Federal judge rules NY Archdiocese case against HHS mandate may proceed
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) — In a strongly worded judgment a federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit from the Archdiocese of New York against the Obama administration’s HHS mandate may proceed.
The Obama administration had argued that the archdiocese’s lawsuit was premature, since the administration may still make adjustments to the mandate that would stop it from having any effect on the archdiocese.
After announcing the mandate in February, the Obama administration had announced a “safe harbor” that would prevent the mandate from applying to certain religious employers until August 2013.
However, Judge Brian Cogan slapped down the “safe harbor” argument, saying, “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,” said the judge. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.”
The judge observed that the archdiocese is preparing for the possibility of millions of dollars in damages should the mandate take effect. He also pointed out that the rule was announced 10 months ago and that “the Departments have had ample opportunity to enact a meaningful change to the Coverage Mandate. The fact that they have not further suggests the likelihood of injuries to plaintiffs.”
“Ignoring the speeding train that is coming towards 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,” he said.
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Bill Donohue of the Catholic League praised the ruling, saying that the Obama administration received “a well deserved lecture from the bench.”
“The Obama team tried to have it both ways, and it failed,” said Donohue.
Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who is representing the archdiocese, also welcomed the decision. “We are pleased the court recognized the significant harm that the mandate is causing right now,” he said.
“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.”
There are now 40 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, according to The Becket Fund.
Two other lawsuits from the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh and Nashville were dismissed recently after judges agreed with the Obama administration that the suits were premature. However, the courts did not preclude the possibility that the dioceses could bring forward lawsuits after the mandate takes effect.