Newsmax is reporting that U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn, New York, refused a request by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to dismiss the case and ruled that the mandate, which would impact 370 parishes and up to 9,000 people in the Archdiocese of New York, can proceed.
Cogan's ruling marks the first time that a diocesan suit has been permitted to go forward even though the institutions involved will not face injuries from the rule until it takes effect in January, 2014. Two other dioceses, Nashville and Pittsburg, lost their bids to halt the mandate only because they had not yet suffered any damages.
In the New York case, the Obama Administration argued for dismissal based on the fact that the mandate hadn't yet caused any injury, and because the government plans to change some of the requirements of the rule to accommodate the interests of religious organizations.
At present, the rule allows an exemption for some religious employers, but the exemption is so narrow that it is essentially meaningless.
However, Judge Cogan didn't buy their arguments and ruled that the archdiocese demonstrated that it has already suffered damages while preparing for the mandate to take effect.
“Plaintiffs [the Archdiocese] here have demonstrated how the enormous changes to their plans required by the coverage mandate currently exacerbate their preparation costs,” Cogan said. “They have also demonstrated that the imminent operation of the coverage mandate has already caused them to divert funds from their ministries.”
He rejected arguments that these costs were simply the result of the diocese's "desire to prepare for contingencies."
"Quite frankly, ignoring the speeding train that is coming towards plaintiffs in the hope that it will stop might well be inconsistent with the fiduciary duties that plaintiffs’ directors or officers owe to their members," Cogan said. "As explained above, the practical realities of administering health care coverage for large numbers of employees — which defendants’ recognize — require plaintiffs to incur these costs in advance of the impending effectiveness of the Coverage Mandate. That is a business reality that any responsible board of directors would have to appreciate."
The judge also threw out the government's argument that the Church's case should be dismissed because they're planning to change the rule.
" . . . (T)he First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no, 'Trust us, changes are coming' clause in the Constitution. To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction. . . .
"Considering the extraordinary political passion surrounding the Coverage Mandate from all sides, there is simply no way to predict what, if any, changes to the Coverage Mandate will be made, even if some policymakers favor certain changes."
The Archdiocese is one of 43 Catholic organizations that have filed 12 lawsuits against the HHS mandate, charging that the rule violates the freedom of religion guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
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