STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—Franciscan University of Steubenville announced today that it has filed a federal lawsuit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration. The lawsuit, which was unanimously approved by Franciscan’s Board of Trustees, challenges the Obama administration’s unprecedented mandate that attacks the freedom to practice religion without government interference.
Under the HHS mandate, employers must provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. Franciscan University maintains that the requirement to fund and facilitate such activities violates its core religious and moral convictions as a Catholic university.
“Franciscan University’s mission is and always has been to teach from the heart of the Church,” said University President Father Terence Henry, TOR. “The Obama administration’s mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out that mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely as a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, seeks to have the mandate declared unconstitutional and enjoin the government from enforcing the requirement.
In addition to Franciscan University’s lawsuit, 42 other separate plaintiffs filed a total of 12 lawsuits today in U.S. District courts around the country. Those plaintiffs are all Catholic organizations and include Catholic dioceses, schools, universities, and charitable organizations. Numbered among the plaintiffs are the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, as well as the Dioceses of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Rockville Centre, Pittsburgh, and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which represents all seven dioceses in the state.
“The Church is speaking with one unified voice on this issue,” said Father Henry. “Every single American bishop has condemned this unjust mandate as an unconscionable violation of religious liberty. If allowed to stand, it will coerce Christians into cooperating with acts that violate core tenets of our faith.”
When first proposed in August 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate was met by strong objections from numerous Catholic bishops, hospitals, and institutions. Although a small exemption for some religious institutions was written into the original proposal, it was too narrow to cover the vast majority of them, particularly those, like Catholic universities, which both employ and serve people of other faiths or no faith at all. The mandate effectively puts the federal government in the position of deciding which organizations are “religious enough.”
At the time, Franciscan University took a public stand opposing the proposed rule. Then, as now, Franciscan University objected to the mandate, noting that the government placed it and other religious institutions in an untenable position.
“Throughout our 65-year history, Franciscan University has educated people because we are Catholic, not because they are. And, again, because we are Catholic, Franciscan cannot provide coverage of drugs and procedures that violate Church teachings on the sanctity of life,” Father Henry said. “Under the HHS mandate and its narrow exemption, the government punishes us for reaching out to serve and employ those who do not share our faith.”
Unfortunately, in late January 2012, President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the mandate would go into force as originally planned, with no adequate accommodations made for individuals or groups who objected on religious grounds.
Catholic and Christian institutions, however, were given one additional year to comply with the rule, a year in which they could “figure out how to violate our consciences in order to be in keeping with the law,” said Father Henry, echoing New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
“It is our hope and fervent prayer that the courts and Congress will check this monumental overstep of the Executive Branch as soon as possible,” he added.
Noting that Franciscan University did not go looking for this battle, Father Henry said the University retained Jones Day, one of the world’s largest law firms, with whom the University has had a relationship for the past twenty years, “because it has the resources to fight the government as long as it takes, and we will settle for no less than a restoration of our First Amendment right to freedom of religion.”
Father Henry concluded, “Under no circumstances can Catholics be both in compliance with this new law and at the same time live the faith that we believe. Franciscan University will continue to stand with the Church in its opposition to this mandate. Our ancestors came to America because they knew that on these shores they would be free to faithfully live what they believed. This mandate is not only a grave infringement on religious liberty; it is a betrayal of those who sacrificed to make this country what it is today.”
For more information, visit our Visit our In Defense of Religious Liberty page.