Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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Federal Government Files Motion to Dismiss Franciscan University’s HHS Lawsuit

The federal government is seeking to have Franciscan University of Steubenville’s lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s HHS mandate thrown out of court.

The government is seeking dismissal of the Catholic university’s lawsuit on the grounds that changes are already being made to meet the concerns of religious institutions. That argument has worked in the dismissal of previous lawsuits including the lawsuit by Belmont Abbey College even though those “changes” promised by the Administration have yet to be codified into the rule.

Michael Hernon, vice president of Advancement for Franciscan University, responded to the government’s gambit in a statement:

“It’s important to point out that we did not file a lawsuit about what the federal government might do. We filed over what has been already written into law,” Hernon said. “No accommodation has been made since the Department of Health and Human Services finalized its rule ‘without change’ on February 15. So nothing has changed in regard to the moral problems that prompted Franciscan University’s lawsuit. Waiting and hoping for the best outcome would be naïve and irresponsible on our part when our fundamental right to religious freedom is at stake.”

Hannah Smith, Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told The Cardinal Newman Society, “The federal government has argued in court that its so-called ‘compromise’ to accommodate the objections of religious organizations should be the basis to dismiss pending lawsuits challenging the mandate.  At least one federal district judge has already dismissed a lawsuit challenging the mandate because the government has promised that it will enact the ‘compromise,’ and the judge said that the government ‘is entitled to a presumption that it acts in good faith.’  One would hope that a federal district court’s assumption of good faith is warranted.”

Under the HHS mandate, employers must provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. Franciscan University filed a lawsuit along with 57 other plaintiffs in 24 cases.

“The issue remains whether the government can force Franciscan University and other religious organizations to furnish their own employees with coverage they consider morally and religiously objectionable,” Hernon said. “Every individual in our country, and every religious organization, should be concerned that the federal government believes it has the power to force its citizens to violate their consciences.”

Franciscan University filed its lawsuit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration on May 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. That same month, the university also announced its decision to drop its student health insurance rather than compromise its Catholic values.

Franciscan University is represented by the Jones Day law firm.

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