Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Priests for LifeOn February 15, 2012, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), along with co-counsel and civil rights attorney Charles S. LiMandri, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s “contraception” mandate.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Priests for Life, a national, Catholic, pro-life organization based in New York.  [Read the complaint here]

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert J. Muise commented, “The Obama administration has declared war on the Bill of Rights, and in particular, it has declared war on religious freedom.  In his zeal to placate his secular base on the far left, Obama has trashed the Constitution and has unwittingly united people of faith.”  Watch AFLC’s video blog on this case:


As alleged in the complaint, Obama’s “contraception” mandate “violates Priests for Life’s rights to the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.”  The mandate requires employers, including Priests for Life, to provide insurance plans that include coverage for contraception, sterilization, abortifacients, and related education and counseling or incur substantial penalty fines.  This mandate directly conflicts with the deeply-held religious beliefs of Priests for Life.

Moreover, by requiring Priests for Life to provide education and counseling regarding contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients, the mandate also compels Priests for Life to engage in speech that violates its sincerely-held religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

Watch Priests for Life National Director Father Pavone’s video regarding this lawsuit.

Priests for Life holds and actively professes religious beliefs that include traditional Christian teaching on the nature and purpose of human sexuality.  In particular, in accordance with Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Priests for Life believes that human sexuality has two primary purposes: to “most closely unit[e] husband and wife” and “for the generation of new lives.”  Priests for Life believes and actively professes the Catholic Church teaching that “[t]o use this divine gift destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and purpose is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His Will.”  Priests for Life believes and teaches that “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means”—including contraception and sterilization—is a grave sin.

The complaint asks the federal court to declare that the “contraceptive” mandate is unconstitutional and to permanently enjoin its enforcement.

UPDATE (April 23, 2012): The Department of Justice filed a letter with the court stating that they intend to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” You can view the letter here. AFLC has seven days to respond.

UPDATE (April 30, 2012): AFLC filed a response to the Department of Justice letter.  You can read AFLC’s response here.

UPDATE (May 14, 2012): AFLC filed a First Amended Complaint to add additional factual allegations and legal claims.  Read AFLC’s amended complaint here.

UPDATE (August 29, 2012): AFLC filed a response to the Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Read AFLC’s response here.

UPDATE (October 19, 2012): AFLC serves its motion for a preliminary of injunction.  Read the motion here and the memorandum of law here.

UPDATE (November 9, 2012): AFLC files with New York Federal Court its motion and legal memoranda in support of its request for a temporary restraining order / preliminary injunction.  Read the memorandum of law in support of the motion here.  And read AFLC’s reply here.

UPDATE (November 19, 2012): AFLC filed a supplemental authority letter with the court, calling to the court’s attention a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the “contraception” mandate. Read the letter here.

UPDATE (December 7, 2012): AFLC filed another supplemental authority letter with the court, calling the court’s attention to a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (same court as AFLC’s challenge, but different judge), which denied the government’s motion to dismiss the Catholic Archdiocese of NY’s challenge to the HHS mandate.  In The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sibelius, the court rejected the very same arguments advanced by Obama’s lawyers to dismiss AFLC’s legal challenge. Read the letter here.

UPDATE (December 21, 2012):  The federal government entered into a stipulation filed in federal court that it would not enforce the HHS contraception mandate against Priests for Life pending a revision in the rules that would protect religious liberty.

UPDATE (January 25, 2013): AFLC filed another supplemental authority letter with the court, calling the court’s attention to a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which rejected the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning in Hobby Lobby and stated as follows: “The religious-liberty violation at issue here inheres in the coerced coverage of contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services, not—or perhaps more precisely, not only—in the later purchase or use of contraception or related services.”  AFLC argued that this ruling supports its claim that the government’s proposed rule change will not change the substantive constitutional and statutory claims at issue.  Therefore, there is no basis for dismissing any claims prior to the formal announcement of this rule change.

UPDATE (March 14, 2013): AFLC filed another supplemental authority letter with the court as a response to the two “notice of supplemental authority” letters filed by the federal government.

UPDATE (April 8, 2013): AFLC filed a letter brief with the court, highlighting the fact that the government has broken its promise to promulgate a “new” rule by March 2013 that would protect the religious liberty rights of organizations such as Priests for Life.  The letter also brings to the court’s attention a ruling by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas who denied the government’s motion to dismiss in a similar HHS mandate challenge brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. Read the letter here.

UPDATE (April 12, 2013): A New York federal judge dismissed Priests for Life’s complaint “without prejudice” because the government claimed that new implementing regulations would not be finalized until August 1, 2013.  Even though these new regulations will not remedy the constitutional and statutory defects of the HHS mandate, the judge decided not to hold the case in abeyance pending the finalized regulations.  Consequently, Priests for Life will need to refile its complaint in August, which AFLC will do on behalf of Priests for Life.  Meanwhile, the lawsuit successfully prevented the government from enforcing the mandate against Priests for Life in 2013.