HHS Mandate Controversy Continues – Court Dismisses Case Brought By Belmont Abbey College

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) – A federal judge has dismissed Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit against the Obama administration that had challenged the federal contraception mandate, but lawyers for the Benedictine college in Belmont say they will continue the fight.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg of the District of Columbia dismissed Belmont Abbey’s case, saying that the college did not have standing to bring the case to court, nor could it demonstrate it had been harmed yet by the contraception mandate.

The contraception mandate – issued in August 2011 by the federal Department of Health and Human Services as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – requires nearly all employers to provide free artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs coverage in their insurance plans.

There is a narrow exemption for employers who object to providing these services on religious grounds, namely if they serve or hire people primarily of their own faith.

The contraceptive mandate takes effect for new health plans and those that undergo significant changes Aug. 1, 2012 – unless the narrow religious exemption applies or a one-year “temporary enforcement safe harbor” applies.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm representing Belmont Abbey College in the lawsuit, argued that paying for contraceptive services for employees and students would force the Catholic college and Benedictine monastic community to violate Church teaching against artificial contraception.

The firm argued that the mandate would mean an unconstitutional infringement of their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and that Belmont Abbey College said it believed it would not be exempted from the mandate’s requirements.