The HHS Mandate continues to cause problems for faithful Catholics standing up for their religious liberty. There’s a battle going on this week in courts across the nation, where more than 40 dioceses or Catholic institutions are fighting just to have their arguments heard by the Federal Government.
The simultaneous filings Aug. 27 were in response to an Aug. 6 brief in which the Obama administration asked the courts to summarily dismiss the suits, saying they were premature and that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate.
“This case is about important rights to religious freedom protected by our founders under the First Amendment, assured by Congress under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but trampled by Defendants under haphazard rulemaking,” says the 36-page brief filed on behalf of the University of Notre Dame.
The government is arguing that because of the “temporary safe harbor” exemption granted to religious institutions, and because the mandate may change before it goes into effect, there are no grounds on which to challenge it.
Those filing briefs against the government beg to differ. The cost that they are likely to bear will be enormous, and preparations must be made now in the event that their legal challenges fail:
The University of Notre Dame argues in its brief that the federal government’s “plans to make some as-yet-undefined amendment to the U.S. government mandate does not deprive Notre Dame of its ability to challenge the law as it exists now, particularly where, as here, it is imposing both imminent and current harms.”
Included with the Notre Dame brief was a sworn deposition by John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president of the university, who said the school’s budget for fiscal year 2013 had to be finalized by October 2012.
“Before its next budget is finalized in the coming months, Notre Dame will have to make difficult decisions about whether to budget for the potential of significant fines if it cannot, for any number of reasons, comply with the mandate’s requirement that it provide the objectionable services in the next plan years,” the deposition said.
With about 4,500 full-time employees, the university could face approximately $9 million in fines annually, Affleck-Graves said. The school has already placed $1 million in reserve to pay costs and fines associated with the mandate, he said.
Notre Dame also estimates that it will spend up to $50,000 in the next two months alone for actuarial services to determine the impact of the contraceptive mandate.
In a similar brief, the Archdiocese of Washington said it could incur penalties of nearly $145 million a year, “simply for practicing our faith,” or could be forced to cancel health insurance benefits for its 4,000 archdiocesan employees and their dependents.
“Either scenario is unthinkable, and planning for such action is itself a grave burden, but in either case the mandate’s impact would be so severe that the archdiocese must begin to prepare now,” the archdiocese said in a news release.
Meanwhile, in Denver, Catholic business owners who had won a civic award had the award witheld after they won an injunction against the mandate.
Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning manufacturer that employs 300 workers and has been in business in the Mile-High City for 50 years, was to be honored with a “Good Citizenship Award.” The laurel was in recognition of contributions to the community, including the historic restoration of company headquarters and, ironically, its “generous employee health care coverage.”
But the award was taken away after the owners of Hercules Industries, the Newland family, won the court injunction, which said that they did not have to start providing employees with coverage that included abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. As with several companies and colleges around the nation, the family that runs Hercules claimed that the mandates force them to violate their own religious beliefs.
This is likely only the beginning of the stories we’ll be hearing about how this blatant violation of religious freedom is impacting colleges, diocesan institutions, and Catholic business owners. It’s hard to believe that this is what things have come to, but it’s indicative of where things are heading.