Dec. 20, 2013
The Diocese of Erie issued the following statement in response to the granting of a permanent injunction today by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against enforcement of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on church-related entities. The ruling means the diocese will not have to provide services it finds objectionable to employees of church-related institutions.
Bishop Persico calls ruling 'a positive step in the right direction'
The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of the Diocese of Erie, received what he called “exhilarating news” today that Federal District Court Judge Arthur Schwab has swiftly granted the motion to convert the preliminary injunctions granted earlier this month to permanent injunctions for the Dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh.
The key point in the ruling is that Bishop Persico will not have to “sign or authorize any entity under his control to sign the self-certification form” that would have forced the diocese to act contrary to its sincerely-held religious beliefs, providing its employees with services it finds objectionable through their insurance policies.
“This is a positive step in the right direction as we strive to protect our religious freedom,” Bishop Persico said. “The ruling acknowledges that the good works the church provides are integral to who we are as believers.”
Prior to the ruling, the United States government had divided religious entities, including the Catholic Church, into two wings: (1) a “worship” wing limited to “houses of worship and religious orders” that provide religious services; and (2) a “charitable and educational” wing that provides what the government viewed as secular services. By that definition, agencies run by the church in the Diocese of Erie, including the St. Martin Center, The Prince of Peace Center, Cathedral Prep, Villa Maria Academy and Catholic Charities would not have been exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide services the church considers objectionable.
The diocese argued that the artificial distinction ignored the reality that the Catholic Church engages in charity and education as an exercise of religion. By excluding Catholic charitable and educational organizations from the category of exempt “religious employers,” the U.S. government mandate was still forcing the Catholic Church to act contrary to beliefs.
“Religious liberty means more than being able to go to Mass on Sunday,” Bishop Persico said. “It also means we should have the ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans in accordance with our religious beliefs. If we are not free in our conscience and our exercise of religion, all other freedoms are fragile.”
Bishop Persico said he is grateful for the hard work and support of the Jones Day Law Firm which has provided legal services on a pro bono basis. The government will likely appeal to the next level, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Jones Day Firm in the pursuit of justice,” the bishop said.
Bishop Persico called getting the news of the ruling five days before the celebration of Christmas “a wonderful gift.”