comments in response to HHS’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”). After careful study of this new proposal, the Archdiocese commented that the proposed revisions do not resolve the religious liberty issues posed by the mandate. In fact, in at least one respect, the proposed new rule makes religious organizations’ situations worse by eliminating an important provision that allows the exemption of an exempt religious employer to be extended to all other religiously-affiliated organizations that participate in that religious employer’s group plan.

Second, the Archdiocese and its co-plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Reversal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Archdiocese and its co-plaintiffs are asking the appellate court to reverse the lower court’s decision in the case filed in May 2012, which was dismissed on ripeness grounds. The motion argues that the dismissal directly contradicts binding Circuit precedent announced by the Court of Appeals in Wheaton College v. Sebelius (D.C. Cir. Dec. 18, 2012) that held the appropriate disposition was not to dismiss, but rather, to hold the case in abeyance.

The Archdiocese has long expressed its concern about the serious religious liberty issues presented by the HHS Mandate that would force religious employers either to provide coverage for drugs and procedures that directly violate the teachings of their faith or to expose their organizations to devastating penalties. At the heart of the Archdiocese’s concern is HHS’s attempt to define who is, and who is not, “religious enough” to be exempt from compliance with the Mandate, essentially limiting the exemption to churches, and excluding other religious organizations like hospitals, schools, and social service ministries as not religious enough to be exempt.

Ultimately, the proposed new rule does not resolve the religious liberty issues posed by the HHS Mandate; indeed, it makes them worse. The Archdiocese and other religious organizations across the country urge the government to recognize that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship but also protects the freedom to exercise one’s faith in service to our fellow man and the common good.

Chieko Noguchi
Office of Media and Public Relations
[email protected]