STEUBENVILLE - The president of Franciscan University of Steubenville said Monday the private school will pursue legal relief from the federal health care laws and will ask school alumni to lobby federal representatives across the country to amend the mandate that requires insurers to offer birth control.
"It is possible the U.S. Supreme Court might make a ruling in June that the federal health care mandate is unconstitutional. But if the Supreme Court doesn't send this mandate out of the ball park we will also contact our Ohio senators and representatives as well as senators and representatives across the country. We have alumni living in every state and we will ask all of them to contact their representatives and urge the repeal of this law," stated the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR.
"This is not just a Catholic issue. It is an issue for all people. It attacks our basic religious freedom. This is a do-or-die issue for Americans," said Henry.
DISCUSSING HEALTH CARE LAWSUIT — The Rev. Terry Henry, left, TOR, president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Tom Sofio, university spokesman, discussed a federal lawsuit filed Monday by the school and other Catholic institutions against the federal government. - Dave Gossett
"Our forefathers had the wisdom to create three branches of government. That is why we are seeking relief from the judicial branch as well as the legislative branch. "We are seeking the mandate not compel us or coerce us to provide things like abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, contraception. All we're asking for is the freedom to practice our religion," continued Henry during a Monday afternoon press conference at the J.C. Williams Center on campus.
Earlier Monday Henry met with university faculty members and support staff to announce plans to file the lawsuit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Monday and seeks to have the mandate declared unconstitutional and stop the government from enforcing the requirement.
Henry said the university retained Jones Day, one of the world's largest law firms, with whom the university has had a relationship for the past 20 years, "because it has the resources to fight the government as long as it takes, and we will settle for no less than a restoration of our First Amendment right to freedom of religion."
Henry said 42 other separate plaintiffs filed a total of 12 lawsuits Monday in U.S. District courts around the country. Those plaintiffs are all Catholic organizations and include the University of Notre Dame; the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis; as well as the Catholic dioceses of Dallas, Fort Worth, Rockville Centre, Pittsburgh and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which represents all seven dioceses in the state.
"The Catholic church is speaking with one unified voice on this issue. Every single American bishop has condemned this unjust mandate as an unconscionable violation of religious liberty. If allowed to stand, it will coerce Christians into cooperating with acts that violate core tenets of our faith," stated Henry.
"We have kept the Diocese of Steubenville updated on our planned legal actions," said Henry.
Diocesan spokesperson Pat DeFrancis said the diocese does not have a bishop since former Bishop R. Daniel Conlon was transferred to the diocese of Joliet, Ill., in 2011.
"Monsignor Kurt H. Kemo serves as the diocesan administrator. It is believed that participation in the lawsuit by the Diocese of Steubenville would go beyond the point of ordinary administration, which is the way a diocesan administrator is called to serve under canon law," according to a statement issued Monday afternoon by DeFrancis.
"Today is an unprecedented day in the history of our school. I never thought I would ever be part of a lawsuit against our federal government. Our lawsuit came because the federal government is overstepping its authority," said Henry.
The university announced last week full-time undergraduate students will not be required to carry health insurance starting this fall, and the university will not offer student health care insurance.
Henry said health insurance for university employees will remain in effect but added the university will not pay for birth control provisions required under the federal health care law.
"Any employee who seeks birth control paid for by our insurance is free to pay for the service themselves. And if they choose to work for another institution that supports the health care mandate, I will support them in that decision," said Henry.
"Franciscan University's mission is and always has been to teach from the heart of the Church. The Obama administration's mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out that mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely as a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference," he continued.
"Under no circumstances can Catholics be both in compliance with this new law and at the same time live the faith that we believe. Franciscan University will continue to stand with the Church in its opposition to this mandate. Our ancestors came to America because they knew that on these shores they would be free to faithfully live what they believed. This mandate is not only a grave infringement on religious liberty, it is a betrayal of those who sacrificed to make this country what it is today," said Henry.
The university first signaled its public opposition to the Obama administration health care mandate in February when Henry said he was prepared to not comply with a federal mandate requiring employers to provide birth control measures as part of employee health care coverage.
"We will not comply with this new law and will face whatever we have to face. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. But we are drawing a line in the sand that we will not cross. And if we are forced into a compromise there would be no sense for Franciscan University to exist," Henry said in the February interview.
"It is our hope and fervent prayer that the courts and Congress will check this monumental overstep of the Executive Branch as soon as possible. We will hope and pray this mandate is defeated as soon as possible," Henry added.