Michigan Catholic Conference files new lawsuit against HHS mandate

Lansing — The Michigan Catholic Conference has filed a new legal challenge in federal court against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate after a similar lawsuit was dismissed in March on procedural grounds.

The new lawsuit, filed Nov. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, contends that the HHS mandate violates the Constitution’s protections of religious liberty by forcing religious employers to cover services they find morally objectionable, such as contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, in their employee health plans.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo has joined the Michigan Catholic Conference as a co-plaintiff in the new lawsuit.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, had been a co-plaintiff in the MCC’s original lawsuit against the mandate, which was dismissed in March after a judge decided the case was not ready to be heard because the Obama administration had not issued its final regulations.

The administration did finalize its rule on June 28, and it is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Although the Michigan Catholic Conference meets the Obama administration’s definition of a “religious employer” exempt from the new requirements, Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo, which participates in the MCC’s health benefit plan, does not meet the government’s definition, and neither do several dozen similar Catholic employers in the state. Despite the MCC’s exemption, it cannot extend its exemption to such other organizations that participate in its plan, the government has ruled.

“As such, non-exempt employers within the MCC group health plan are forced by the federal government to self-declare as non-exempt entities, meaning the administration is taking it upon itself to determine who is and who is not Catholic,” the Michigan Catholic Conference said in a statement. “The government’s intrusion into the internal affairs of religious organizations and its effort to define a religious employer must be opposed on grounds that it violates First Amendment rights.”