Today a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. handed Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College — and all religious colleges — a major victory in their challenges to the HHS mandate. Earlier this year, two lower courts had dismissed the Colleges’ cases as premature but today, an appellate court reinstated those cases. The Cardinal Newman Society and 15 Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide had joined in an amicus brief supporting Belmont Abbey and Wheaton.
Belmont Abbey College was the first to sue the Obama administration over the HHS mandate last year. Following a setback in which a judge, an Obama appointee, dismissed the College’s case because the Obama administration had not yet amended regulations to better reflect religious objections as it has promised to do, Belmont Abbey College went back to court Friday. Not only did the court reinstate the case, but it also ordered the Obama administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom. The new rule must be issued by March 31, 2013.
The Obama administration had created a so-called “safe harbor” to delay enforcement against non-profit religious organizations while the government “considered” some future “accommodation,” leading two lower courts to dismiss Belmont Abbey and Wheaton College’s lawsuits as premature. Some suspected this was a delay tactic to push any decisions on this volatile issue until after the election.
“The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a press release. “The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.”
“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Duncan. “The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word.”
This article was originally published at Campus Notes, the blog of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. They can be contacted at: alert at cardinalnewmansociety dot org.