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October 12--The Diocese of Savannah has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the Health and Human Services mandate that would force religious employers to provide medical services in violation of their religious beliefs.


The Archdiocese of Atlanta, Christ the King Catholic School in Atlanta and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta joined in the lawsuit. Named as defendants are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The lawsuit was filed October 5 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division.


With this action, the Catholic Church in Georgia joins more than 50 other dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions that have filed suit in federal court to stop these three government agencies from implementing a mandate that would require them to cover and provide for free contraceptives and sterilization in their health plans.


Bishop Gregory John Hartmayer, OFM Conv. commented, "Our challenge to the federal mandate is not about whether people in this country should have access to the services covered by the mandate; but rather, it is about the fundamental issue of whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to fund services which violate our religious and moral beliefs.


The Diocese of Savannah has filed the suit because the federal government is requiring religious organizations, under penalty of law, to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception in violation of their religious beliefs.


The lawsuit states, "Plantiffs acknowledge that individuals in this country have a legal right to these medical services; they are, and will continue to be, freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available. But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to co-opt religious entities like Plantiffs into providing or facilitating access to them."


While the government has recognized a religious exemption to these mandates, it is so narrowly worded that many religious institutions do not qualify for it. To qualify for an exemption, a religious institution must submit to a governmental investigation into whether their "purpose" is the "inculcation of religious values," whether they "primarily" employ persons who share their religious tenets," and whether they "primarily" serve such people. Catholic schools and the social service programs of the Diocese of Savannah are open to people of all faiths and do not consider religious affiliation in hiring for most positions.


Bishop Hartmayer said, "We bring our heritage of faith and dedication to the poor and needy who have been served by the agencies of the Catholic Church in Georgia with generosity and commitment since 1850. We become one more voice that must be heard by the courts as they consider the legality of this action."