STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK, February 9, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - Despite the fact that his organization is named “Priests for Life” and its national director is an ordained clergyman, Fr. Frank Pavone says the pro-life Catholic group does not qualify for the Obama administration’s narrow definition of a religious organization. Thus, the organization would be forced to pay for all contraception, including abortfacient drugs, under Obama’s controversial birth control mandate.
This morning, the New York-based pro-life group filed suit against the Obama administration, saying the new mandate violates its First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in California court, seeks injunctive relief from the HHS rules.
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Since Priests for Life is a private association registered as an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit educational corporation, it does not qualify for the Department of Health and Human Services religious exemption - which covers only churches and religious orders. A press release from the organization says it “therefore must comply with these conscience-violating mandates, decrees, and punitive measures.”
Priests for Life says it must begin implementing the contraceptive rule by this August. Religious institutions other than churches have until August 2013 to comply.
“We don’t need a year, nor do we need a moment, to determine what we are going to do, or to ‘adapt’ to the rule,” Fr. Pavone said. “The rule is unjust. You don’t adapt to injustice; you oppose it.”
For legal assistance, the organization turned to Charles LiMandri, a San Diego-based civil rights lawyer who helped save California’s Mt. Soledad Cross monument from an ACLU lawsuit and was general counsel during the Proposition 8 campaign. “This is the first time in history any administration has used brute force to compel someone to violate his conscience or moral convictions,” LaMandri said. “It’s also antithetical to the core American principles of religious liberty and freedom from invasions of privacy.”
The plaintiff is ready to see the case go all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
Despite media chatter about how the mandate will play in the 2012 election, Fr. Pavone said the issue can no longer be seen as “just a partisan political football.”
“It’s unthinkable that President Obama would force Americans of any faith to violate their consciences.” he said. “Yet here he is, arrogantly imposing these regulations that clearly discriminate against Catholics and all Christians, as well as people of any faith who believe in the sanctity of innocent human life. This has clearly become a human rights case.”
Fr. Frank Pavone added, “Religious freedom is not a right just of religious groups; it’s a right of every American.”