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Court Rules Obama HHS Mandate Doesn’t Protect Religious Liberty

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 12/6/12 5:01 PM

National

In what a pro-life legal group describes as a “landmark ruling against the HHS Mandate,” a federal judge late yesterday ruled against the Obama administration’s assertion that the government’s supposed “safe harbor” was inadequate to protect religious organizations from suffering imminent harm.

“We are pleased the court recognized the significant harm that the mandate is causing right now,” said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

He told LifeNews today, ”Religious organizations that object to the mandate are subject to private lawsuits, as well as being faced with critical budgeting, and health insurance decisions in the face of millions of dollars in fines. Truly the ‘safe harbor’ is neither a harbor nor safe.”

The U.S. District Court ruling allows the Archdiocese of New York to proceed with its lawsuit against the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate.

In it, the concluded that “There is no ‘Trust us changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.” The court further stated that “ignoring the speeding train that is coming toward plaintiffs in the hope that it will stop might well be inconsistent with the fiduciary duties that plaintiffs’ directors or officers owe to their members.”

Judge Cogan’s said “the First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution. To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards government self-restraint and self-correction.”

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League also commented on the decision, in a statement to LifeNews.

“Not only did the Obama administration lose, it got a well deserved lecture from the bench: it was taken to task for misrepresenting the current burdens that the HHS mandate has placed on the New York Archdiocese,” he said. “The Obama team tried to have it both ways, and it failed. On the one hand, it ordered Catholic entities to get ready to implement the mandate, and on the other hand it said that because some modifications may yet be made, complaints that the mandate has already burdened the archdiocese are baseless. But U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan wasn’t buying it.”

Cogan said the Obama administration’s arguments “ring hollow” and quoted the HHS Interim Final Rules back to the Obama lawyers.

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Donohue said the Rules made clear that “these interim final regulations require significant lead time to implement,” emphasizing that “in order to allow plans and health insurance coverage to be designed and implemented on a timely basis, regulations must be published and available to the public well in advance of the effective date of the requirements.”

“It is impossible to improve on Judge Cogan’s ruling,” he concluded. “The battle over the HHS mandate is not over, but what happened yesterday bodes well for those who believe in religious liberty.”

The most recent poll shows a plurality of Americans oppose the mandate.

In a recent appeals court case, an order, issued by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, puts the HHS mandate on hold pending the outcome of the appeals process, prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring the business owner, who contends the mandate violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, to comply with the mandate which requires employers to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization that focuses on constitutional law, represents Frank R. O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC — a holding company based in St. Louis, Missouri, which operates a number of businesses that explore, mine, and process refractory and ceramic raw materials.

The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2012, marked the first legal challenge to the HHS mandate from a private business owner and his company. Until the suit was filed, only religious organizations or institutions brought lawsuits challenging the mandate.

In addition to the O’Brien case, the ACLJ has filed two other direct challenges to the HHS mandate and filed amicus briefs backing other challenges in more than a dozen cases.

The Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to take a new look at the controversial Obamacare law and whether it unconstitutionally forces taxpayers to fund abortions and birth control, violating religious freedoms. The high court is ultimately expected to resolve the debate over the HHS mandate.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, a federal district court judge in Chicago issued a preliminary injunction requested by the religious publisher Tyndale House in its challenge to the mandate. HHS has denied Tyndale House’s request for an exemption, saying that it didn’t meet the government’s definition of a “religious employer” because it operates as a “for-profit” business.

But while Tyndale House won an important victory, at the same time the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store chain, were losing their challenge to the HHS mandate in Oklahoma City. Like other challengers, they said that paying for such coverage violated their religious beliefs.

There are now 40 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) including suits from Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, and Ave Maria University.