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The Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie in Pennsylvania have secured a preliminary injunction against the controversial contraception mandate, part of President Obama’s health care overhaul, that is set to take effect on 1 January. The mandate obliges employers to provide insurance cover that includes contraception, as well as some drugs that can cause early abortion, but allows certain faith-based exceptions.
In a 65-page opinion, Judge Arthur Schwab of the Federal District Court for Western Pennsylvania, stated that the issue before him was whether “the Government will be permitted to sever the Catholic Church into two parts (i.e., worship and faith, and “good works”) - in other words, whether the Government will be successful in restricting the right to the free exercise of religion as set forth in the First Amendment to a right to worship only.”
Under the mandate, Churches are “exempt” from providing insurance that would cover contraception, while charities and schools that serve non-Catholics receive an “accommodation” that requires insurers themselves to pay for “contraceptive services”.
In a statement praising the ruling, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said, “Acknowledging that our beliefs are sincerely held, Judge Schwab found that the good works that the Church provides in society are both essential and integral to who we are as believers. Judge Schwab refused to accept that religious freedom is solely the freedom to worship behind closed doors.”
The ruling will prevent the Government from levying fines after 1 January 2014, on those entities that do not comply with the mandate. The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to hear two related cases involving for-profit employers that object to the HHS mandate on religious grounds. It is unclear if the court will also consider the situation posed in the suit brought by the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, which challenge the mandate's distinction between church-related ministries and houses of worship.