The following is an August 28 press release from Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic school offering a 4-year classical curriculum in Santa Paula, California:
SANTA PAULA — As part of their ongoing effort to bring Thomas Aquinas College’s case against the federal HHS Mandate before the U.S. the Supreme Court, the College’s attorneys filed a reply brief on August 25 refuting the government’s most recent arguments.
The brief outlines the reasons why the Court should consider this important religious-freedom case, and why the College and its co-plaintiffs would be likely to prevail. Following up on the College’s June 25 petition for a writ of certiorari, the brief asks the Court to resolve several conflicting lower-court rulings about whether religious institutions should be exempt from federal requirements that compel them to facilitate free contraceptive, abortifacient, and sterilization coverage for their employees.
In the filing, attorneys from the Jones Day Law Firm — which represents Thomas Aquinas College, The Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of Washington — have offered a forceful rebuttal to the government’s claim that Catholic organizations’ opposition to the Mandate is “a quibble over a ‘bit of paperwork.’” For Catholic institutions, explains the brief, serious moral issues are at stake:
“As this Court has recognized, the context and consequences of an action are obviously relevant to whether that action is morally objectionable. Thus, even “an act that is innocent in itself” may become objectionable depending on “the circumstances.” Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. at 2778. For example, giving a neighbor a ride to the bank may not be morally problematic — unless one knows the neighbor intends to rob that bank. A Jewish school may not object to hiring a vendor to serve lunch to its students — unless the vendor was required to serve non-Kosher food. The same is true here. Petitioners have no inherent objection to hiring an insurance company or TPA [third-party administrator]. But they strongly object to hiring an insurance company or TPA that will provide abortifacient and contraceptive coverage to their plan beneficiaries.”
Appealing to the nation’s highest court is the latest step in a legal effort that began nearly two years ago. The College originally filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on September 20, 2013, and prevailed, receiving a permanent injunction from the HHS mandate. The U.S. Government, however, appealed that decision, and on November 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted the Government’s appeal, removing the injunction. At that time, the College filed a motion (PDF) for an en banc hearing of the case before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Earlier this year a majority of the court denied the motion. The College quickly requested and received an emergency stay in the matter, which effectively shields it from the Mandate until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of the case.
The Court is expected to consider the petition at its September 28 weekly conference and shortly thereafter issue its ruling on whether it will review the lower court’s decision. Until then, the stay that temporarily exempts the college from the Mandate will remain in place.
“We are quite pleased with our attorneys’ latest filing, and we are hopeful that our case will get a favorable hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court,” says Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean. “While the justices consider our petition, we ask that friends of the College and all those who value religious liberty please pray for a favorable outcome.