STEUBENVILLE, OH—U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio today dismissed Franciscan University of Steubenville’s federal lawsuit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration. Franciscan University sought to have the HHS mandate declared unconstitutional and to enjoin the government from enforcing the requirement that employers provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures.
Judge Marbley dismissed the case on ripeness, reasoning that the University had yet to be injured by the HHS mandate.“This is in no way a loss. The judge did not rule on the merits of our case and dismissed our lawsuit for ripeness, so Franciscan University has every right—and I would add, the duty—to re-file our lawsuit at the appropriate time,” said Father Terence Henry, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Franciscan University maintains that the requirement to fund and facilitate such activities violates its core religious and moral convictions as a Catholic university and vows to continue to fight for the freedom to practice its faith without government interference.
Last spring, Franciscan University reportedly became the first university to drop its requirement for student health insurance due to moral and economic concerns connected to the HHS mandate. In May, Franciscan University sued the federal government, saying the HHS mandate constitutes “a grave threat” to Franciscan University’s ability to continue to teach from the heart of the Church.
Father Henry took issue with the dismissal of the University’s lawsuit on the grounds of ripeness. “Franciscan University’s employee health insurance plans hold ‘grandfathered’ status, but this does not mean we have experienced no harm from the HHS mandate. Right now, being grandfathered ties our hands,” Father Henry explained. “Since many changes to our plan would cause it to lose grandfathered status, it denies both our employees and the University opportunities to save money and enact plan changes appropriate to our changing needs for coverage. In effect, this makes us second-class citizens because of our faith.”
Judge Marbley noted that the Obama administration has promised to protect religious institutions by amending the regulations. The federal government is expected to announce additional modifications to the HHS mandate that will allegedly address Franciscan University’s chief complaints within the next few months.
Father Henry said the University “awaits details of those revisions with caution,” while noting that the Obama administration has yet to modify the HHS mandate, which is already on the books as law, despite the public outcry and many lawsuits filed by both non-profit and for-profit companies and organizations.
The Franciscan University lawsuit was one of 12 lawsuits filed on May 21, 2012, by 43 Catholic organizations, including the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, as well as the Dioceses of Dallas, Fort Worth, Rockville Centre, and Pittsburgh. Several of those lawsuits have already been dismissed in the first round of what Franciscan’s legal counsel foresees as a protracted legal battle.
“We will not stop fighting this unjust mandate, and we are in this for the long haul. We are very confident in the merits of our case, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect our constitutional right to religious freedom,” Father Henry said.