Federal judges in Pittsburgh and Nashville dismissed Catholic lawsuits challenging the federal contraception mandate, but acknowledged that the suits can be re-filed when the regulation is more imminent.
Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh said that he was "disappointed"
that the lawsuit cannot currently proceed, but he was also "very
encouraged that it was 'dismissed without prejudice.'"
"That means that we have every right to file again in the future," he explained.
In May, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, joined by Catholic Charities of
Pittsburgh and the Catholic Cemeteries Association of Diocese of
Pittsburgh, filed a lawsuit to challenge the contraception mandate
issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering
contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if they
have religious objections to doing so.
On Nov. 27, U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry dismissed the case
on standing and ripeness, arguing that the plaintiffs had not yet
experienced any real harm from the mandate.
In his opinion for the case, McVerry pointed to the one-year "safe
harbor" that the government has allowed for objecting religious
employers, delaying the implementation of the mandate while the
administration develops an "accommodation" for religious freedom.
While the process to create this proposal for a new rule was announced
last spring, the details of the proposed regulation have not been
formally announced, and critics argue that the initial suggestions put
forward by the administration still require objecting employers to
facilitate the controversial coverage.
However, McVerry said that “any decision the Court would make today
would not have an immediate impact on Plaintiffs’ day-to-day operations
as the existing regulations are currently under review and are expected
to be modified.”
Because he did not rule on the merits of the suit, the plaintiffs will
be able to bring their case before the court again once the harm is
deemed more imminent.
"We will now await in good faith the accommodation to religious freedom
that the federal government has claimed it will offer," Bishop Zubik
said. "However, we must all be aware that no modification to the
original HHS mandate in regard to religious freedom has yet been made."
The bishop pointed out that the matter "remains fluid" because other
courts have arrived at different conclusions in challenges to the
"I do want to make clear, however, that we cannot and will not
negotiate away our constitutional rights to religious freedom and
religious expression," he said.
More than three dozen lawsuits challenging the mandate are working
their way through the courts. Several for-profit businesses that did not
qualify for the safe harbor period have been granted temporary
injunctions blocking the mandate from taking effect.
In a separate ruling filed on Nov. 27, a federal judge dismissed a
lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Nashville, along with Catholic Charities
of Tennessee and several Catholic schools and assisted living homes
throughout the diocese.
U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell similarly ruled that the
plaintiffs did not have standing and the lawsuit was not "ripe for
Campbell also cited the “safe harbor” period and promised adjustments
from the Obama administration in his opinion. He said that any harm
caused by the mandate was "merely conjectural and speculative" at this
Right now, the regulation "is not sufficiently direct, immediate, and
traceable to the Defendants to warrant judicial intervention," he said.
As various lawsuits progress in the courts, the U.S. Catholic bishops
and other religious leaders continue to speak out on the importance of
In an online video six months ago, Bishop Zubik reflected on the
severity of the matter, noting that under the mandate, Church
organizations “are required to let the government determine which of our
beliefs we can follow.”
“We help people because we are Catholic, not because they are
Catholic," he said, explaining that religious schools, hospitals and
charities "cannot accept that the state has the right to force us to
choose between our sacred beliefs or shutting our doors.”
“Religious freedom means that each of us has the right to pursue truth,
embrace it and to shape our lives by it without government coercion,"
Bishop Zubik said. "This lawsuit is meant to protect that freedom,
already guaranteed to us by the constitution, not just for Catholics,
but for every American.”