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Federal court orders Catholic dioceses to comply with Obama’s HHS abortifacient mandate

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PITTSBURGH, PA, February 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a district court ruling granting two Catholic dioceses and a private Christian college in western Pennsylvania religious exemptions from the Obama administration’s controversial HHS contraception mandate, which requires all employers to provide full, copay-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs.

Geneva College and the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie were previously granted exemptions from the mandate on the grounds that facilitating access to the required drugs and procedures violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.  But on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit unanimously reversed those rulings, declaring that the Obama administration’s “accommodation” for religious objectors, which permits certain faith-based organizations to sign a refusal form passing the cost of coverage on to the insurance company, does not burden their freedom of religious expression.

Both dioceses and the college are weighing their options for appeal, determining whether to seek an en banc ruling from the Third Circuit or go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said he was dismayed by the ruling.

“Such a ruling should cause deep concern for anyone who cares about any First Amendment rights, especially the right to teach and practice a religious faith. This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach,” Zubik said.

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Attorney Gregory Baylor of Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing Geneva College in court, said the ruling pushed the college into a situation akin to blackmail.

“All Americans should oppose unjust laws that force people — under threat of punishment — to give up their fundamental freedoms and act contrary to their beliefs,” Baylor said in a statement for the college. “The administration has no business punishing people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”

Geneva College objects only to providing coverage for abortifacient drugs.  Both Catholic dioceses refuse to provide contraceptives, sterilizations, or abortifacients, as all three are considered gravely sinful by the Catholic Church.

The Third Circuit is the fourth appellate court to rule that the Obama administration’s “accommodation” does not violate the religious rights of faith-based employers.  Four additional appeals courts are expected to weigh in on the matter in the coming months.  Ultimately, the issue is expected to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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