Catholics in Nashville sue over health law

Friday, November 29, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 48

NASHVILLE (AP) — A lawsuit filed by the Catholic Diocese of Nashville says the new federal health care law requires it to violate its religious principals by offering contraceptive services to employees.

The organization and several local affiliates filed suit against the federal government last week saying they should not be required to pay for the services.

The Tennessean ( reports the complaint was filed against the U.S. Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services departments. It is among several that have been filed around the country.

"The lawsuit is about one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference," according to the complaint.

Catholics believe life begins at conception and contraceptive drugs are morally wrong.

The Nashville diocese has about 1,000 full-time employees who get subsidized health care benefits through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

"Consistent with Church teachings regarding the sanctity of life, the Diocesan Health plans specifically exclude coverage for abortion-inducing products, contraceptives and sterilization," the lawsuit states.

Diocese of Nashville spokesman Rick Musacchio said the suit does not seek to limit those services.

"The lawsuit says that the government has acted inappropriately and unconstitutionally by forcing Catholic agencies to facilitate contraception and other objectionable services." He said facilitating means paying for the coverage.

The lawsuit is similar to complaints filed in other states.

In general, "access to contraceptive services is not the issue," said Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based group. "It's who pays for them and whether or not you can put them on the back of someone who religiously objects."

Although the federal government has offered some exemptions, critics say its definition of a religious organization is too narrow.

Most of the plaintiffs "do not qualify under the Government's narrow definition of 'religious employers,' even though they are religious organizations under any reasonable definition of the term," the complaint says.