By Christopher M. Riggs The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but the high court’s June 28 decision doesn’t affect the 23 lawsuits in 14 states contesting the Health and Human Services mandate that would force Catholics and others to act against their consciences by providing contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization surgery. Employers who fail to comply would face huge financial penalties. Bishop Michael O. Jackels has issued a statement saying the HHS mandate is objectionable not only for how it violates religious liberty and conscience protection, but for how it threatens human life and dignity. “As conscientious citizens and believers, Catholics demand the freedom to live every aspect of daily life, not just Sunday worship, but also something as personal as practicing responsible parenthood, under the rule of God, in cooperation with God’s plan, according to the rule of faith.”
Bishop Jackels said the Catholic Church has long been an advocate for and provider of health care, teaching that people have a right to health care in order to live in human dignity. “But the Catholic Church will also advocate for religious liberty and conscience protection, with prayer, education, enlisting the help of elected representative, and the vote,” he said. “The loss of freedom is too high a price to pay for health care.” Bishop Jackels and the other three Bishops of Kansas made their views public Friday, June 29, when they led a statewide Rally for Religious Freedom attended by thousands at the capitol in Topeka. Emily Hardman, an attorney and communications director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said last week the Supreme Court ruled on a very narrow issue that did not address the religious liberty concerns of the HHS mandate. The 23 lawsuits against the HHS mandate will continue to move forward and may be ruled upon by the Supreme Court, she said in a telephone interview from her office in Washington, D.C. Two of the justices very clearly said in their opinions that the HHS cases can move forward, she said. “Even if something is legal, even if Congress has this power to tax or to penalize, they still have to comply with other aspects of the Constitution, such as free speech and religious liberty issues,” Hardman said, paraphrasing the justices’ opinions. She said each lower court in which the lawsuits are now being considered has the power to decide scheduling and how the lawsuits go forward. “What we do know is that there are some people who the mandate will come in force by August, so the court, hopefully, will say something on those cases by August,” Hardman said. “The other cases have until August of next year, so we will definitely hear something from the courts by then.” There are two possibilities, she said. One is that the lower courts may render split decisions and the Supreme Court may accept the cases to render its opinion. “But, at the same time, it’s possible that all the courts rule the same way,” Hardman said, making it much less likely that the Supreme Court will take that up. If so, the decisions by the lower courts will stand.
Want to read Bishop Jackel’s statement? Bishop Jackels’ statement is online at www.cdowk.org. Click the link under “Welcome” on the home page.
Want to know more about the lawsuits? For more information about the 23 lawsuits and 56 plaintiffs, visit becketfund.org.
Story at a glance • The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, but its decision does not affect the lawsuits against the HHS mandate. • The HHS mandate would force Catholics and others to act against their consciences by providing contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization surgery. They would be fined if they don’t comply. • The 23 lawsuits being considered by lower courts may be taken up by the Supreme Court. If the lower courts definitely rule one way or another, the Supreme Court may not take up the lawsuits and allow the lower court decisions to stand. • The timeframe of the movement of the cases is not yet clear. One of the lawsuits, Newland v. Sebelius, has asked for an injunction by Aug. 1.