By Jason Raiche
MARQUETTE - The Diocese of Marquette has announced its participation in a lawsuit against a federal government mandate that employers provide certain services in their health benefit plans - such as birth control.
On Monday, the Michigan Catholic Conference, of which the diocese is a member, filed documents in U.S. District Court as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the mandate, established by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).
According to the diocese, the mandate would require many faith-based employers "to provide in their health benefit plans abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and artificial contraception," which are considered "morally objectionable" by the Catholic church.
The nine-count lawsuit asserts violations of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Bishop Alexander Sample of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette and member of the MCC board said he regrets that efforts made asking the administration to rescind the mandate have proven unsuccessful.
"Now we must take this battle to the courts," said Sample, in a press release statement. "If we do not stand up for our religious liberty and rights of conscience, then I fear that this would open the door for further intrusion of government into the life of all religious institutions. We must do this for ourselves and to protect the rights of all citizens of this great land."
Several dozen Catholic entities throughout the country have filed similar lawsuits.
HHS had adopted the mandate to improve health care for women. Last year, an advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government, recommended including birth control on the list of covered services. This was partly because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies.
However, many religious leaders have argued the mandate's exception for religious groups was too narrow.
Originally the rule generally allowed churches and other houses of worship to opt out, but kept the requirement in place for religiously affiliated nonprofits such as hospitals, colleges and charities.
In response, President Obama offered to soften the rule so insurers would pay for birth control instead of religious groups.
However, religious leaders have said this accommodation does not go far enough to protect religious freedom. The rule is still under discussion.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern DIstrict of Ohio, where co-plaintiff Franciscan University of Steubenville is located.
MMC is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan, guided by a board of directors including seven arch/diocesan bishops in the state, five laypersons, a religious sister and a diocesan priest.