Court denies HHS mandate protection for Notre Dame

Court denies HHS mandate protection for Notre Dame

A Chicago appellate court has upheld a previous ruling denying Notre Dame University legal protections while it moves forward in challenging the federal contraception mandate.

“We imagine that what the university wants is an order forbidding [insurer and plan administrator] Aetna and Meritain to provide any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame staff or students pending final judgment in the district court,” wrote Judge Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, he said in the Feb. 21 decision, “we can’t issue such an order” without the insurance companies also voicing objections to the mandate.

Judge Posner was joined by Judge David Hamilton in supporting a lower court's Jan. 1 decision to deny Notre Dame University temporary relief from having to comply with the Obama administration's federal contraception mandate.

The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance policies that cover contraceptives, sterilization, and some early abortion-causing products.

A wave of protest and scores of lawsuits followed the mandate’s announcement, and religious nonprofit organizations were subsequently granted an accommodation, under which they can sign a form indicating their objection to providing the products and prompting a third-party administrator to facilitate the coverage instead.

Notre Dame has argued that authorizing an outside administrator to provide the objectionable coverage still amounts to immoral cooperation on its part.

The university filed a lawsuit and asked for a temporary injunction to shield it from penalties and fines for violating the mandate while its case worked its way through the courts. After a lower court initially denied the injunction request, the school appealed, but agreed to sign the authorization form to avoid heavy penalties in the interim.

However, Judge Posner argued in the majority decision for the appeals court that Notre Dame is not directly responsible for providing the objectionable coverage and has not shown that its free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by signing the authorization form.

He said that he and Judge Hamilton “have trouble understanding how signing the form that declares Notre Dame’s authorized refusal to pay for contraceptives for its students or staff, and mailing the authorization document to those companies, which under federal law are obligated to pick up the tab, could be thought to 'trigger' the provision of female contraceptives.”

He suggested that the insurance companies “must provide the services no matter what; signing the form simply shifts the financial burden.”

For the coverage to be halted by a court order, he said, the school's insurance companies would also have to be “joined as defendants” in the case.

Judge Joel M. Flaum dissented from the majority opinion, pointing to 19 other cases in which religious nonprofits were given court-ordered protection from mandate compliance.

Flaum also addressed the court's ability to judge whether the university would be “complicit in a grave moral wrong” if it authorized the objectionable coverage.

The court, he observed, is composed of “judges, not moral philosophers or theologians; this is not a question of legal causation but of religious faith.”

“Notre Dame tells us that Catholic doctrine prohibits the action that the government requires it to take. So long as that belief is sincerely held, I believe we should defer to Notre Dame’s understanding.”

Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne told the South Bend Tribune in a Feb. 21 interview that the government's action is troubling.

“Our concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it's given license to do so in others,” Browne said.


Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

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February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

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