WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington has dismissed a lawsuit by Belmont Abbey College against the federal contraception mandate as being premature.
Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which was representing Belmont Abbey College in the case, said that the decision was made “on technical grounds.”
Smith explained in a statement that “the judge thinks that the case should be delayed for a matter of months” in order to give the federal government time to “fix” the mandate.
On July 18, federal judge James Boasberg dismissed the suit filed by the Catholic liberal arts school last year. The suit is the second of the nearly two dozen cases against the mandate to be thrown out.
The judge determined that the case was not yet “ripe for decision” because the concerns were still too “speculative.”
He noted that the federal government has indicated that it intends to issue future rules on the implementation of the mandate being challenged in the case.
That mandate — issued under the authority of the Affordable Care Act — will soon require employers and colleges to offer health-insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their firmly-held religious convictions.
Belmont Abbey filed a lawsuit arguing that the mandate violated its religious freedom last November, becoming the first group to do so. Dozens of other organizations followed in the college’s footsteps over the months that followed.
In total, 23 lawsuits have been filed by more than 50 plaintiffs, including schools, charitable agencies, states, dioceses and private business owners.
On July 17, a judge in Nebraska dismissed another of the lawsuits, similarly ruling that it was not clear that the plaintiffs would suffer immediate harm from the mandate.
In both decisions, the judges pointed to the administration’s promise to “accommodate” the religious-freedom concerns of objecting groups.
However, critics have voiced concern about whether the “accommodation” will be sufficient. They have noted that the mandate was finalized in law months ago, but the accommodation has merely been promised and not placed in law or even formally proposed.
Smith emphasized that this ruling “says nothing about the merits of Belmont Abbey’s religious-freedom claims and has no effect on any of the 22 other cases currently pending in federal court.”
“It simply delays Belmont Abbey College’s ability to challenge the mandate for a few months,” she said.
Smith stressed that “the court made clear we have the right to re-file the case” if concerns with the mandate are not adequately addressed.
While she said that the group is currently “considering our options,” Smith made it clear that the battle for religious freedom was not over: “Belmont Abbey College and the Becket Fund will continue the fight for religious liberty, even if this case is delayed for a few months.”