(CNSNews.com) - The Archdiocese of New York, headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., headed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the University of Notre Dame, and 40 other Catholic dioceses and organizations around the country announced on Monday that they are suing the Obama administration for violating their freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The dioceses and organizations, in different combinations, are filing 12 different lawsuits filed in federal courts around the country.
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has established a special website--preservereligiousfreedom.org--to explain its lawsuit and present news and developments concerning it.
"This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference," the archdiocese says on the website. "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 suits filed by the Catholic organizations focus on the regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last August and finalized in January that requires virtually all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that can cause abortions.
The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong and that Catholics should not be involved in them. Thus, the regulation would require faithful Catholics and Catholic organizations to act against their consciences and violate the teachings of their faith.
Earlier, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had called the regulation an "unprecedented attack on religious liberty" and asked the Obama administration to rescind it.
“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress--and we’ll keep at it--but there's still no fix," Cardinal Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement released by the conference this morning.
"Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now," the cardinal said. "Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate--ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all.”
Cardinal Dolan's New York Archdiocese filed suit today in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. Joining the archdiocese as plaintiffs in the suit are the Catholic Health Care Sytem, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Services of Long Island.
In their suit, these groups name HHS Secretary Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their departments as defendants.
The archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is being joined in its lawsuit by Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese, the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington (which includes four parochial schools), Archbishop Carroll High School, and the Catholic University of America.
"This morning, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a lawsuit to challenge the mandate, recently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that fundamentally redefines the nation’s long-standing definition of religious ministry and requires our religious organizations to provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs," Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said in an open letter posted online this morning. "Just as our faith compels us to uphold the liberty and dignity of others, so too, we must defend our own."
"The lawsuit in no way challenges either women’s established legal right to obtain and use contraception or the right of employers to provide coverage for it if they so choose," said Cardinal Wuerl. "This lawsuit is about religious freedom."
"The First Amendment enshrines in our nation’s Constitution the principle that religious organizations must be able to practice their faith free from government interference," Cardinal Wuerl said.