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June 5, 2014

Philly Archdiocese Joins ACA Contraceptive Mandate Fight

This article originally ran in Law360 on June 5, 2014.

 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia filed suit in Pennsylvania federal court Monday, becoming the latest arm of the Catholic church to challenge the contraceptive coverage mandate included in the Affordable Care Act.

The archdiocese, as well as a range of other Philadelphia Catholic institutions, seeks an injunction that would halt the federal government from imposing the contraceptive requirement on religious groups, citing the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“The contraceptive mandate pits plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs against debilitating financial coercion, which is a violation of the RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause,” the plaintiffs say in the filing.

The archdiocese in a press release pointed out that the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, have received relief from the requirement in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The federal government has appealed the ruling in the Third Circuit, and its brief is due in the next week. 

Like those dioceses, the Philadelphia Catholic bodies dispute the federal government's power to order Catholic entities to offer or cooperate in contraceptive services and want a preliminary injunction

In the request for the junction, they contend that together they have 1,600 subscribers in the Archdiocese Health Care Plan and face a penalty of roughly $160,000 per day if they don’t comply with the mandate.

Similar fights are underway in a number of appeals courts across the country, including the Second Circuit and the D.C. Circuit.

“While this matter comes before the court on a substantially clean slate in this district, it comes with a well-developed history in other jurisdictions, the majority of which favor plaintiffs’ position that the regulations here violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the archdiocese said in the injunction request. “At least as to the RFRA claim, under the precise circumstances at issue here — which involve nonprofit religious organizations participating in a self-insured ‘church plan’ — most courts have said no, the regulations do not survive RFRA review.”

The legal issue is distinct from the cases brought by Christian crafts chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Mennonite-owned cabinet maker Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., both for-profit companies, that are currently under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The archdiocese is represented by Frank R. Emmerich Jr. and Joshua J. Voss of Conrad O’Brien PC.

Counsel information for the defendants wasn't immediately available.

The case is Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al. v. Sebelius et al., case number 2:14-cv-03096, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

--Additional reporting by Matt Fair. Editing by Edrienne Su.

 

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