The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has joined dozens of other religious institutions to have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the so-called birth control mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The archdiocese’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, said the institution seeks to vindicate one of the country’s most fundamental freedoms — the right to practice one’s religion without governmental interference. The government is trying to penalize all Catholic entities that refuse to pay for or facilitate access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, the suit said.
Christ the King Catholic School, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Savannah are also plaintiffs in the litigation. It was filed against the Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services departments.
“We are undertaking this action because the stakes are so incredibly high,” Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, said. “… The unchallenged results of the [Health and Human Services] mandate would require that we compromise or violate our religious faith and ethical beliefs.”
Similar cases have been filed across the country. In May, for example, 43 plaintiffs, including 13 Catholic dioceses and the University of Notre Dame, filed suits in a number of federal courts.
The Obama Administration is addressing the religious concerns raised by the Catholic archdioceses, the Justice Department said last week in a response to a similar lawsuit filed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and Catholic University.
In recent months, the administration has amended the Affordable Care Act’s regulations to ensure that no enforcement actions will be taken against religious institutions through at least Jan. 1, 2014. In the meantime, the administration will propose and finalize amendments to the law to accommodate religious objections to covering contraceptive services, the Justice Department filing said.
The Atlanta lawsuit says the law’s exemption for “religious employers” is so narrowly written that the archdioceses do not know whether they qualify. Before finding out if they do, they must “submit to an intrusive and arbitrary governmental investigation,” the suit said.
Gregory, also a plaintiff in the Oct. 5 case, said he has supported suits filed by the other Catholic entities. “At this particular juncture,” he said, “it’s important that the archdiocese join the larger national challenge to the mandate and its requirements.”
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, criticized the litigation.
“It’s obvious that the hierarchy in the Catholic church has really failed to convince Catholics in the pews to adhere to their very narrow understanding of human sexuality,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholics in the United States use some form of birth control that the bishops don’t approve of. Having failed to convince them, they are now resorting to lawsuits.”
Staff writer Shelia Poole contributed to this article.