Pa. diocese: Birth control mandate 'historic'

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 6, 2013 at 11:53 am •  Published: November 6, 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The federal government is trying to remove First Amendment religious protections from church-related schools and charities "for the first time in history" by mandating contraception and abortion coverage for such employees, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh argued in a new court filing.

The diocesan filing late Tuesday comes as a federal judge has scheduled a hearing and arguments next week before deciding whether to grant an injunction that would keep the church and its related entities, including Catholic Charities, from having to comply with regulations taking effect Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act.

The church filing answered one by the Justice Department. The government argued if Catholic Charities objects to offering coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, its insurance administrator — not the church or the charity — must then provide the coverage at no charge and seek reimbursement from the federal government.

But the diocese said that amounts to writing "contraceptive coverage into the Plaintiffs' plans in invisible ink."

The government hasn't disputed that anyone working for the church is exempt but the church argues those who work for its related entities should be treated the same way.

"In addition ... for the first time in history, many religious organizations such as Catholic Charities or high schools controlled by Catholic Dioceses will be viewed as outside the definition of 'religious,' will be unprotected by the First Amendment, and will be subject to various types of Government regulation," the diocese contends.

Next week's court arguments also concern a similar lawsuit filed by the Erie diocese, in northwestern Pennsylvania, but clearly could have broader implications as similar lawsuits have been filed in dozens of jurisdictions nationwide. That's why the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a brief siding with the government, arguing the health care needs and rights of those employed by church-related schools and charities trumps any freedom of religious expression arguments being made by the diocese.

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