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Catholic Church in Michigan welcomes settlement of HHS Mandate litigation

A week after issuing new religious freedom guidelines related to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate, the U.S. Department of Justice has settled litigation with the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) and other plaintiffs who had challenged the controversial mandate.

MCC's statement, "Catholic Church in Michigan Welcomes Settlement with Federal Government over HHS Mandate Litigation":

Oct. 18, 2017
After five years of litigation in federal court, Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) announced today that its lawsuit against the federal government regarding the controversial Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate has been settled in a favorable manner that protects religious liberty rights.  The settlement comes less than one week after President Trump announced new regulations that provide broad exemptions for religious entities opposed to including or facilitating contraceptive coverage in their employer health plans.
“This victory for religious liberty will protect the Catholic Church’s freedom to serve others, especially those most in need,” said Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul A. Long. “We are pleased with the manner by which our case has been resolved and thankful this unnecessary burden has come to its conclusion. We must now remain vigilant in protecting rights essential for the common good which, regrettably, are continuously under attack by organizations whose tolerance toward religious persons and entities has reached an all-time low.” 
Michigan Catholic Conference initially filed its lawsuit against the federal government in May 2012 in response to regulations issued under the Affordable Care Act that required all employers, religious or otherwise, to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing products in their health benefit plans. Additional lawsuits were filed by dozens of universities, health care facilities, Catholic dioceses and bishops, publishing houses and social service agencies opposed to the mandate on religious grounds. Although the federal government offered differing ‘accommodations’ to appease these organizations, none of those efforts satisfied the First Amendment and religious liberty concerns raised by the litigants, including Michigan Catholic Conference. 
The downfall of the federal government’s HHS Mandate began in June 2014, based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that closely-held corporations with religious objections were not required to participate in the government’s contraceptive mandate. Attention turned to non-profit organizations shortly thereafter when the Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments in March 2016 in a series of cases challenging the so-called ‘accommodation,’ including a case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor religious order. On Friday, October 13, 2017, the federal government announced new regulations that provide broad protections to religious organizations opposed to the contraceptive mandate.  MCC reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice shortly thereafter.

Background & history

In May, 2012 the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan, filed suit in U.S. District Court over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate citing first amendment religious liberty violations.

In March 2013, the lawsuit was delayed by a federal judge. Read a statement from Paul Long, MCC's president and CEO, made at that time in response to that delay.

On Oct. 6, 2017, the Trump administration granted new rules which provide broad exemptions to faith-based and other organizations in following the HHS Mandate.

Bishop Walkowiak's response to federal government's issuing of new religious freedom guidelines:

Oct. 6, 2017
Along with bishops across the United States, I applaud the actions taken by President Trump and his administration in providing exemptions to faith-based and other organizations from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. This mandate violated the religious freedom we hold dear and did not allow us to provide insurance coverage that was consistent with our Catholic faith.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated, ‘The Administration’s decision to provide a broad religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.’
‘The regulations are also good news for all Americans. A government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all, so when it is threatened for some, it is threatened for all.’”


For additional information, please see the resources below:

News & information

From 2012:
Michigan Catholic Conference (Board of Directors' Statement | News Release | Read the full complaint
Diocese of Grand Rapids [Bishop Hurley's letter to parishioners (English | Español) | News Release]
USCCB (Statement from Cardinal Dolan, USCCB president)

In a series of ten video clips, Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley, bishop of Grand Rapids and member of the MCC Board of Directors, addresses questions regarding the MCC lawsuit & the HHS mandate's infringement on religious liberty.

Bishop Walter A. Hurley (Watch videos | Read the full video transcript)
Bishops of Michigan comment (Watch video)
Visit the Michigan Catholic Conference website for additional information and commentary.

Protecting Respect for Rights of Conscience & Religious Liberty