A U.S. District Court dismissed Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit against the department of Health and Human Services over the contraceptive mandate.
While this would seem devastating to the cause of religious liberty, the judge, an Obama appointee, didn’t actually judge the merits of the Catholic college’s case. The court dismissed the case because the Obama administration had not yet amended regulations to better reflect religious objections as it has promised to do. The court stated in its opinion that “Belmont’s injury is too speculative to confer standing and that the case is also not ripe for decision.”
“At the end of the day, the Court offers no opinion on the merits of the current contraception-coverage regulations or any proposed future ones,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in the decision. “If Plaintiff (Belmont Abbey) is displeased by the ultimate regulations, it may certainly renew its suit at that time. All the court holds here is that Belmont has no basis to proceed now.”
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Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit was the first suit filed against the HHS. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey College in November of last year.
“Yesterday’s decision in the Belmont Abbey College case was on technical grounds: the judge thinks that the case should be delayed for a matter of months to give HHS time to fix the mandate. The decision says nothing about the merits of Belmont Abbey’s religious freedom claims, and has no effect on any of the 22 other cases currently pending in federal court,” said Hannah Smith, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty senior legal counsel in a statement. “It simply delays Belmont Abbey College’s ability to challenge the mandate for a few months, and the court made clear we have the right to re-file the case if HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) does not fix the problem. We are reviewing the decision and considering our options, but one thing is clear: Belmont Abbey College and the Becket Fund will continue the fight for religious liberty, even if this case is delayed for a few months.”
When the Obama administration filed it’s first legal response to Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund told The Cardinal Newman Society that the administration didn’t argue at all on behalf of the constitutionality of the mandate.
“You might have expected them to argue that we don’t have a constitutional claim,” he said at the time. “But instead they said ‘hey didn’t you hear we may fix it someday?’”
Rienzi called it “really cynical” to have a law on the books but then argue that the court shouldn’t look at the law, because the administration said they’d fix it some day in the future.
But that argument seems to be the principal motive behind the court’s dismissal.
This has been an eventful week for the cause of religious liberty in that this is the second case against the HHS mandate to the dismissed this week –the first to be dismissed was a case brought by seven attorneys general alongside a number of other plaintiffs. The case was dismissed on similar grounds. But an evangelical college, Wheaton College, also filed a new suit alongside The Catholic University of America.
Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder was reportedly out of town this week and wasn’t available for comment.