(Photo: REUTERS/Allison Joyce)
The narrow religious exemption for the Obama administration's birth control mandate is "strangling," and the administration fails to understand the "horror" Catholics feel over the exemption, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."
Dolan said he has spoken directly with President Obama regarding his concerns over the narrowness of the religious exemption, but added that he believes the Obama administration still doesn't get it.
"I worry that members of [Obama's] administration might not particularly understand our horror at the restricted nature of the exemption that they're giving us, that for the first time we can remember, a bureau of the federal government seems to be radically intruding on what the term of a church is," said Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of New York.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued the rule in January that will require employers to provide health coverage for contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs. There is a religious exemption, but the exemption is so narrowly written that many religious institutions, such colleges, hospitals and social service organizations, would not qualify. Dolan finds this narrow definition particularly offensive because the government is defining his Catholic faith for him.
"They tell us if you're really going be considered a church, if you're going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith in everything you do, you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics," he noted. "We're like, wait a minute, when did the government get in the business of defining for us the extent of our ministry. It's almost like we're being punished for the fact that we serve a lot of people."
Lawsuits against the mandate were filed by 43 Catholic institutions on Monday.
The lawsuits could have been avoided, Dolan said, if the Obama administration had written a more inclusive exemption that covered all Catholic institutions.
"If they would simply mitigate the strangling nature of those definitions for exemptions, we would be able to say, at least we're able to preserve our ministries and services."
There are now 23 cases in 15 states, including the District of Columbia, and over 55 plaintiffs who are suing to overturn the birth control mandate. All of these lawsuits make the same legal case, Hannah Smith, senior counsel for The Becket Fund, explained in a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post.
The Becket Fund was not involved in yesterday's suits, but has filed suits on behalf of other clients for the same reasons.
According to Smith, if the suits were to be successful, "the court would tell the government that it could not enforce the mandate against our clients." Whether or not that outcome would apply to other employers would depend on how judges rule in the case, Smith explained.
"Certainly, the best possible outcome is for the court to say this is an unconstitutional mandate and it doesn't apply to anybody," she said.
In a Monday blog post, liberal Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, who is Catholic, questioned whether the timing of the suits were politically motivated and argued that Catholic leaders should have given the Obama administration more time to work out a compromise before filing suit.
Father John Jenkins, president of University of Notre Dame, one of the institutions that filed suit yesterday, addressed the timing of the lawsuits in a Monday announcement.
He wrote that "progress has not been encouraging," and current administration efforts provide "little in the way of a specific, substantive proposal or a definite timeline for resolution."
Jenkins also noted that the process to find a compromise will last months, "making it impossible for us to plan for and implement any changes to our health plans by the government-mandated deadlines."