Federal Appeals Court sides with Belmont Abbey against Obama Administration

From the Catholic News Herald of the Diocese of Charlotte:

Government must rewrite HHS mandate by March 31, court orders

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has sided with Belmont Abbey College in its lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s mandate requiring most employers to provide free contraceptives in their employee insurance plans starting in 2013.

The three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued their ruling Dec. 18, only days after sparring with lawyers on both sides of the case during lengthy oral arguments Dec. 14.

The Dec. 18 ruling does not overturn the controversial contraception mandate, yet it uses strong language ordering the Obama administration to rewrite the mandate so that it would not harm religious organizations such as Belmont Abbey College. It also gave the administration a deadline of March 31, 2013, and said it will review the administration’s actions every 60 days until it complies.

The ruling also puts the case on hold, so that if the college objects to the government’s rewritten mandate it will not have to refile the case.

Read the pdfappeals court’s ruling.

Dr. William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, called the favorable ruling “a major victory” and “the answers to our prayers.”

“Christmas came early this year!” Thierfelder said in a written statement issued late Tuesday.


Read the rest there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. The Sicilian Woman says:

    While I am thrilled at this, I would think that this could be sent to the Supreme Court for review, yes?

  2. Dismas says:

    Clearly the Mayan’s calendar is wrong, TEOTWAWKI is today.

  3. jhayes says:

    I don’t understand Belmont Abbey’s enthusiasm. It appears that the court just accepted the government’s proposal and said it would hold them to their proposed dates.

    At oral argument, the government went further. First, it represented to the court that it would never enforce 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv) in its current form against the appellants or those similarly situated as regards contraceptive services. Oral Arg. Recording at 36:25 – 36:33. There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants, Oral Arg. Recording at 37:25 – 38:46, and we take that as a binding commitment. The government further represented that it would publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the new rule in the first quarter of 2013 and would issue a new Final Rule before August 2013. Oral Arg. Recording at 35:39 – 36:02.

    We take the government at its word and will hold it to it.

  4. tominrichmond says:

    Yes, the SCOTUS can hear this and theoretically overrule the Circuit’s ruling.

    Belmont Abbey and other like institutions would be well advised to re-consider accepting federal aid in the form of student loans or guarantees.

    It’s this tie to the feds that allows them to have a foot in the institution’s door.

    Places like Christendom College or Hillsdale face much less meddling because they refuse to play the game by not accepting federal aid with all its notorious strings.

  5. Federico says:

    The government said the rule would be amended to exempt Belmont Abbey College and other organizations like them. Since they’ve now committed to the court they would, it will happen. The question is, and time will tell, how broad the new exemption will be.

    I expect it will still leave any Catholic businessman high and dry. What the administration seems to miss is that the First Amendment is personal, not organizational. It’s not religious organizations that need to be exempted, it’s religious individuals. If I hire somebody for my solo law practice, will I have to pay for their contraception coverage? I can’t do that in good conscience.

    It’s actually funny that an administration arguing they want to create jobs actively creates incentives to the contrary.

    As far as SCOTUS review, it’s unlikely to come out of this case. If appellants are exempted (as the government committed to the court) they will have nothing to appeal to SCOTUS; this will leave them with no justiciable controversy. Since the government told the court they would exempt the appellants, they will have nothing to appeal. A SCOTUS appeal has to come from another source.

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    ” A SCOTUS appeal has to come from another source.”

    A private businessman?

    The Chicken

  7. jhayes says:

    tominrichmond. The requirement to provide contraception coverage is not related to accepting federal aid.

    Federico, unless your solo law practice has more than 50 employees, there is no penalty for not providing health insurance for your employees. However, if you elect to provide health insurance it must include the contraception coverage to avoid penalties.

    A couple of cases have been filed by private for-profit employers with religious objections . They are not covered by the safe harbor until August 2013 that applies to Belmont Abbey and other non-profit organizations with religious objections.

  8. Dr. K says:

    Great news so far. It’s going to come down to the six “Catholics” on the Supreme Court eventually.

  9. Federico says:

    jhayes, I know. The problem is that I’ve always considered it my responsibility, as a Catholic businessman, to pay a living wage and provide health, disability, and retirement benefits. I cannot buy a policy without contraception coverage anymore (the mandate is drying up the market for them — let me know if you are aware of a company providing them; good market for a Catholic insurance company, but I digress) and I don’t have sufficiently deep pockets to self insure.

    In fact, the “affordable” health care law dried up the market for insurance in a general way (no, a comprehensive management plan is not insurance).

    I have no employees right now. I can certainly make due without, at least now.

    And, Masked Chicken, appeals take time and money.

    Actually, I see this as a diabolical and brilliant approach by the government. Cave every time they are challenged. Make the exemption as narrow as they need to. Keep the cases from going to the SCOTUS (where the answer might be something they really don’t like).

    In the meantime, a lot of money and time is wasted.

  10. jhayes says:

    “Make the exemption as narrow as they need to”

    The scope of the exemption is spelled out in the safe-harbor provision. The starting point is that you have to be a non-profit entity who has not previously knowingly included contraception coverage in health insurance.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “And, Masked Chicken, appeals take time and money.”

    There are no rich Catholic businessmen?

    The Chicken

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I think the point here is that you do have to be a VERY rich Catholic businessman, or very very ready for a vow of poverty and a ruined business and ruined jobless employees.

    Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza is apparently rich enough.

  13. jamesg042 says:

    “The problem is that I’ve always considered it my responsibility, as a Catholic businessman, to pay a living wage and provide health, disability, and retirement benefits.”


    I work for a small DOD contractor who doesn’t provide a benefits package so the gov’t mandates I get paid “fringe” which is something like an extra $3.50 an hour over my base pay. This works out great for me since I’m relatively young and healthy I can get a really cheap HSA compatible individual plan then sock the rest of my fringe into the HSA and an IRA. Would a similar thing be an acceptable option for you?

    What I’m wondering is how far removed you feel you need to be in your cooperation with evil (i.e. the HHS Mandate) and still be able to fulfill your moral responsibility to provide for an employee? I know that any individual plan would still cover morally unacceptable things (and that’s not going to change with the Individual Mandate magically being a “tax”) and one needs health insurance in case one gets hit by a bus but if you give the employee, on top of his base pay, money sufficient to buy his own insurance you are not directly subsidizing evil but only indirectly doing so. Would that be a morally acceptable compromise to you?

    James G

  14. Edprocoat says:

    Even if this does go to the Supreme Court and the justices upheld this President Obama would most likely bypass the judgement with a Executive Order. I know this is good news as it shows that there are some sensible judges still out there but expecting Obama to abide by any such restrictions is truly insane. This President bypassed Congress to start a war, unheard of, unconstitutional as well. What makes anyone think he will suddenly play by the rules now that he is in his last term with nothing to lose, and he has been given his ” mandate ” by the voters ?


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