Catholic Groups End Lawsuit Against Obama's Attempt to Narrowly Define Religious Freedom

(Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)Nuns rally before Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 23, 2016.

Two Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses have ended their litigation against the federal government over the controversial Health and Human Services Department's birth control mandate.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Erie have released statements Tuesday announcing that they had settled with the government following President Donald Trump's broadening of the mandate's religious exemptions, ending a 5-year legal battle.

Bishop David Zubik expressed gratitude to God for the settlement, saying in his statement that the settlement "restores religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment."

"Our litigation sought to re-establish the cornerstone principle that freedom of religion means freedom to practice our faith in daily life, not just in worship and prayer," stated Bishop Zubik.

Expand | Collapse
Reuters/Joshua RobertsU.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his last press conference at the White House in Washington, U.S. on Jan. 18.

"On the other hand, this agreement does not prohibit the government from providing contraceptives. But it does prohibit the government and others from using church-related insurance plans as a conduit for such coverage."

Echoing Zubik's comments, Bishop Lawrence Persico said that the settlement was a victory for religious liberty, both for Catholics and non-Catholics.

"We have maintained from the beginning that the government cannot force anyone — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or other — to do something that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs," stated Bishop Persico, as quoted by the publication Faith Life.

"The government has finally acknowledged that there is a reasonable path to accomplish its goals while also respecting the core beliefs of our faith."

Persico also stated that he believed it has been hard "for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives."

"The real issue was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers," added Persico.

In 2012, then President Barack Obama garnered controversy when his administration announced that they were going to compel religious organizations to pay for healthcare coverage of birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

Although the final version of the HHS mandate softened the requirements for religious groups, many organizations, schools, and businesses sued the federal government, arguing that the mandate violated their religious freedom.

Earlier this month, President Trump broadened the religious exemption for the HHS mandate to allow for entities like the dioceses as well as the Little Sisters of the Poor and certain businesses to be exempted.

"Administration officials said two new federal rules will let any non-profit or for-profit entity make religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from the law's contraception mandate. The changes also let publicly traded companies obtain a religious exemption," reported Reuters.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook