Federal Court Backs Religious Freedom

News: US News
by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 22, 2021   

Protects Catholic sisters, doctors from covering transgender surgery

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BISMARCK, N.D. (ChurchMilitant.com) - On the day before self-identifying Catholic Joe Biden was inaugurated president, a federal court came down on the side of a Catholic religious order seeking to do its work in alignment with its faith.

Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center

On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota blocked an Obama-era requirement known as the Transgender Mandate, part of Obamacare, which forced doctors to perform gender transition procedures on patients, including children, even if the doctor believes the treatment or hormone therapy could harm the patient.

The term "gender-transition procedures" in the ruling includes surgery, counseling, provision of pharmaceuticals or other treatments sought to further gender transition.

The court in Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Azar granted protection to the Religious Sisters of Mercy, the Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center, SMP Health System and the University of Mary, which argued that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate banning discrimination on the basis of sex does not extend to forcing Catholics to cover sex-change surgery.

'Balance of Harms' Analysis Favors Religious

Becket Law, a firm dedicated to "religious liberty for all," represented the plaintiffs.

Mandate banning discrimination on the basis of sex does not extend to forcing Catholics to cover sex change surgery.

In the ruling, Becket counsel argued that "balance of harms tilts decisively" in favor of the nuns, the Catholic university and Catholic health care organizations: "Absent an injunction, they will either be 'forced to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs' by performing and covering gender-transition procedures 'or to incur severe monetary penalties for refusing to comply.'"

News Report: Biden's Transgender Order

Senior counsel underscored the importance of the ruling.

Luke Goodrich

"Now more than ever, Americans are grateful for the sacrifices of our medical professionals who serve on the front lines and use their training and expertise to serve the vulnerable," said Luke Goodrich in a press release. "The court's decision recognizes our medical heroes' right to practice medicine in line with their conscience and without politically motivated interference from government bureaucrats."

Court Interpretation

The court issued its conclusions in unambiguous terms.

First, it declared that requiring "the Catholic Plaintiffs to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures violates their sincerely held religious beliefs without satisfying strict scrutiny under the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]." 

It also found that the EEOC's interpretation of Title VII was wrong, and that the organization could not use it to force CBA and its members to provide insurance coverage for "gender-transition procedures." 

The court also placed a permanent ban on the HHS and EEOC from ever imposing such an interpretation on these Catholic organizations in the future:

Accordingly, the Court PERMANENTLY ENJOINS AND RESTRAINS HHS, Secretary Azar, their divisions, bureaus, agents, officers, commissioners, employees, and anyone acting in concert or participation with them, including their successors in office, from interpreting or enforcing Section 1557 of the ACA, 42 U.S.C. § 18116(a), or any implementing regulations thereto against the Catholic Plaintiffs in a manner that would require them to perform or provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures, including by denying federal financial assistance because of their failure to perform or provide insurance coverage for such procedures or by otherwise pursuing, charging, or assessing any penalties, fines, assessments, investigations, or other enforcement actions.

The court repeated its holding against the EEOC.

Freedom in Concept and Practice

Speaking to the legal win, Goodrich added: 

These religious doctors and hospitals provide top-notch medical care to all patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. All they’re asking is that they be allowed to continue serving their patients as they've done for decades without being forced to perform controversial, medically unsupported procedures that are against their religious beliefs and potentially harmful to their patients. The Constitution and federal law require no less.

Becket Law places a high premium on religious freedom and the right of all individuals to live according to their consciences — without government coercion. According to its website:

Individual religious freedom — akin to "freedom of conscience" — is the human right to believe, express beliefs and act according to the dictates of an individual’s conscience. Religious freedom does not merely enable us to contemplate our convictions; it enables us to execute them. Because of this, religion cannot be confined to the sphere of private life. Religious freedom protects the rights of individuals to observe their faith at all times — whether at work, at church, in the town hall, in the newspaper column or elsewhere in the public sphere.

Peter D. Welte, Chief Judge United States District Court, issued the ruling.

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