- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

The archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis and the University of Notre Dame filed lawsuits over President Obama’s contraception mandate Monday, along with dozens of other Catholic dioceses, schools and charities in a major legal challenge to a key part of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul law.

Seeking to overturn the administration’s requirement for employers to include contraception in employee health insurance plans, 42 groups filed suit in a dozen federal courts around the country, including the dioceses of Dallas, Fort Worth, Rockville Centre, Pittsburgh and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

The lawsuits come a week after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the administration’s revised final version of the mandate, saying that the administration’s various exceptions for religious groups didn’t go nearly far enough to protect religious freedom. The administration’s final rule allowed faith-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities to opt out of providing coverage for certain contraception and sterilization procedures, though employees could still get such coverage from the insurance companies themselves.

“This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” said Notre Dame President John Jenkins.

A backlash has been building against the administration for some time, with a handful of Catholic and evangelical colleges going to court over the last six months.

Franciscan University, the first college to drop its student health coverage over the mandate, also joined the legal challenge in Monday, filing suit in a federal court in Ohio.

“The church is speaking with one unified voice on this issue,” President Father Terence Henry said. “Every single American bishop has condemned this unjust mandate as an unconscionable violation of religious liberty. If allowed to stand, it will coerce Christians into cooperating with acts that violate core tenets of our faith.”

• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at pcunningham@washingtontimes.com.

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