By Kenneth Lovett / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, May 21, 2012, 1:34 PM
Roman Catholic dioceses, schools target White House over health care rule
ALBANY — Timothy Cardinal Dolan is turning to a higher power to squash President Obama’s mandate that religious employers provide workers with birth control coverage.
Dolan led 43 Catholic institutions across the country in filing 12 federal lawsuits to spike the Obama administration’s requirement — and he’s prepared to battle “all the way [to the Supreme Court] if we have to,” his spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
“This is fundamental,” Zwilling added. "It's not a Catholic issue. It's not really a religious issue. It's an American issue.”
Catholic leaders are apoplectic the contraception rule will take effect as scheduled on Aug. 1.
“Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now,” Dolan said.
Dolan said Obama’s contraception mandate is contrary to the “deeply held and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs” of Catholic organizations.
Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services imposed the rule to improve the health care of women.
Dolan and his Catholic allies can wage an aggressive courtroom fight — the powerhouse Jones Day law firm is handling their cases on a pro bono basis, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Dolan heads.
Walsh said this is the first time she can remember mass lawsuits like this on an issue against the government in her nearly three decades with the conference.
“As far as we’re concerned, the First Amendment is on the line — our ministries,” she said.
“The President talks of an accommodation, but that’s all empty promises.”
The White House had no comment Monday, but referred reporters to Obama’s past comments that under his rule, religious organizations won’t have to directly pay for the services.
If there is a religious objection, the insurance company would be required to step in and offer the birth control services at no cost to the employee.
Dolan and the Catholic groups argue the exemption does not go far enough — and insist it’s a government overreach on their constitution rights.
“Does The First Amendment of the Constitution mean what it says?” Zwilling added. “You can't get more basic or more important than that."
“It’s not about winning a lawsuit. It’s about protecting our freedom, upholding the First Amendment.”
The lawsuits filed Monday are on top of at least five that were previously filed and still pending.
During a lobbying visit to Albany in March, Dolan predicted the issue will be resolved by the courts and not a political deal.