Nashville Diocese, 7 Catholic entities file federal lawsuit

Mary Diglio of St. Dominic Parish in Oyster Bay, N.Y., holds a sign while participating in a “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally near the offices of U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand in Melville, N.Y., earlier this year. The rally was one of many held across the country on that day to protest the Obama administration’s HHS contraceptive mandate.
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic

NASHVILLE — The Diocese of Nashville and seven of the Catholic entities operating in Middle Tennessee have filed suit in Federal Court to block the implementation of mandates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that require them to provide morally objectionable services under the Affordable Health Care Act through insurance coverage.

Diocesan entities, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Father Ryan High School, Pope John Paul II High School, Mary Queen of Angels, Villa Maria Manor, and St. Mary Villa along with Aquinas College which is owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are all independently incorporated under Tennessee law. There was broad support within each of their boards of directors for filing the suits which are similar to more than a dozen others filed around the country in late May and August.

“It is particularly important for us to file this action at this time because the insurance plan covering Mary Queen of Angels, Villa Maria Manor and St. Mary Villa were up for renewal on August. Because of the mandates enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, they have been unable to establish broad health insurance coverage for their employees consistent with Catholic beliefs.  Currently they have to include services that are morally objectionable,” said Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the Diocese of Nashville.

These three corporations are among the first in the nation to renew health insurance plans since the Obama administration established the mandate. The other entities will face the same issue as their plans come up for renewal and as the current law takes full effect over the course of the next year and the insurance carrier says they must include the coverage due to the new law.

Mary Queen of Angels, St. Mary Villa, and Villa Maria Manor, who share the same plan, discovered in November 2011 their health benefits plan coverage had mistakenly included coverage for oral contraception. They immediately undertook efforts to remove the objectionable services from their plan.

Because their initial efforts to remove the coverage from their plan were unsuccessful, the plan was not eligible for the one-year “temporary enforcement safe harbor” from the U.S. Government Mandate when it was renewed on Aug.1.

During negotiations for its current health plan year, Mary Queen of Angels, St. Mary Villa Child Development Center, and Villa Maria Manor sought to have all of the objectionable services excluded from their employee health benefits plan. Their insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee, informed the organizations that it was unable to exclude coverage for oral contraceptives from the plan because of the requirements of the U.S. Government Mandate.

“It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are and will continue to be freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available,” the suit says. “But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the Plaintiffs to violate their own consciences by making them provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The mandate was made final on Feb. 15, so it is the law right now, and it will go into effect soon (Aug. 1 for some and Aug. 1, 2013, for others). Many have pursued and exhausted all other avenues to resolve this conflict without litigation, through efforts with the White House and Congress, but they have not succeeded. The first 12 lawsuits were filed on May 21. Several more were filed in August. We have joined with those suits now because of the recent impact upon Catholic corporations in the Diocese of Nashville.

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