Commenting on a lawsuit filed in federal court today by the Michigan Catholic Conference, challenging a mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would require faith-based employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and artificial contraceptives, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Conference is uniquely positioned to argue its case. The Conference, which is based in Lansing and serves as the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Michigan, also has provided employee health benefits to Church workers in the state since the 1970s. It currently provides medical benefits to more than 1,100 Catholic institutions and approximately 10,000 employees.
"We're unique in being a state Catholic Conference that is actually the provider of health care for the Church workers throughout the state," said Archbishop Vigneron, who serves as chairman of the Michigan Catholic Conference. "We need to go to the court and say we are a Church institution, we are the provider of health care and, according to the U.S. Constitution, the laws must protect our religious freedom. We have a very particular case to make."
The Archbishop said the board of the Michigan Catholic Conference – made up of his fellow Michigan bishops and lay women and men – were unanimous in their support of the lawsuit. He added that it comes only as other avenues to protect the Church's religious freedom appear to be exhausted.
"The leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States has made many attempts to try to avoid this alarming, and very real, threat to religious liberty," Archbishop Vigneron said. "We have asked the president's administration to rethink the matter. We have gone to Congress and asked for legislative relief. The next logical step is to put this before the courts and make our case that this is, indeed, a matter of our Constitutionally protected freedoms."
Abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and artificial contraceptives are morally objectionable according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The complaint states: "This lawsuit is about one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception. Those services are freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available. Here, however, the Government seeks to require Plaintiffs – Catholic entities – to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing, paying for, and/or facilitating access to those services."
A detailed news release on the lawsuit can be found at www.micatholicconference.org. The Conference is one of 43 institutions across the country to have filed suit today in an attempt to prevent the federal government from enforcing the health care mandate on them.