By Joseph Harkins
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The most prominent Roman Catholic school in the nation is sticking to its guns over what it feels is a violation of religious freedom.
Other religious colleges are already suing the Health and Human Services agency and administration officials that a requiring non-secular affiliated hospitals, schools and charities to comply.
“This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” wrote Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, in a message to members of the campus community. “For if we concede that the government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions."
Earlier this year, Pres. Obama had offered to soften the mandate to accommodate objections from church groups so that insurers would pay for birth control instead of religious groups, but U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have said the measures don’t go far enough.
Notre Dame’s lawsuit was one of 12, filed, Monday, against the federal government by 43 plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the regulation that requires religious organizations to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate insurance coverage for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Observers had been closely watching for Notre Dame's reaction to the administration’s earlier counter-proposal, partly because the university came under then-unprecedented criticism from U.S. bishops and others in 2009 for inviting Obama as commencement speaker despite the president’s abortion rights stance.
The mandate also authorizes the government to determine which organizations are sufficiently “religious” to warrant an exemption from the requirement.
“A narrow exemption was given to religious institutions that serve and employ primarily members of their own faith, but, departing from a long tradition in federal law, organizations like Notre Dame -- schools, universities, hospitals and charitable organizations that serve and employ people of all faiths and none -- were granted no exemption, but instead were made subject to the law to the same extent as any secular organization,” wrote Rev. Jenkins.
Notre Dame’s lawsuit charges that these components of the regulation are a violation of the religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal laws.
The Archdiocese of New York, one of the plaintiffs suing, said the government is requiring it to "provide, pay for and/or facilitate access to services" that are contrary to its beliefs.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement that religious leaders "have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress -- and will keep at it -- and there's still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”