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Contraception controversy: Oklahoma court gives temporary exemption to 200 Catholic businesses

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OKLAHOMA CITY – After a health care mandate ordered businesses to start providing contraceptives in their health coverage for their workers, several companies spoke out against the order.

Those companies claim the mandate forces employers to violate their own religious rights, as many are owned by religious groups who do not believe in contraception or ‘abortifacient’ drugs.

The Affordable Care Act already has an exemption for religious non-profits, like schools and hospitals.

However, for-profit organizations, affiliated with a religious organization or not, are required to offer the coverage to all employees.

A new ruling is giving some of those companies hope.

On June 4, the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary exemption from the mandate for the Catholic Benefits Association.

It also stops federal agents or officers from imposing fines against the association during its litigation.

It ruled that the over 450 employer members and almost 2,000 Catholic parishes that are CBA members shall not be liable for “any penalties, fines and assessments for noncompliance with” the Affordable Care Act during the case.

Judge Russell wrote, “The Court’s inquiry is focused upon how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity in an immoral act.”

“I’m heartened by today’s ruling,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley. “Judge Russell was right to recognize that the Catholic employers of the Catholic Benefits Association have a right to allow their faith to inform not just their private beliefs, but also their public actions. The administration has been discriminatory to grant relief to some Catholic employers and not others based on whether they operate within the diocesan structure or at separately incorporated charitable organizations and for-profit businesses.”

The plaintiffs in the CBA lawsuit include The Catholic Benefits Association, The Catholic Insurance Company, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Inc., All Saints Catholic School in Oklahoma, Archbishop William E. Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, The Cathedral Foundation in Baltimore, Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Kansas City and Good Will Publishers in North Carolina.

If the federal government appeals the ruling, the case would go to the Tenth Circuit.