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Catholic Univ. to continue fighting birth-control mandate

Catholic University officials will continue to fight a mandate in President Obama's health care law that requires the school to provide insurance coverage for contraception, the school said Monday, even though a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit against the government as premature.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in an opinion issued Friday, tossed the suit brought by the D.C.-based university and four other Catholic organizations in Washington because the mandate will not affect their insurance plans until Jan. 1.

The suit is among dozens of civil actions brought by religious universities, nonprofits and corporate owners to protest the mandate contained in Mr. Obama's sweeping new health care law, which passed in 2010 and was largely upheld by the Supreme Court last June. The plaintiffs say the use of preventive contraception or morning-after pills is at odds with their religious beliefs.

Defenders of the mandate — which was modified after the original rule created an uproar — note that religious officials and business owners will not have to use the contraceptives or supply them directly to their employees. The American Civil Liberties Union has entered the fray on the side of the Obama administration, arguing that religious employers do not have the right to press their views on their employees.

Catholic University, which filed its suit alongside the Archdiocese of Washington in May, is among nonprofits given a legal "safe harbor" from the mandate that extends until their first insurance plan after Aug. 1. The D.C. plaintiffs' insurance years do not begin until Jan. 1, so there is no reason to consider the case at this time, according to the court.

"While we are disappointed by the decision, we are not discouraged in the least because the judge based her dismissal solely on procedural grounds; she did not rule nor make any judgments on the merits of our case," Catholic University said in a statement Monday.

The university said it expects the Obama administration to come up with a way to accommodate its objections by March 31.

"If that does not happen, we will find ourselves in court again," it said.

The university's general counsel, Lawrence Morris, said the government has not consulted with school officials in drafting the expected accommodation, so they would "just be guessing" on how it will be worded.

Actual houses of worship are exempt from the contraception mandate. Corporations, however, started to face fines this year.

Several U.S. circuit courts have disagreed on whether the mandate violates a corporate owner's religious freedoms, signaling the issue may be headed for the Supreme Court. So far, nine out of 15 federal courts have given companies a temporary reprieve from the mandate's penalties.

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts franchise with more than 500 stores in 41 states, made headlines this month when it found a way to duck the mandate's penalties by delaying its insurance year by several months.

Religious nonprofits find themselves somewhere in between their corporate counterparts and actual churches, as they wait for a decision from the Obama administration.

"I think we have the strongest possible argument," Mr. Morris said, "because our affiliation is directly with the church."

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