A Victory for Religious Freedom

We in this Diocese are pleased and thankful to God that Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York has found that the HHS Mandate violates the law as it applies to non-exempt religious organizations including Catholic Health Services of Long Island (CHS). We applaud a decision acknowledging the substantial burden the HHS Mandate and its regulatory scheme places on the free exercise rights of religious organizations – and that there is indeed no compelling governmental interest here that trumps this Constitutionally guaranteed right to free exercise.

Judge Cogan’s decision emphatically recognizes that so called non-exempt religious agencies have religious freedom rights that are far more important than the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide in health insurance plans coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, as well as counseling as respects these objectionable products and services.

In his decision, Judge Cogan stated, “(The) plaintiffs have demonstrated that the mandate . . . compels them to perform acts that are contrary to religion.” The court then entered a permanent injunction, prohibiting HHS from “enforcing or implementing the challenged regulations”, thereby protecting CHS and the other plaintiffs in the action from this mandate. The injunction is effective immediately.

So critical to the importance of this decision is that the court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second -class citizens with second- class First Amendment protections. This decision affirms that our God-given and constitutionally protected freedom of religion must extend beyond merely being free to choose how we worship and must include, as we have said, how we act, in public and in all of our ministries, in accord with our religious beliefs.

Judge Cogan’s decision is also significant because, at least for the time being, it pushes back the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from further encroaching upon religious freedom. While it is a wise decision, what should never be lost is that the fight for religious freedom is far from over. As demonstrated in example after example, there is widespread hostility to the rights of religious persons and entities to live as the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended – free to exercise our religious freedom without government interference or coercion. The Church will, along with its faithful laity, remain vigilant and continue to stand up for and defend religious liberty.

Please continue your prayers that our efforts locally and nationally will bear fruit in this important struggle to protect religious freedom and our commitment to care for others as an intrinsic expression of our faith in God and our living out of His call that we bring Him to others through concrete acts of justice and charity.