Lawsuit: Gov’t Engaged in ‘Conscious Political Strategy to Marginalize and Delegitimize’ Catholic ‘Religious Views’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 19, 2013 | 4:13pm EDT

Then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2008. (AP Photo)

( - The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is arguing in a new lawsuit that the Obama administration is engaged in a “conscious political strategy to marginalize and delegitimize” Catholic “religious views on contraception by holding them up for ridicule on the national stage.”

At issue in the lawsuit is whether the administration can force the archdiocese to secure a third-party administrator for its self-insurance plan who will provide sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to church employees at some of the archdiocese’s separately incorporated subunits.

These subunits include a number of Catholic schools and charities, including Archbishop Carroll High School and Catholic Charities of Washington.

“[T]he Archdiocese operates a self-insurance plan that encompasses not only individuals directly employed by the Archdiocese itself, but, in addition, individuals employed by affiliated Catholic organizations,” says the church’s lawsuit.

Because the Obama administration’s sterilization-contraceptive-abortifacient mandate does not deem these Catholic organizations to be “religious employers,” says the lawsuit, “the U.S. Government Mandate requires that the archdiocese either (1) sponsor a plan that will provide, pay for, and/or facilitate the provision of the objectionable products and services to the employees of” these church organizations “or (2) no longer extend its plan to these organizations, subjecting them to massive fines if they do not contract with another insurance provider that will provide the objectionable coverage.”

Lawyers representing the archdiocese filed a memorandum with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Sept. 24, pointing to actions and statements made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to demonstrate that the administration is deliberately targeting the Catholic Church for its religious views.

“When the government promulgated the mandate, it was acutely aware that the gap in coverage for contraception was due primarily to the religious beliefs and practices of employers such as the Catholic Church,” says the archdiocese’s memorandum.

“Indeed, the Government itself concedes that 85 percent of health plans already cover contraception, and asserts that adding contraception to the remaining 15 percent is cost-neutral,” says the memorandum. “If so, then the only conceivable reason why the latter plans would not include contraceptive coverage is a religious or moral objection. But instead of pursuing one of a wide variety of options for increasing access to contraception without forcing these religious groups to participate in the effort, the government deliberately chose to pick a high-profile fight by forcing religious groups to provide or facilitate access to contraception in violation of their core beliefs.

“The record, moreover, establishes that the mandate was part of a conscious political strategy to marginalize and delegitimize plaintiffs’ religious views on contraception by holding them up for ridicule on the national stage,” says the archdiocese’s memorandum.

“For example,” the archdiocese says, "at a NARAL Pro-Choice America fundraiser, Defendant Sebelius stated: ‘Wouldn’t you think that people who want to reduce the number of abortions would champion the cause of widely affordable contraceptive services? Not so much.’”

“Likewise,” the memorandum continues, “the original definition of ‘preventive service’ was promulgated by an Institute of Medicine Committee that was stacked with individuals who, like Defendant Sebelius, strongly disagreed with many Catholic teachings, causing the committee’s lone dissenter to lament that the committee’s recommendation reflected the other members’ ‘subjective determinations filtered through a lens of advocacy.’”

“This anti-religious bias,” says the memorandum, “is further confirmed by the fact that it was directly modeled on a California statute, see 77 Fed. Reg. at 8726 (explaining that the federal Mandate was modeled on state law); … whose chief legislative sponsor made clear that its purpose was to strike a blow against Catholic religious authorities: ‘59 percent of all Catholic women of childbearing age practice contraception.’ ‘[88] percent of Catholics believe . . . that someone who practices artificial birth control can still be a good Catholic. I agree with that. I think it’s time to do the right thing.’”

“Thus,” says the memorandum, “not only the ‘real operation’ but also the intended effect of the mandate is to target and suppress plaintiffs’ religious practices.”

The sponsor of the California legislation cited in the archdiocese’s memorandum was Jackie Speier, who formerly served as a member of the California state senate and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1999, Speier pushed legislation in the California state legislature that required any health care plan that covered any prescription drugs to also cover artificial contraceptives.

A study done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers at that time discovered that  “coverage of reversible forms of contraception is available to approximately 90 percent of insured Californians.” Catholic organizations—which adhered to the teaching of the Catholic Church that artificial contraception is intrinsically immoral--stood conspicuously outside that fold.

Speier’s California legislation included a very narrow exemption for religious organizations that was essentially limited only to houses of worship--leaving out Catholic charities, hospitals and schools. The original wording of the religious exemption in the Obamacare sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services was modeled on this California exemption.

Like HHS Secretary Sebelius, Rep. Jackie Speier is a Catholic, who, in contradiction to the church teaching, ardently advocates legalized abortion.

In May 2008, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City publicly warned Sebelius she must refrain from taking Holy Communion until she recanted her support for abortion and went to confession.

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