Diocese against contraception requirement

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The Bishops of Richmond and Arlington have has some harsh words for the Obama administration.  They are lashing out against a new requirement for employers, including Catholic employers, to cover contraception.

A very strongly worded letter from the bishops to their parishioners said they cannot and will not comply with what they're calling an "unjust law."  But legal experts told NBC12 they might have an uphill battle.

It is a final rule from the federal government on a hot button issue, which was announced a little over a week ago.  It requires virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA approved prescription contraceptives.

Now the bishops of Richmond and Arlington, which cover all Catholics in the Commonwealth, are joining together to fight the mandate.  In a letter dated Monday, the two write the rule violates the first amendment of the constitution.

"Catholics are being asked to compromise their religious freedom by being forced to pay for health coverage insurance for something that violates their conscience," explained Spokesman Steve Neill.

Kent Willis with the ACLU of Virginia said there is consistent tension between religion and government but that may not be enough to disregard the law.

"It would violate the first amendment if people were forced against their conscience to take contraceptives or to have an abortion, but that is not what this does," Willis told us.

There is a narrow exemption for "religious employers," which is defined as houses of worship or other non-profits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith.

We checked in with Bon Secours, the catholic hospitals in our area, which told us it is disappointed that exemption has not been expanded to include most Catholic health systems.

The policy goes into effect August 1st of this year but the administration has given religious institutions another year to figure out how they'll comply.  In the meantime, the Diocese is asking Catholics to contact their representatives in Congress.

If you'd like to see the letter from the Richmond Diocese, click under All Access.

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