WASHINGTON, D.C.: Evangelicals respond to Catholic lawsuits: 'We are all Catholic now'
by Ben Johnson
May 22, 2012
The Obama administration's HHS mandate has united Christians of all stripes - evangelical, historical Protestant, and Roman Catholic - as they close ranks behind a flurry of lawsuits filed yesterday morning to overturn the controversial measure and stall government interference in religion.
After 43 Catholic institutions - including the major archdioceses, dioceses, universities, and publishing houses affiliated with the Church in the United States - filed a dozen lawsuits to strike the measure down on First Amendment grounds, the Christian and conservative communities quickly applauded the move.
"I have said 'We are all Catholic now,' and this is why," said Concerned Women for America (CWA) President Penny Nance. "The religious community stands together in the belief that this contraception, chemical abortion, and sterilization mandate would force us to pay for something many of us believe is morally repugnant."
The fact that Catholic religious institutions filed the lawsuits provided "more evidence that the healthcare law is extremely flawed in its bias for abortion and abortion-inducing drugs," said Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest. "This lawsuit is only beginning, as many Americans are deeply troubled by the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade."
Those who had already filed such lawsuits welcomed the massive influx of fellow litigants.
The Alliance Defense Fund is handling three lawsuits against the mandate on behalf of Louisiana College, Geneva College, and a private employer. ADF President and General Counsel Alan Sears said, "These new cases... join the growing list of evangelical, protestant, and Catholic religious organizations and employers who are taking a stand in objecting to the government when it forces any religious institution or individual to provide or fund morally repugnant services."
Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, which filed its own lawsuit in February, said he has urged other organizations and dioceses to follow suit. "When there are multiple federal lawsuits on the same issue in different parts of the country, this can create the potential kind of conflict that the Supreme Court may be more likely to resolve," he said.
The principle that motivates the lawsuits enjoys the support, not only of most traditional churches, but of most Americans. According to a new Knights of Columbus-Marist poll, 74 percent of respondents believe preserving the freedom of religion is more important than enforcing any other law.
Opponents of the lawsuit have attempted to turn the legal battle into a debate over contraception itself. "It is unbelievable that in the year 2012 we have to fight for access to birth control," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said, quoting an often-repeated line in a press release. "Yet this lawsuit would make it harder for millions of women to get birth control."
The law's conservative critics have tired of that talking point. Nance said, "President Obama claims this is a women's health issue, when in fact, it's a religious freedom issue...The concept of 'choice' for this administration means only making the choices that liberals support." Sears added the cases "are about religious freedom and freedom of conscience, not about contraception."
The legal complaints submitted Monday ask the courts to invalidate the regulation promulgated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last August mandating that all organizations cover abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to be in compliance with the president's health care reform act. That includes "all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptives [and] sterilization procedure," including Ella, an abortion-inducing drug sometimes called "the week-after pill."
All of the lawsuits cite concerns about religious liberty and undue government interference. None seeks to prohibit the distribution of birth control.
Neither the broad public support nor the lawsuits themselves garnered much coverage from the mainstream media. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center noted ABC and NBC news ignored the lawsuits altogether, while "CBS Evening News gave this historic news a mere 19 seconds of air time."
Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie said he believes the church must create its own publicity through ongoing moral leadership from the national and diocesan level down. "Church leaders must identify, and publicly oppose the source of their persecution," Viguerie wrote on his website, ConservativeHQ.com.
"Those church leaders who once thought Obama's promise of change wouldn't affect them must get on the side of Constitutional government now," Viguerie added. "If they put their moral authority and leadership publicly out front, they will show Americans that they understand that the loss of freedom of conscience threatens all of our other freedoms, and they will find millions of Americans - believers and non-believers alike - on their side."
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