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Peoria diocese joins legal battle against HHS mandate

The Diocese of Peoria today filed a lawsuit against the federal government and its controversial mandate restricting religious freedom by requiring employers to cover insurance costs of abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization.

In taking action, Bishop Jenky of Peoria joins dozens of Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country in fighting the mandate handed down in January by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The dioceses of Springfield and Joliet and their Catholic Charities filed suit on May 21, with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago filing suit on July 9.

Jenky said in a press release that he joined the legal effort against the HHS mandate since the federal government appears to be making no effort to correct this severe violation of religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“I have an obligation to protect the Church’s ability to freely practice our religion," he stated. "Fortunately, we have recourse to the Constitution and the strong conviction of our Founding Fathers who clearly intended to keep the government out of the internal affairs of the Church. America’s great history and tradition of religious freedom is embedded in the First Amendment. As Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, I cannot remain silent while the right of Catholics to practice our faith is being so gravely threatened.”

President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in February announced an "accommodation" that shifts payment of the morally objectionable services to the insurer. However, most Catholic dioceses and institutions are self-insured, making them the insurer. Moreover, the so-called "accommodation" was never put in writing, allowing the original mandate to be finalized on Feb. 12.

All employers except religious employers began honoring the mandate on Aug. 1. Religious organizations have until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply with the rule.

Catholic hospitals, universities, schools, charities and social welfare organizations fear their mission of serving all who are in need is placed in jeopardy by the HHS mandate since the requirement offers such a narrow religious exemption. To qualify as "religious," an organization must 1. have the inculcation or teaching of religious values as its purpose; 2. primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; 3. primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets; and 4. is a nonprofit organization under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.