Citizen Link: Federal Court Reinstates Colleges’ Lawsuits Against HHS Mandate
By Bethany Monk
An appellate court on Tuesday ruled in favor of two faith-based colleges saying their respective lawsuits — challenging a government mandate requiring they offer contraceptives and potential abortion-inducing drugs — may move forward.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey, a Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, N.C. in November 2011. And in July of this year, the Becket Fund filed a suit on behalf of Wheaton College, a Christian university in Wheaton, Ill.
The D.C. Court of Appeals also ordered Tuesday that the Obama administration confirm its promise to issue a new rule that would protect the religious freedom of both Wheaton and Belmont Abbey colleges, and other religious universities.
“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious nonprofits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing both colleges.
The government required most businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate by Aug. 1 of this year. Some faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals and dioceses, have a so-called “safe-harbor” and must comply by August 2013.
Wheaton did not originally qualify for the one-year reprieve. However, in response to the college’s lawsuit, the government rewrote its one-year safe-harbor to include Wheaton and other religious schools, including Belmont Abbey, which now have until August 2013 to comply with the HHS mandate. This took effect on Aug. 15.
Lower courts then dismissed the colleges’ challenges this summer saying their cases were premature.
The D.C. Court of Appeals based its decision Tuesday on the Obama administration’s promise to issue a new rule in 2013 that would protect religious nonprofits from the HHS mandate. In its ruling, the court requires that the Obama administration report every 60 days on its progress toward creating the new rule, due by March 31, 2013.
“The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word,” Duncan said.
More than 110 plaintiffs in 42 separate lawsuits are challenging the HHS mandate.
“The mandate is nothing other than a deliberate attack by the government on the religious beliefs of millions of Americans,” said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund. “In the end, the government is forcing religious orders and believers to pay for services they find immoral or pay a stiff fine.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read the Becket Fund’s appeal brief for Wheaton and Belmont Abbey.
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