(CNSNews.com) – In a statement to mark International Religious Freedom Day, Secretary of State John Kerry said he and President Barack Obama consider religious liberty “a priority” even as some 75 lawsuits have been filed to fight the Obamacare regulation that would force Catholics and others to pay for health insurance plans that offer contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs without co-pays.
“The freedom of religion is a priority for President Obama, as it is for me as Secretary of State, because it is essential to human dignity and individual liberty, and it remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement,” Kerry said in the statement on Sunday.
Kerry also said the United States celebrates the occasion “humbly” given that our history includes religious discrimination dating as far back as the pilgrim settlers, and Catholics in the more recent past.
After the first settlements by the Pilgrims, who were mostly Protestants, said Kerry, “We also know that centuries later, we would see Catholics persecuted simply for being who they were and believing what they believed.”
Earlier this year, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the draft of an adjusted version of the Obamacare regulation, supposedly designed to answer the concerns of the Catholic Church and other Christian groups that had raised objections, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released comments stating that the adjusted rule remained an "unjust and unlawful mandate" that violated religious liberty in America as provided under the First Amendment.
At least 75 lawsuits with as many as 200 plaintiffs have been filed to fight the Obamacare regulation, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s website.
“The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty led the charge against the administration’s unconstitutional HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate – which forces many religious organizations to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, or pay crippling fines,” the website states.
Those 75 cases, in various stages of adjudication, represent non-profit and for-profit hospitals, universities, businesses, schools, and people “all speaking with one voice to affirm the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution,” according to The Becket Fund.
The website details the lawsuits, including the ones filed by 30 for-profit organizations – the high-profile Hobby Lobby business among them -- that have been granted injunctions protecting them from the regulation while legal proceedings move forward.
In his remarks, Kerry said that freedom of religion “is a core American value” that is “enshrined” in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We call on the international community – governments, civil society, and citizens alike – to speak out against religious persecution, and to stand unequivocally for religious freedom,” Kerry said.
In a letter to the administration in March of this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said “[t]he current proposal, like previous ones, would mandate coverage of abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, sterilization procedures for women, and related education and counseling in health plans,” and “no exemption or accommodation is available at all for the vast majority of individuals or institutional stakeholders with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage.”
“The mandate continues to represent an unprecedented (and now sustained) violation of religious liberty by the federal government,” said the bishops. “As applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage, the mandate violates the First Amendment.”
In January 2012, the bishops had Catholic priests across the nation read a letter about the issue, stating, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”
“People of faith cannot be made second class citizens,” said the letter. “We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights.”