Belmont Mandate Lawsuit Dismissed
Special Report - July 23, 2012
A federal judge has thrown out the first lawsuit filed by a religious group challenging the new federal mandate that nearly all health insurance plans include coverage for “all FDA-approved contraceptives” with few religious exceptions. District of Columbia Federal Court Judge James E. Boasberg dismissed the lawsuit filed by Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina in an order handed down on July 18. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the suit on behalf of Belmont Abbey in November 2011. In Belmont Abbey College v. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the school challenged the August 2011 mandate issued by HHS requiring most health insurance plans to include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception, all of which violate Catholic teaching. Belmont Abbey alleges that this mandate violates its rights under the “First Amendment, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
The requirement does exempt very specific religious organizations, which, as defined by HHS, would primarily only include houses of worship while likely excluding other religious organizations, such as hospitals, colleges, and other service organizations. The Administration amended the rule earlier this year in response to complaints from religious leaders and organizations about the threat it poses to religious liberty. The change would require insurance companies to provide the controversial services free of charge to employees of organizations that object to their provision on religious grounds. Critics of the rule, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, are unsatisfied with the change, arguing it represents an accounting gimmick that will result in higher premiums across the board to cover the “free” services offered by insurance companies.
In his opinion, Judge Boasberg dismissed Belmont Abbey’s complaint. “Because the government has indicated its intention to amend the regulations to better take into account religious objections and because Plaintiff [Belmont Abbey College] is protected in the interim by a safe-harbor provision,” Judge Boasberg wrote, “the Court agrees that Belmont’s injury is too speculative to confer standing and that the case is also not ripe for decision.” However, the opinion did conclude by stating, “At the end of the day, the Court offers no opinion on the merits of the current contraception-coverage regulations or any proposed future ones. If Plaintiff is displeased by the ultimate regulations, it may certainly renew its suit at that time. All the Court holds here is that Belmont has no basis to proceed now.”
In a statement, Becket Fund senior legal counsel, Hanna Smith emphasized that Judge Boasberg’s decision centered on the technical issues in the lawsuit, and that he “thinks that the case should be delayed for a matter of months to give HHS time to fix the Mandate.”
“The decision says nothing about the merits of Belmont Abbey’s religious freedom claims, and has no effect on any of the 22 other cases currently pending in federal court,” Smith said. “It simply delays Belmont Abbey College’s ability to challenge the Mandate for a few months, and the court made clear we have the right to re-file the case if HHS does not fix the problem. We are reviewing the decision and considering our options, but one thing is clear: Belmont Abbey College and the Becket Fund will continue the fight for religious liberty, even if this case is delayed for a few months”
According to the Becket Fund, at least 56 plaintiffs have filed 23 cases, including Belmont Abbey’s recently dismissed case, challenging the constitutionality of the mandate.
More Oppose Contraceptive Mandate - June 19, 2012
43 Catholic Groups Challenge Mandate - May 23, 2012
HHS Rule Requires Abortion Mandate - March 20, 2012
Majority Oppose Contraceptive Mandate - March 16, 2012
Seven States Challenge Contraceptive Mandate - February 27, 2012
Insurance "Accommodation" Unsatisfactory - February 15, 2012
Religious Leaders Oppose Mandate - January 31, 2012
Feds Keep Contraceptive Mandate - January 23, 2012
Evangelical College Joins Contraceptive Challenge - December 29, 2011
College Challenges Contraceptive Mandate - November 14, 2011
Administration Requires Free Contraception- August 4, 2011
Becket Fund Defends Belmont Abbey - October 12, 2009
Federal Agency Mandates Abortion Coverage - August 17, 2009
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