WASHINGTON (AP) — New federal health care rules that require church-affiliated employers to cover birth control for workers violate First Amendment free speech guarantees, the Archdiocese of Washington said Monday in announcing it was joining a series of suits nationwide against the mandate.

The archdiocese, which said it was joining 12 actions filed nationwide on behalf of 43 Catholic institutions, said the
definition of what constitutes a religious organization is at the heart of the suit. New federal rules exempt only institutions that primarily serve and employ individuals of their own faith. That forces Catholic hospitals, charities and schools that serve all individuals regardless of faith to abide by the new rules in violation of their beliefs, the archdiocese said.

“There is no way out of the dilemma the mandate forces upon us,” said Jane Belford, chancellor of the archdiocese, who added that under the rules religious organizations face an impossible choice because “serving our neighbor is part of our baptismal calling.”

“We do what we do because we are Catholic, not because those we serve are,” Belford said.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, said Catholic schools and social service ministries do not qualify as religious under the rules, and the mandate forces them to provide coverage for drugs and procedures “that we believe are morally wrong.”

The archdiocese said the plaintiffs are seeking a solution that allows all religious organizations, not just houses of worship, to follow their religious convictions and continue to serve all who are in need.

The archdiocese recently criticized the selection of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a graduation speaker at Georgetown University because she helped shape the new federal health care law, which mandates that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control for workers.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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