Seven States Join Fight against Birth Control Mandate

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Seven states are now challenging the president's mandate requiring religious groups to provide birth control coverage for employees.

Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Nebraska are the latest to join the legal fight.

Their federal lawsuit alleges the rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the rule "forces of millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law."

"We will not stand idly by while our constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them," he said.

The lawsuits are part of growing backlash against the Obama administration's contraception rule.

"Never before has the federal government forced individuals or organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," said newly ordained Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

In an effort to compromise, President Obama recently offered a fix.

Instead of requiring religious-affiliated organizations to include contraception coverage, employees who work for those organizations can get contraceptives directly from their insurance company free of charge, leaving their employer out of the loop.

"These employers will not have to pay for or provide contraception services, but women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services just like other women," the president said.

The fix satisfied some organizations. But the top Catholic bishop in the United States has promised legislative and legal challenges to the move, and some groups are already suing the administration.

"The president seems to think that your conscience should feel better if instead of writing on page two, 'I will cover abortion drugs and contraceptives,' he just staples it onto the back after the policy is out of your hands,"  Mark Rienzi, senior legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CBN News.

"It's a distinction without a moral difference," he stated. "It doesn't change anything."

The Becket Fund is suing the Obama administration on behalf of four religious employers: a Catholic college and university, an evangelical Christian college and EWTN, and a Catholic broadcasting network based in Alabama.

Rienzi said the president's fix divides religious institutions into three different groups.

  • Churches, which enjoy the most constitutional protections.
  • Religious-affiliated institutions that employ or serve people of other faiths, which get a little protection.
  • Individuals, lay people like those who founded EWTN, get no protection.

"Well, the Constitution doesn't give the president the power to pick and choose which religious individuals and organizations he wants to protect," Rienzi told CBN News.

"That really is above his pay grade," he said. "That's not a power the government has."

Polls indicate many Catholics use birth control despite church teachings against it. But Rienzi said that's not an excuse for the administration to violate the Constitution.

"In other words, we don't look at the Jehovah's Witnesses who say, 'I can't salute the flag,' and say well, that's not a very popular view so you don't have your rights. We give them their rights," Rienzi said.

"Everyone has their religious liberty rights, and you don't get to say because some Catholics willingly do something, I can force the rest of them to do it in violation of their rights," Rienzi said. "It's just not the way constitutional rights work."

Meanwhile, the health care law is already facing a constitutional challenge. This spring the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the law's individual mandate that requires Americans to buy health insurance.

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Jennifer Wishon

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.