A Federal judge in Pennsylvania granted the Catholic Diocese of Erie a temporary stay against the HHS Mandate, scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next year. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was granted the same injunction. These are small, but necessary, wins against the unconstitutional HHS Mandate, which requires employer-sponsored health insurance to provide access to contraceptives, as part of the Affordable Care Act.
This injunction, granted by U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab, is only temporary. However, Schwab has indicated that with the information provided by the Diocese, the injunction may become permanent. The injunction grants the Diocese the right to sign a statement of objection, which would allow an employee access to the contraceptives, at no cost to the Diocese. Originally, only Churches, which are part of the Diocese, were exempt from the Mandate. However, the judge’s ruling means that the exemption has expanded beyond just places of worship, to include charities and educational institutions run by the Catholic Church.
This injunction stands to further public interest. The injunction begins to define whether the Government can split religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, into “places of worship” and “good works”. The question here is whether the Government will limit the Freedom of Religion only to a church, or whether the First Amendment applies to any organization affiliated with a particular religious belief – especially when it comes to the law forcing a group to violate those beliefs.
If non-profits and religious-affiliated groups are able to win with a permanent injunction, it will pave the way for other groups, not directly affiliated with a religion, but still run based on religious principles, to stand up to the HHS Mandate. This small win may be the beginning of a bigger win for Religious Freedom in the U.S.