Enforcement of the health mandate, which could include fines, won’t start until January 2014. The administration has offered a “safe harbor” temporarily shielding organizations from punishment. Moreover, the Obama administration has pledged to amend the regulations to accommodate organizations with religious objections to contraception.
Citing the potential changes, a trial judge dismissed Belmont Abbey’s lawsuit in July as being premature.
“If the agency fails to amend the exemption from the contraceptive-coverage provision by the time the safe harbor lapses, (Belmont Abbey) will be free to renew its challenge to the rule at that time,” U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote.
On the other hand, underscoring the legal complications ahead, a New York-based federal judge took a different view in allowing the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York to proceed with a similar lawsuit.
“There is no ‘trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan wrote last week. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental restraint and self-correction.”
The conflict between courts sets the stage for the D.C. appellate court, which is sometimes called the nation’s second most powerful court because it oversees so many federal agency actions.
The regulations already exempt “religious employers” from the contraception coverage mandate, defining these employers as organizations that have the purpose of inculcating religious value and that primarily hire and serve people who share religious tenets of the organization. The separate set of exemptions now being developed cover a broader array of employers that have religious objections.
Belmont Abbey’s subsequent appeal is the first of its kind to be argued before an appellate court, and it’s attracted significant attention. Thirteen states, including Texas, South Carolina, Florida and Idaho, have sided with the school in a legal brief