Judge dismisses archdiocese's lawsuit against HHS mandate

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A federal judge has dismissed lawsuit from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities against the United States government, which challenges the constitutionality of the HHS health care mandate.

Judge John A. Ross issued an order Jan. 29, noting that the federal government has not yet finalized the regulations of the mandate and to litigate the issue right now would be fruitless. The mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, would require all employers, including many religious institutions, to provide free coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

A statement from the archdiocese noted that "the court held that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction at this point. This is not in any way a ruling on the merits of our argument, rather it is an opinion that to litigate this issue when the regulations are not in final form would be fruitless. The court's ruling demonstrates the government's ill-conceived issuance of regulations before they are final."

The archdiocese's statement went on to say that "we maintain that no citizen should be forced to pay for or provide products or services they find morally objectionable, including sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. We will continue to demand that the conscience rights of every citizen are protected. We encourage Catholics and people of all faith to pray for religious liberty in our state and in our nation."

The archdiocese's lawsuit is one of 12 separate suits that were filed across the country May 21 by dioceses and archdioceses, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic health systems and Catholic charitable organizations. (The Diocese of Peoria, Ill., joined with a suit later.) Other lawsuits have been filed by individual business owners and other organizations since the mandate was announced.

Among the diocesan suits dismissed to date include the Diocese of Erie, Pa., Diocese of Biloxi (with Diocese of Jackson), Miss., Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., Diocese of Peoria, Ill., Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The Archdiocese of New York had its motion to dismiss denied. Several other dioceses' cases are still being considered. 

Tom Buckley, general counsel for the archdiocese, said that the government has promised that it will provide additional amendments to the enforcement of the mandate by sometime in March. "Some of the courts have said, 'OK government, we will take you at your word,' and they're dismissing the case, like Judge Ross did, or they're staying the enforcement against the religious entities."

"We will continue to demand that conscience rights are protected not just for the archdiocese but for individual business owners, because there is no safe harbor for them," said Buckley, who noted that last November, the archdiocese filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the lawsuit of St. Louis Catholic business owner Frank O'Brien. O'Brien has received a preliminary injunction that temporarily stops the mandate from being implemented against his business. 

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