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April 13, 2014 Issue

Bishop Jenky and Deacon Bob Sondag pray during a religious freedom rally in Peoria in March. On Aug. 9, the Diocese of Peoria filed suit against the Obama administration over the HHS mandate.

-- Catholic Post file photo by Jennifer Willems

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Bishop Jenky files lawsuit against Obama administration over mandate

The Diocese of Peoria issued the following press release on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 9:

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The Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, filed a federal lawsuit today against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration. The lawsuit challenges the Obama administration’s unprecedented mandate that attacks the freedom to practice religion without government interference.

Under the HHS mandate, employers must provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. The Diocese of Peoria maintains that the requirement to fund and facilitate such activities violates core religious and moral convictions.

Patricia Gibson, Attorney and Chancellor for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria stated, “This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms; the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs.”

The HHS mandate was made final on February 12, 2012. Although the government included an exemption for churches, the definition of “religious employer” was so narrow that it excludes Catholic hospitals, schools, universities and social service providers. To qualify for the exemption as it now stands, Catholic institutions would have to stop serving non-Catholics in need and stop employing non-Catholic employees. This is in direct opposition to the Church’s commitment to serve others, not because of their religious beliefs, but because of their inherent human dignity.

Gibson further stated that, “The suit filed today asks the courts to find the HHS mandate in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how government agencies propose and establish regulations.”

Bishop Daniel Jenky strongly believes that the lawsuit is necessary at this time because there does not appear to be any real effort on the part of the federal government to correct this intrusion upon our First Amendment Rights.

“I have an obligation to protect the Church’s ability to freely practice our religion," he stated. "Fortunately, we have recourse to the Constitution and the strong conviction of our Founding Fathers who clearly intended to keep the government out of the internal affairs of the Church. America’s great history and tradition of religious freedom is embedded in the First Amendment. As Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, I cannot remain silent while the right of Catholics to practice our faith is being so gravely threatened.”

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Editor’s note: Updates on this story will appear online as well as in the Aug. 19 issue of The Catholic Post.

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