By Michelle Bauman
A legal group that aims to defend religious freedom has launched a new website offering a wealth of resources on the contraception mandate, and the various lawsuits that have been filed against it.
“There was a lot of misinformation out there on the mandate,” said Emily Hardman, attorney and communications director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a D.C.-based organization.
Hardman told CNA on May 29 that the Becket Fund “wanted to provide an accurate, concise and useful resource for reporters and the general public.”
She explained that when the information “is laid out clearly in one place,” it is evident that the mandate’s requirements violate the First Amendment’s protections of religious freedom.
On May 22, the Becket Fund launched a webpage to serve as a centralized resource for information surrounding the contraception mandate. The webpage tracks the lawsuits that have been filed against the mandate by plaintiffs ranging from EWTN to seven U.S. states to two private business owners.
A total of 23 lawsuits have been filed by 55 plaintiffs to challenge a federal mandate that will require employers and colleges to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The regulation has received widespread criticism from individuals and groups from a variety of religious and political backgrounds.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it violates religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to shut down in order to adhere to their beliefs.
The Becket Fund’s webpage lists the date that each lawsuit was filed, as well as the identity of the plaintiffs, the district where it was filed and the law firm that is handling the case. It also includes links to legal documents, press releases and additional information related to each case.
In addition, the webpage offers an interactive map to illustrate the distribution of the lawsuits throughout the country, as well as a timeline tracking developments regarding the mandate.
Belmont Abbey College filed the first lawsuit challenging the mandate in November 2011. In the months that followed, lawsuits were also filed by several other colleges, including Colorado Christian University, Louisiana College and Ave Maria University.
In February, the mandate was further challenged by the states of Nebraska, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Private business owners have also joined in objecting to the mandate, arguing that religious freedom extends not only to religious organizations but also to religious individuals seeking to run non-religious companies in accordance with their faith.
Frank O’Brien of O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC, has filed a lawsuit against the mandate, along with the owners of Hercules Industries, Inc., a heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer based in Colorado.
On May 21, a new wave of lawsuits was announced by 43 dioceses and Catholic organizations in 12 districts throughout the country.
Among the latest plaintiffs are the archdioceses of New York, St. Louis and Washington D.C., the Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor and several Catholic Charities organization from around the U.S.
The Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of Notre Dame also filed May 21 lawsuits, along with the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Dallas and Springfield.
Detailed information about the lawsuits can be found at the Becket Fund’s mandate resource webpage at: http://www.becketfund.org/hhsinformationcentral/