Thursday, July 19, 2012

Judge dismisses states' lawsuit against HHS mandate

U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom
(EWTNA federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by seven states and several Catholic organizations against the contraception mandate, saying they lacked standing to challenge the federal rule that has become the center of a major religious freedom dispute.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the decision “completely disregards the federal government’s continued shell game” about the rule.

“Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated,” he said July 17.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt also said he disagrees with the decision, noting that the “violations need to be heard and the federal government held accountable.”

The lawsuit concerns a Health and Human Services mandate that requires most employers with over 50 employees to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Its narrow religious exemption would not include most large Catholic institutions.

Nebraska U.S. District Court Judge Warren K. Urborn on July 17 said that the states failed to prove they would suffer immediate harm when the rule is enacted, the Associated Press reports. He also cited the Obama administration’s statements that it would work with religious groups to try to accommodate their objections.

The plaintiffs in the case included Republican attorneys general from Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Other plaintiffs were three Nebraska-based organizations, Catholic Social Services, St. Pius X Catholic High School and the Catholic Mutual Relief Society, in addition to a Catholic sister and a lay missionary.

Judge Urborn said the Catholic groups failed to show that the religious exemption wouldn’t apply to them.

The lawsuit argued that the rule violated the rights of employers who object to the use of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. It said the rule would force religious employers and organizations to drop health insurance coverage and thereby raise enrollment in state Medicaid programs and increase the numbers of patients at state-subsidized health systems.

The U.S. Justice Department had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Both Bruning and Pruitt said they will confer with their colleagues to consider whether to appeal.

Pruitt noted that the ruling does not address whether the mandate violates the First Amendment. Rather, it was “merely a decision on whether the plaintiffs can file a lawsuit at this time.”

Matt Bowman, legal counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom, echoed Pruitt.

“The court didn't rule that the government can punish people of faith for making decisions in accordance with their faith, it just ruled that the mandate does not apparently apply to those specific entities,” he told EWTN News July 18.

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