More than 100 people from the Belleville, Ill., Diocese marched on March 13, 2012, as part of a nationwide protest of the federal mandate that requires private health care plans to provide coverage of contraceptive and other items that go against the Catholic religion.(Photo: Derik Holtmann, AP)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Catholic Diocese of Nashville won't give up
its legal battle with the Obama administration over the contraceptive
mandate for employers.
The diocese and seven other local Catholic
groups sued over the mandate in September. They say the mandate violates
their religious freedom because the church teaches that contraception
A U.S. district court judge dismissed the lawsuit in
November. The groups recently appealed, based on favorable court rulings
in other states.
"We don't object to the availability of birth
control," said Rick Musacchio, spokesman for the diocese. "We do object
to having to pay for it."
The Nashville lawsuit is one of 43
nationwide that include more than 100 plaintiffs, according to the
Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
have ruled in favor of 10 of the 13 for-profit companies that sued,
seeking preliminary injunctions or temporary restraining orders against
Non-profits haven't fared as well. The Catholic
dioceses in Nashville and Pittsburgh along with several religious
colleges, including Notre Dame, have lost in district court.
is, in part, because the courts have ruled that the lawsuits are
premature. Most religious nonprofits don't have to provide contraception
until 2014, thanks to a one-year safe harbor provision in the mandate.
The courts have ruled that the mandate has not harmed them yet.
The safe harbor doesn't apply to for-profit companies, which gives their lawsuits more urgency.
the Nashville case, the Diocese of Nashville, Father Ryan High School,
Pope John Paul II High School, Catholic Charities and Aquinas College
qualified for the safe harbor.
But three other Catholic
nonprofits, Mary Queen of Angels, Villa Maria Manor and St. Mary Villa
did not, said Musacchio. They had to buy insurance plans for 2013 that
included contraception, according to court documents.
a mistake on the part of their insurance company, ruled U.S. District
Court Judge Todd Campbell. The policies have been modified to remove
At issue, in the lawsuits, is who qualified for a permanent exemption from the mandate and who did not.
According to rules proposed by the Obama administration in 2012,
most churches would be exempt because they employ people that share
their beliefs and serve people who share their beliefs.
Other nonprofits, like Catholic Charities, would not be exempt.
That's a problem, said Musacchio, because those groups are motivated by faith.
"We provide services because we are Catholic, not because our
recipients are Catholic. Under that description, Christ himself would
not qualify," he said.
Under current law, the safe harbor
would expire at the end of the year, said Emily Hardman, communications
director for the Becket Fund. Groups that don't comply with the law for
religious reasons face fines.
The government has said it plans to issue new rules for faith-based groups this year.
Hardman said that the aim of the suits is to make sure those rules provide adequate protection for religious beliefs.
"What we are asking for is to have the conscience of every American protected," she said.
Supporters of the mandate say that it is constitutional. They say
employees should decide whether to use contraception or other health
services, not their employers.
Faith-based groups still have
to follow the law, said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee
affiliated employers have to treat their employees fairly," Weinberg
said. "It is not about religious liberty. It is about ensuring that
women employees are treated fairly and that women have access to a full
range of health care services."
Weinberg said that the
federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that if an
employer-provided health plan covers prescriptions, it has to include
According to the EEOC, refusing to provide birth control is sex discrimination, said Weinberg.
"Real religious freedom gives everyone the right to make their own decision," she said.
Musacchio said that employees are free to choose to use
contraception and can pay for it on their own. If they can't afford
birth control, they would likely qualify for free contraception.
The diocese is hopeful its appeal will succeed. That's in part
because a district court in New York has ruled that the diocese there
does face possible harm from the mandate even if it has not been
enforced yet. And an appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ordered the
federal government to issue new rules for religious groups as soon as