November 22, 2013
Ruling a significant victory for conscience rights
Court says government cannot reduce right to free exercise to right to worship
Washington – In a significant victory for conscience rights, a federal district court in Pennsylvania November 21 handed down the first decision on the merits in a case by Catholic non-profit organizations challenging the final HHS mandate. The Court found that the mandate’s “religious employer ‘accommodation’ places a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ right to freely exercise their religion,” determined that the plaintiffs, the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie and related organizations, are “likely to succeed on the merits” of their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and issued a preliminary injunction preventing the government from enforcing the HHS mandate against the plaintiffs. The decision can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/186204897/Zubik-v-Sebelius
In reaction to the decision, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said “Just recently the U.S. bishops issued a unanimous message reaffirming our resolve to resist the HHS mandate and protect our religious freedom. The court’s decision vindicates that approach and we fully expect more decisions like this to follow.” In particular, Archbishop Kurtz noted, “I’m strongly encouraged by the Court’s rejection of the government’s attempt to reduce freedom of religion to freedom of worship, as well as the Court’s recognition that service to those in need is at the heart of our faith.”
The preliminary injunction stops the government from imposing heavy fines against the plaintiffs, including Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, St. Martin Center, and Prince of Peace Center, for refusing to violate their deeply held beliefs.
Catholic dioceses, schools, and social service ministries around the country continue their efforts in the courts and support efforts in Congress to prevent the government from imposing significant fines against them when the final HHS mandate takes effect on January 1.
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Sister Mary Ann Walsh