Court's HHS Mandate Decision Will Influence Other Cases, Says Lawyer

A lawyer with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has stated that the recent decision by a federal appeals court against the HHS Department's preventive services mandate will influence other suits on the issue.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel at The Becket Fund, told The Christian Post that the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals' decision on Tuesday will have "a persuasive effect" on the other cases.

"We expect the decision to have a persuasive effect on all of the other HHS challenges brought by non-profit entities (such as Becket's other nonprofit clients: Ave Maria University, EWTN, Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, and Colorado Christian University)," said Duncan.

"The DC Circuit's decision means that (1) these cases should not be thrown out of court merely because the government has promised to fix the mandate down the road; and (2) at the very least, the courts should let these plaintiffs stay in court while the courts carefully scrutinize what the government is doing and hold it to its promises."

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the federal government must provide a new rule on the controversial preventive services mandate.

"The government further represented that it would publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the new rule in the first quarter of 2013 and would issue a new Final Rule before August 2013," wrote the panel.

"… in reliance upon the Departments' binding representations, this court will hold these cases in abeyance, subject to regular status reports to be filed by the government with this court every 60 days from the date of this order."

Duncan of The Becket Fund commented to CP on the significance of the court opting to put this every 60 days update schedule order on the government.

"The difference between being thrown out of court altogether, on the one hand, and having federal judges holding the government's feet to the fire, on the other, is huge," said Duncan. "As this decision holds, our clients deserve to be in court to make sure the government either fixes the mandate or is called to account for its blatant violation of religious liberty."

Initially separate suits against the HHS mandate, Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius and Wheaton College v. Sebelius were consolidated in September by the D.C. Circuit Court into in an expedited appeal against the mandate.

Both the cases had been dismissed at the trial level after the government granted a one-year "safe harbor" status to comply with the mandate. Belmont Abbey is a Catholic liberal arts college, and Wheaton is an evangelical liberal arts institution.

Duncan told CP that he was unsure if the Department of Health and Human Services would opt to appeal the panel's decision. The HHS Department did not return comment by press time.

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