Friday, 04 January 2013 08:23
By Christopher M. Riggs
The federal government on Dec. 18 was ordered to make good on its promise to issue a new rule that would protect the religious liberty of two colleges who have challenged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate.
The cases, filed by Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College, were dismissed last summer as premature by two lower courts. The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has reinstated those cases and ordered the Obama administration to report back every 60 days, beginning in mid-February, until the new rule that protects the colleges’ religious freedom is issued. The court gave the administration a deadline of March 31.
Attorney Emily Hardman, communications director for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview last week that the decision was a “huge ruling in favor of religious institutions.”
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the most powerful courts in the country, she said, and the court has now addressed the issue of whether or not the religious colleges and the religious institutions can move their cases forward – despite the fact that the administration has given a one-year safe harbor.
Hardman said the cases were dismissed by lower courts who said it was too early to take legal action because the administration had promised an accommodation.
“Our arguments were, well, it’s not too early – these people are suffering present harm,” she said. “Although there’s a safe harbor and the administration has said they would fix it, they have given no real concrete basis on when they would change it, or what they would change, and if that would actually accommodate them.”
Governments make promises all the time that they don’t follow through with, Hardman said.
“What’s so great about the ruling is the court held the administration’s feet to the fire,” she said, adding that the ruling “held the government accountable in a way that they had not been accountable before.”
It is also significant that the D.C. Court of Appeals said the cases, which had been previously dismissed, would now be held in abeyance, and that the administration would have to be accountable to follow through with what it said it would do.
“That is not something that is super common,” Hardman said.
What does the mandate require?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Preventive Services Rule, commonly known as the HHS Mandate, would require many, if not most, religious employers to provide through their employee benefits plans procedures and pharmaceuticals that the religious employers have judged to be immoral.
Justice Sotomayor denies Hobby Lobby’s request
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a request by Hobby Lobby Wednesday, Dec. 26, to block part of the federal health-care law that requires employee health-care plans to provide insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and similar emergency contraception pills.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said at the firms’ website that Hobby Lobby will continue its appeal before the Tenth Circuit.
“The Supreme Court merely decided not to get involved in the case at this time. It left open the possibility of review after their appeal is completed in the Tenth Circuit. The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees. To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.”
For updates regarding several of the important religious liberty cases, go to www.becketfund.org.