Last May, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities went up against the United States government with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a health care contraception mandate -- and this week, a federal judge decided to dismiss the case. But the battle is not over.
So say officials with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who are arguing that the decision in no way constitutes a judgement on the merits of the case; they also argue that the ruling demonstrates that the federal government was ill-conceived in forcing regulations before they were final.
So why, then, did U.S. District Judge John Ross shut the case down?
The decision, full document on view below, was released on Tuesday, and essentially says that it doesn't make sense for his court to rule on this now. Why? In part, because the defendants -- i.e., all the federal officials responsible for implementing President Obama's health care plan -- have not yet finalized the regulation plan, which has modifications still to come.
Part of Ross' decision says:
The challenged regulation is not sufficiently final for review to be ripe because Defendants have announced the regulation will be modified. Plaintiffs and other similarly situated organizations will have opportunities to participate in the rulemaking process and provide input about the proposed modifications.
Ross also cites the so-called "safe harbor" in the plan, which is a one-year enforcement exemption for certain nonprofit employers that have religious objections to covering contraceptive services. Through August 1, 2013, the government has explicitly said it will not take any action against employers or group health care plans that do fail to cover the recommended contraceptive services, the decision notes.
Additionally, Ross concludes, "Plaintiffs also lack standing to challenge the present regulatory requirement because they are not subject to that requirement, and, based on the new proposed rule-making that would amend the regulation, will never be subject to the present regulation."
The argument with that conclusion, it seems, is that the lawsuit is somewhat unnecessary, given that these religious organizations can avoid the current regulation, anyway.
The original complaint from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities -- one of twelve separate lawsuits that were filed across the country -- is that the president's proposed health care regulations violate their rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
But the defendants -- the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of Treasury -- have successfully argued that the complaint should be dismissed.
Local archdiocese officials say that they will continue to fight for the right to not pay for health care they find morally reprehensible. But it is unclear if there will be new litigation going forward once the federal government does finalize the expected modifications to the health care plan.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis sent Daily RFT a statement this morning, that says, in part:
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.
Continue for the full decision and the full statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
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