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Judge Dismisses Notre Dame Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

by Steven Ertelt | South Bend, IN | LifeNews.com | 1/4/13 4:25 PM

National

A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit Notre Dame filed against the HHS mandate compelling religious groups and businesses to pay for drugs for their employees that may cause abortions.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. dismissed the suit, claiming that Notre Dame is sufficiently protected by a very narrowly-drawn religious exemption in the mandate — that pro-life legal groups say does not apply to every religious entity.

As First Things reports:

Judge Miller notes that all other courts but one which have ruled on the matter have found the plaintiff’s claims “unripe”:

None of those rulings bind this court, but the majority are persuasive. Notre Dame’s claims aren’t ripe, and they don’t have standing to bring them. Both conclusions flow from the government’s creation of a safe harbor for certain employers (including Notre Dame) while it re-works the regulation. As a result, Notre Dame faces no penalty or restriction based on the existing regulatory requirement.

In ten other instances not involving the so-called “safe harbor” per se, however, temporary injunctions or restraining orders have been granted to plaintiffs such as Tyndale Publishers and the Triune Health Group. In any event, institutions and the law really are in a bind here because of the government’s promise to finalize a rule protecting certain institutions. And so a court’s ruling depends on whether one trusts the government, as Judge Miller subtly observes:

The present regulatory requirement isn’t sufficiently final for review to be ripe because the defendants have announced it will be modified and have underscored that announcement by providing Notre Dame with a safe harbor that protects it from the regulation as it exists today. Notre Dame lacks standing to attack the present regulatory requirement because it isn’t subject to that requirement, and, taking the defendants at their word, never will be subject to the present regulation.

Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Steubenville, and dozens of Catholic hospitals and organizations have filed a total of 12 lawsuits earlier this year against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration over the controversial HHS mandate.

The lawsuit challenges the Obama administration’s unprecedented mandate that attacks the freedom to practice religion without government interference. Under the HHS mandate, employers must provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraceptives and sterilization procedures.

Franciscan University maintains that the requirement to fund and facilitate such activities violates its core religious and moral convictions as a Catholic university.

“Franciscan University’s mission is and always has been to teach from the heart of the Church,” said University President Father Terence Henry, TOR. “The Obama administration’s mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out that mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely as a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference.”

Other plaintiffs are all Catholic organizations and include Catholic dioceses, schools, universities, and charitable organizations. Numbered among the plaintiffs are the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, as well as the Dioceses of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Rockville Centre, Pittsburgh, and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which represents all seven dioceses in the state.

“The Church is speaking with one unified voice on this issue,” said Father Henry. “Every single American bishop has condemned this unjust mandate as an unconscionable violation of religious liberty. If allowed to stand, it will coerce Christians into cooperating with acts that violate core tenets of our faith.”

When first proposed in August 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate was met by strong objections from numerous Catholic bishops, hospitals, and institutions. Although a small exemption for some religious institutions was written into the original proposal, it was too narrow to cover the vast majority of them, particularly those, like Catholic universities, which both employ and serve people of other faiths or no faith at all. The mandate effectively puts the federal government in the position of deciding which organizations are “religious enough,” the lawsuits claim.

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In late January 2012, President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the mandate would go into force as originally planned, with no adequate accommodations made for individuals or groups who objected on religious grounds.

The University of Notre Dame said the requirement would still call on religious groups to “facilitate” coverage “for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“The federal mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are contrary to Catholic teaching. It also authorizes the government to determine which organizations are sufficiently ‘religious’ to warrant an exemption from the requirement,” the statement said.