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Judge Grants Diocese Injunction On Contraception Mandate

Judge Jon DeGuilio says the diocese and its non-profit affiliates do not have to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

birth control

Photo: Flickr (UC Irvine)

Several religious organizations around the country have filed lawsuits against the federal government, saying the contraception mandate violates their religious freedom.

A judge is granting a preliminary injunction to the Catholic Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, temporarily allowing the organization to bypass a federal mandate that requires it provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage to its employees.

Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but the diocese is arguing its affiliated non-profits should also be exempt.

The Obama administration has also compromised with religious institutions by allowing them to provide contraceptives coverage through a third party, but, because the Catholic Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend is self-insured, it would have to provide the coverage directly.

Judge Jon DeGuilio in the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana in South Bend ruled on Friday in favor of the Diocese and six other agencies. In his court order, the judge wrote the harm likely to be caused without an injunction “is imminent and irreparable, whereas the government faces no risk of harm, let alone irreparable harm, if the preliminary injunction is granted.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the diocese would have been fined $100 per day, per employee, starting January 1 for every day it was noncompliant.

The diocese and the agencies who filed the injunction employ 17,000 people – meaning a rejection of the injunction would have cost them millions of dollars per year.

Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese spokesman Sean McBride says the injunction was about more than just money.

“It really comes down to the government coercion in violating our deeply held religious beliefs is the core of this matter,” McBride says. “We consider this a religious freedom issue, and a first amendment issue.”

McBride says the agency is happy with the ruling, but knows it is a temporary fix.

“The diocese and its partner agencies are certainly pleased with the result of this temporary preliminary injunction.  We see it as a good first step,” McBride says.

Ft. Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, Notre Dame, and Hobby Lobby: What’s the Difference?

Friday’s ruling closely follows a judge’s rejection of a similar Notre Dame injunction just a week earlier.  So what’s the difference?

“I think essentially you have a difference of opinion between two federal district judges,” says Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Religious Studies professor Daniel Conkle.

Conkle says both cases rest heavily on two particular clauses: the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer, filed a lawsuit similar to those of the Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese and Notre Dame.  Hobby Lobby’s case is being heard in the federal Supreme Court and a decision is expected by June 2014.

Conkle says profitable corporations are an entirely different situation.

“On the one hand, they are clearly entitled to practice their religious if they are a religious entity, like Notre Dame or the Ft. Wayne Diocese,” he says. “Conversely, with respect to a profit making company like Hobby Lobby, the Obama administration is arguing in part that a profit making corporation is not entitled to claim the protection of religious free exercise at all.”

Both Conkle and McBride say because the lower court’s rulings are inconsistent, they expect the diocese’s case, and others like it, to eventually end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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