Franciscan University Refuses to Give Up Fight Against HHS Mandate

An Ohio Roman Catholic university that is committed to religious freedom says it is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate.

In a statement released on March 22nd, Father Terence Henry, the president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH, vowed to continue fighting the provision of ObamaCare that requires most employers to offer free contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients to its employees through health insurance plans. ObamaCare also requires that universities provide free contraception to students as well.

“We will not stop fighting this unjust mandate, and we are in this for the long haul,” said Father Henry. “We are very confident in the merits of our case, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect our constitutional right to religious freedom.”

Franciscan University’s lawsuit was one of 12 lawsuits filed on May 21, 2012 by 43 Catholic organizations, including the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, as well as the Dioceses of Dallas, Fort Worth, Rockville Centre, and Pittsburgh.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio dismissed Franciscan’s lawsuit against the Obama administration on the basis that the case was not ripe, reasoning that the university had yet to be injured by the mandate.

“This is in no way a loss. The judge did not rule on the merits of our case and dismissed our lawsuit for ripeness, so Franciscan has every right--and I would add, the duty--to re-file our lawsuit at the appropriate time,” Father Henry said.

The fact that Franciscan considers the task of fighting the HHS mandate, “a duty,” is evident in its self-identification as a “passionately Catholic” university at which government encroachment upon religious liberty is resisted by students and faculty alike.

Michael Hernon, Vice President of Advancement at Franciscan, told Breitbart News that the university’s commitment to fight the mandate is fundamental to its identity.

“We’re fighting for the right to live the faith we teach,” Hernon said. “Our faith is at the heart of who we are--our identity and our purpose.”

Hernon said that Father Henry’s statement that he is in this fight for the “long haul” means that he would rather go to jail than go against the beliefs of his faith and his conscience.

“The right to religious liberty that is provided to us in the Constitution is from God,” said Hernon. “We will not back down from this fight. It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of Americans.”

According to Hernon, students, parents, and alumni of Franciscan have been vocal about fighting the Obama administration on the mandate’s intrusion into religious freedom. He states that students have lead rallies for religious liberty on street corners, and that the university received much support from alumni when it decided to discontinue the requirement that students purchase additional supplemental insurance upon entering the university. 

Hernon said Franciscan dropped the requirement for two reasons: it doubled in price because of the rising costs of premiums under ObamaCare, and the university refused to comply with the HHS mandate provisions.

Most students are already covered under their parents’ health insurance plans, Hernon added.

Hernon said that he believes America is in “unprecedented times,” when there is “an all-out assault on religion and religious liberty.”

“We have an administration that is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act, they are curtailing chaplains in the military, and we have the HHS mandate that has intruded upon our right to practice what we believe,” Hernon said. “The Obama administration has determined that we no longer have freedom of religion, just freedom to worship.”

Not all Catholic universities, however, have viewed the HHS mandate as a serious threat to religious freedom. John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University, the oldest Jesuit college in the United States, actually invited HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to deliver a commencement address in May of 2012.

Hot Air reported on the eruption of criticism for DeGioia and his subsequent defense of his decision:

The Secretary’s presence on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views. As a Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings.

We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas. We are a community that draws inspiration from a religious tradition that provides us with an intellectual, moral, and spiritual foundation. By engaging these values we become the University we are meant to be.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., however, scolded DeGioia for both the invitation to Sebelius and his failure to comprehend the crux of the matter.

Wuerl bemoaned that DeGioia “does not address the real issue for concern — the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Wuerl wrote:

What is at stake here is a question of human freedom. The authors of the Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of religion as the “First Freedom,” our nation’s founding principle. The HHS mandate is a direct challenge to that First Freedom, and must not be allowed to stand.

Franciscan University, says Hernon, views the mandate as a clear violation of religious liberty.

“People of all faiths are recognizing more assaults on our freedom,” he said. “Our culture has allowed this to happen. Government should not define the terms of religion.”

“We must stand up for the next generation of Americans,” Hernon asserted. "The fight against the HHS mandate and the other infringements upon religious liberty affects all Americans. It’s an assault on the very fabric of our beings.”

Though Hernon admits there are some who say the fight is no longer winnable, he vehemently disagrees.

“People have said that in other major fights and battles in history, even in Nazi Germany,” he said. “We can win because we have right, truth, and God on our side.”


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