Diocese gets preliminary injunction against mandate
A preliminary injunction was granted Friday by a federal judge that temporarily halts the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act on the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and two diocesan affiliates.
A hearing set for next month will determine whether a permanent injunction is warranted to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from imposing fines related to the act.
“Our objective is to secure a permanent injunction to stop enforcement of the mandate,” Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt said in a written statement.
The diocese, Catholic Charities in Greensburg and St. John the Evangelist Regional Catholic School in Uniontown sued the department in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on May 27, claiming that requirements for health insurance covering abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, contraceptives and related counseling infringes on their religious beliefs.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab’s decision to grant the motion was expedited to meet an impending insurance plan renewal deadline for the diocese at the end of June.
Complying with the Affordable Care Act would “cause (the plaintiffs) to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs; or, their conscience disregard of (it) will cause them to potentially incur large monetary fines and/or other penalties,” Schwab wrote in an opinion.
Brandt said in his written statement that fines associated with noncompliance “would seriously jeopardize how our Catholic schools and Catholic Charities conduct their ministries and would jeopardize, in fact, their very existence.”
The diocese serves as trustee for 78 parishes and their charitable trusts in Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties, which have a Catholic population of about 153,000. About 600 employees of the diocese and its affiliated entities are eligible for coverage through its Catholic Benefits Trust, according to the lawsuit. About 400 employees use the insurance, and about 800 individuals, including dependents, are covered.
A Justice Department attorney has asked that the diocese’s request be dismissed because the church can offer a “self-insured church plan” to employees that would allow the diocese to opt out of paying for services against their religious beliefs.
The Catholic Diocese of Greensburg is the third diocese in Western Pennsylvania to file suit against the federal government to claim that the Affordable Care Act infringes upon the religious beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.
Identical lawsuits were filed last year by the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses and affiliates. In November, they won a court injunction exempting the affiliates from the mandates.
An appeal is pending.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 email@example.com.
is a former freelancer.