A federal judge in Oklahoma City has given several Oklahoma Catholic employers that are part of the faith-based Catholic Benefits Association a preliminary reprieve from part of the Affordable Care Act that requires them to cover the cost of contraceptives for employees.
In a 21-page ruling issued late Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge David L. Russell barred the federal government from enforcing the contraceptives mandate against the Catholic organizations, including assessing fines while the court case is ongoing.
Russell ruled that the Catholic employers would face “tangible” harm if forced to comply with the healthcare law while the courts hash out what groups can claim to be exempt from the mandate on contraceptives coverage.
“They will either face severe monetary penalties or be required to violate their religious beliefs,” Rusell wrote.
The Most Rev. Paul Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City and vice president of the Catholic Benefits Association, said the ruling was encouraging.
“Judge Russell was right to recognize that the Catholic employers of the Catholic Benefits Association have a right to allow their faith to inform not just their private beliefs, but also their public actions,” Coakley said in a statement.
Under the Affordable Care Act, houses of worship, such as churches, are exempt from the contraceptives mandate, while religious colleges, Catholic charities and healthcare institutions are not exempt. Catholic-owned, for-profit businesses also were not granted an exemption from the law and are required to cover the cost of contraceptives for employees.
“Whether bishops or businessmen, Catholics cannot in good conscience provide employees with insurance that covers drugs and procedures that undermine the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life,” Coakley said in the statement.
Members of the Catholic Benefits Association, an alliance of Catholic employers that provides employee healthcare coverage that is consistent with the Catholic church’s teachings on contraceptives and other beliefs, filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over the coverage mandates in the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include The Catholic Benefit Association; The Catholic Insurance Co.; The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Inc.; All Saints Catholic School in Norman; Archbishop William E. Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore; The Cathedral Foundation in Baltimore; Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Kansas City, Kan., and Good Will Publishers in North Carolina.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has filed an brief in the lawsuit in support of requiring the Catholic groups to provide contraceptives coverage to their employees. Granting an exemption would allow the Catholic groups to foist their religious beliefs on their employees and families, the ACLU argued.
“Fortunately, courts have consistently reassured this country that while the right to religious freedom is of paramount importance, it is not absolute and does not give claimants carte blanche to impose their religion on others, to harm others, or to deny others their rights and interests under the law,” the ACLU said in its legal brief.