By Dave Andrusko
The attorneys general of seven states– Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas–joined a school, two women, a charitable group, and a major Catholic insurer Thursday in asking a federal judge to block an Obama administration mandate that requires religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization and contraception.
The action by the states follows previous lawsuits filed against the Obama Administration, vigorous resistance by representatives of many faith communities, and a pending vote in the Senate on the Blunt Amendment.
“The federal government’s regulation is an unprecedented invasion of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and free association,” the 25-page legal complaint says.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning argued that the regulation “forces millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law,” adding, “We will not stand idly by while out constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them.”
In a statement, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said, “Any rule, regulation or law that forces faith-based institutions to provide for services that violate their free exercise of religion, or that penalizes them for failing to kneel at the altar of government, is a flat-out violation of the First Amendment,”
The legal action, filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, follows lawsuits brought by three religiously affiliated universities and EWTN, a Catholic television network.
The lawsuit names as defendants Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom are being sued in their capacity as officials of the government.
Alliance Defense Fund Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told the Catholic News Agency, “The states in this case are doing what the government should do, which is to protect American citizens from the attack on freedom that the federal government, and the people in charge of it at the moment, are waging against religious believers.”
In addition, some states are contemplating their own action. The Miami Herald reports that State Rep. Scott Plakon filed an amendment “intended to prevent health insurance companies from being required to offer coverage for contraception, sterilization or abortions.” He later withdrew his amendment, but only “because it was not related to the abortion legislation, under legislative rules,” according to the Herald’s Tia Mitchell.
At the federal level, the Senate is expected to vote next week on an amendment offered by pro-life Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), strongly supported by the National Right to Life Committee . (See “Call Now — U.S. senators to vote next week on pro-life Blunt Amendment!”)
The text of the Blunt Amendment is taken from an NRLC-endorsed bill, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. It would amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance, such as the recent decree that virtually all employers — including religiously affiliated hospitals and schools — must purchase health insurance plans that cover all government-approved methods of birth control.
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