The University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America were among 43 Catholic institutions to file coordinated lawsuits in federal courts across the country against the Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday, claiming the Obama administration’s new birth control mandate violates the First Amendment protections to the free exercise of religion, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Legal experts say that the RFRA, a 1993 law championed by then-Rep. Charles Schumer and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to protect religious exercise (Native Americans using peyote) from laws that might unintentionally restrict it, is the strongest legal challenge to the birth-control mandate yet. The Hill reports:
RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.
Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.
“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.
Outspoken on the issue of the infringement of Catholics' religious freedom has been Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there’s still no fix. Time is running out,” said Dolan in a statement supporting the litigation.
“Our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."
Appearing on CBS news Tuesday morning, Dolan said that the alleged Obama compromise falls short, and dictates further imposition from the State to the Church that goes against religious teaching.
“They tell us if you’re really going to be considered a church, if you’re going to be exempt from the demands of the government, you have to propagate your Catholic faith in everything you do,"said Dolan. "You can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics. We’re like, wait a minute, when did the government get in the business of defining for us the extent of our ministry?”
On "Real News" Tuesday the panel discussed the litigation and possible political implications the Obama administration's actions could have on the Catholic vote and socially liberal Democratic base.
"I think Catholics were sacrificed at the alter of riling up your base" said Will Cain, speculating that the HHS mandate was a calculated to decision to rally enthusiasm from women and gay marriage supporters back to the president. On the other hand, S.E. Cupp argued her belief that the HHS moved forward with this legislation completely unaware of the predictable reaction from Catholics because the administration operates from an extremely secular mindset. Watch a clip from the segment below: