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Church Files Massive Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

A total of 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies filed 12 lawsuits across the country today, charging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' birth control mandate with being a violation of religious freedom.

In what is being called the biggest coordinated legal challenge to the mandate yet, Fox News is reporting that some of the nation's most influential Catholic institutions are taking the battle over religious liberty to court. Among the organizations filing suit yesterday were the University of Notre Dame, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington DC, and The Catholic University of America.

A statement from the University of Notre Dame said that even after the Feb. 10 "accommodation" that would allow insurers to offer the coverage directly, rather than through the employer, it still forces religious institutions to "facilitate" coverage that violates Church teaching.

"The federal mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are contrary to Catholic teaching," the statement said.

In a missive to the campus, Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins said the filing "is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives."

John Garvey, president of Catholic University, said in a statement Monday that he also doesn't believe the accommodation solved "our moral dilemma," saying that the cost of contraceptive coverage would still be "rolled into the cost" of a university insurance policy.

"In the end the university, its employees and its students will be forced to pay for the prescriptions and services we find objectionable," he said.

News of the lawsuits came at the same time that a second Catholic university announced plans to drop its student health care plan rather than violate Church teaching. Officials at Ave Maria University joined their counterparts at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio in droppiong all student health coverage, citing both the moral concerns over the contraception rule as well as increased premium costs that will occur as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. 

While not a party to the suit, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is praising the move.

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there's still no fix," said New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB.

"Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now. 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.”

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