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Illinois dioceses among those filing suit over birth control mandate

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 10:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 10:49 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — The Roman Catholic dioceses of Springfield and Joliet have joined 41 other religious institutions filing simultaneous lawsuits that challenge the Obama administration’s mandate that many religious employers cover the cost of birth control for employees.

Catholic Charities in both dioceses also joined the suit filed in U.S. District Court Monday.

Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, which also joined the lawsuit, said the lawsuits aren’t intended to challenge the goals of the Affordable Care Act or to limit employees’ access to the drugs or procedures. 

“They are not asking the courts to endorse the plaintiffs’ religious views, only to respect and accommodate them,” Garnett said in a statement. “Religious institutions are not seeking to control what their employees buy, use, or do in private; they are trying to avoid being conscripted by the government into acting in a way that would be inconsistent with their character, mission, and values.”

Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said Joliet and Springfield could be only the first wave of lawsuits from Catholic entities across the state, including universities and hospitals.

The Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, emphasized that the lawsuit was not a war on a woman’s right to use contraception.

“Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives,” Jenkins said. “As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.  And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.”

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said the archdiocese’s absence from today’s lawsuit doesn’t demonstrate less concern about the issue in Chicago. He said the archdiocese is still working out its legal options.

“The Archdiocese of Chicago is obviously deeply concerned about preserving the Catholic identity of Catholic educational, health care and social service organizations,” he said in a statement. “The Archdiocese therefore entirely supports the actions of the Catholic dioceses and organizations that have brought suit against the Department of Health and Human Services for violating the heretofore constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom of Catholic institutions.”

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