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Injunction stops enforcement of HHS mandate for Catholic benefits group

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Baltimore

A federal district court in Oklahoma issued an injunction Wednesday preventing several Catholic entities from being forced to comply with the federal Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate.

Of the nine Catholic entities granted relief by the court's action, four are based in Baltimore, three in Oklahoma, one in North Carolina and one in Kansas.

The class-action suit was filed in March to protect the plaintiffs' free exercise of religion by exempting them from the HHS mandate that would require them to provide coverage for free contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and devices, sterilization and related counseling.

"The administration has already effectively granted exemptions from the mandate to various employers whose plans cover more than 130 million employees. We're simply seeking the same exemption for Catholic employers who have religious objections to the unjust requirements of the mandate," said a June 5 statement from Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, vice president of one of the plaintiffs, the Catholic Benefits Association.

The association, formed in October, has 450 Catholic employer members and 2,000 parish members. Among the members are eight archdioceses, 15 dioceses, include religious orders, local Catholic Charities affiliates, colleges, nursing homes, cemeteries, retreat centers, and medical facilities.

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"We formed the Catholic Benefits Association to support Catholic employers in providing quality, cost-competitive, morally compliant health care benefits for their employees. Yesterday's decision makes this a reality," said a statement Thursday from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, himself a plaintiff in the case.

"This ruling is especially gratifying because this lawsuit, alone among the HHS contraceptive mandate cases, includes three groups of Catholic employers -- 'houses of worship' that are, by regulation, exempt; nonexempt ministries like colleges, Catholic Charities, and health care institutions; and Catholic-owned for profit businesses," Martin Nussbaum, the Catholic Benefits Association's general counsel, said in a statement Thursday.

Other plaintiffs in the case are the Catholic Insurance Company; the Oklahoma City archdiocese; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; All Saints Catholic School in Oklahoma; the Baltimore archdiocese; the Cathedral Foundation in Baltimore; Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Kansas City, Kan.; and Good Will Publishers in North Carolina.

In issuing the injunction, the court said: "Because the CBA's members are so uniform in their beliefs -- particularly their beliefs that contraceptives are objectionable -- the court finds that the CBA can properly present its members' claims in this case such that the participation of the individual members of the CBA is not required."

"The Catholic employers involved directly and indirectly in the Catholic Benefits Association lawsuit care deeply about the health and well-being of their employees," Coakley said. "We are grateful for the ruling, but continue to pray that our leaders recognize that Catholics, whether bishops or businessmen, cannot in good conscience provide insurance that covers drugs and procedures that undermine the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.

"Religious freedom entails more than the right to worship and any contrary legislation must be opposed."

The Catholic Benefits Association defends its members' First Amendment religious liberty regarding such health insurance coverage. The Catholic Insurance Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of the association, providing health insurance in keeping with Catholic principles.

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