Good News in the On-Going Challenges to Our Religious Liberties

The rebuilt Brick Chapel of 1667 stands as a monument to religious freedom.

It is a pleasure to share with you news that last Friday evening a binding agreement was signed between the United States Department of Justice and Jones Day, the law firm representing this archdiocese and more than 70 other religious entities and dioceses across the country. This settlement brings to a conclusion our litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate obliging our institutions to provide support for morally objectionable activities, as well as a level of assurance as we move into the future.

Almost two weeks ago, the Trump Administration issued new proposed regulations to rescind the mandates which were previously issued under the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (“ACA”) which required religious organizations to provide in our health coverage plans contraceptive and other objectionable services.

While the regulations proposed last week provide much promise in the protection of First Amendment freedom of religious exercise, the resolution of the litigation that took place on Friday, October 13, 2017, adds another significant step in protecting our constitutional liberties. 

While the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty and new guidelines and regulations are extremely helpful, the settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases. The settlement adds additional assurances that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward.

As background, in May 2012 plaintiffs, including the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as more than 70 other dioceses, hospitals, schools and other faith-based organizations, challenged parts of the ACA. Known widely in the media as the “HHS contraceptive mandate,” the government sought to require us to provide insurance coverage for health care, medications and procedures that are objectionable based on our sincerely held faith-based beliefs. 

For the first time in U.S. history, regulations would have empowered the federal government to determine whether institutions that put our Catholic faith into practice – schools, hospitals, and social service organizations – were religious enough, or whether they could be forced to provide coverage for birth control, abortifacients, sterilization, and related-counseling services as part of health care coverage to their employees.

We argued that the practice of our faith was inextricably tied to the ministries that put that faith into action, and that – more fundamentally – the Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of religion as our nation’s first and founding principle, and no individual or entity should be reduced to petitioning the government for rights that the Constitution already guarantees.

In 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined litigation and subsequently issued a ruling which vacated all of the lower appellate court rulings in the multi-party litigation.  At the same time in a highly unusual action, the Supreme Court requested that the parties engage in discussions to reach a settlement. That settlement has now been achieved. 

We are profoundly grateful to the Jones Day law firm for its generous legal representation in this matter. Their efforts over the past five-plus years have seen the freedom of the Church and her affiliated missions to carry out her ministry legally recognized. Likewise, I am most grateful to you for your prayers and support. This has been a long process and one that was not easy.  We now have this very good news and I wanted to share it with you.