Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius
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Becket represents Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks, in a lawsuit against the federal government to protect Belmont Abbey’s right to be true to its principles. As a Catholic college, Belmont Abbey teaches that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are against God’s law.
So in August 2011, when the federal government issued a regulation requiring that all group health plans must cover “[FDA-]approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,” Belmont Abbey knew it could not be true to both the government mandate and its Church’s teachings. This is so because FDA-approved contraceptives include a number of drugs Belmont Abbey, and many scientists, consider to be abortifacients—most notably Plan B and Ella. Were Belmont Abbey to choose not to cover contraception and sterilization as required by the government mandate, it would be penalized with a hefty fine and forced to terminate its health insurance for employees and students. For example, a religious organization with 100 employees would have to pay the federal government $140,000 per year for the “privilege” of not underwriting medical services it believes are immoral. In other words, Belmont Abbey would be forced to pay for the right to remain true to its principles!
Although the government regulation includes an exemption from the mandate for certain religious employers, Belmont Abbey believes that it will not be exempted from the mandate’s requirements. The exemption is extremely narrow, covering only certain religious employers whose purpose is to inculcate religious values and who primarily serve and employ those of their same faith.
Belmont Abbey’s only recourse is to sue the federal government and ask the court to protect its First Amendment and federal statutory rights from this substantial burden by the federal government.
On December 18, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals handed an intermediate victory to the religious colleges when they commanded HHS to act quickly to fix the HHS Mandate.
Belmont Abbey refiled their lawsuit on November 20, 2013. The case is currently stayed and awaiting decision from other cases in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.