Appeal to DC Circuit: Christian Colleges “Suffering Present Harm”

Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College Petition Court for Relief from HHS Mandate

For Immediate Release: October 5, 2012
Media Contact: Emily Hardman, Communications Director, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed its opening brief before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals requesting the Court reverse the dismissal of two HHS mandate lawsuits after the trial court held that the government’s “safe-harbor” protects the religious colleges from suffering any imminent harm and that their lawsuits were thus premature.   This is the first time a federal Court of Appeals will consider the HHS mandate.

“The safe harbor’s protection is illusory,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Even though the government won’t make religious colleges pay crippling fines this year, private lawsuits can still be brought, schools are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring and retaining faculty, and employees face the specter of battling chronic conditions without access to affordable care.  This mandate puts these religious schools in an impossible position.”

On September 20, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit consolidated Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius and Wheaton College v. Sebelius in an expedited appeal against the HHS Mandate, which forces the two religious schools to violate their deeply held religious convictions or pay crippling fines.

Highlights from Becket Fund’s brief:

  • “In sum, both Wheaton and Belmont Abbey have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer hardship if consideration of their legal challenges to the final rule is further delayed.”  (P 57)
  • “Regardless of the Safe Harbor, the Colleges are now experiencing government pressure to violate their religious convictions, and suffering present harm as a result. Like any educational institutions, they must plan well in advance for their upcoming budget and hiring needs.” (P 13)
  • “The mandate currently puts the Colleges at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting, hiring, and retaining faculty members and other employees.” (P 32)
  • “[C]urrent employees at both institutions have expressed deep concerns about the possibility of losing health insurance, about the possible reduction in academic programming, and about increased costs passed on to them as a result of anticipated fines.” (P 32-33)
  • “These harms are real and significant. For example, several Wheaton employees have expressed fear that, if Wheaton is forced to terminate their insurance coverage, they will not be able to afford health care for themselves or their families. Some of them may have to seek expensive medical treatments before January 1 to be assured coverage. Others face the specter of battling chronic conditions without access to affordable care.”   (P 55)
  • “The [government] cannot evade judicial review of the currently-binding final rule by vaguely promising to somehow accommodate the Colleges with some other rule at some other time.” (P 5)

There are now over 30 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

The Becket Fund led the charge against the unconstitutional HHS mandate, and in addition to Wheaton and Belmont Abbey represents Hobby Lobby, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, and Ave Maria University.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 18 years its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

 

Additional Information:

Becket Fund’s Appeal Brief (October 5, 2012)

Briefing Schedule – U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit

Wheaton College Case Page (Legal Documents, Resources, FAQ’s)

Belmont Abbey College Case Page (Legal Documents, Resources, FAQ’s)

HHS Information Central (all 30 HHS cases, interactive map, resources, legal documents, FAQ’s, and more)