U.S. District Court Judge Cogan issued a decision in favor of the Archdiocese of New York yesterday, and against the Obama Department of Justice’s request to dismiss the case. This is a significant decision, because every other federal district court decision concerning religious organizations has been to determine that the cases are not yet “ripe,” that is, there is not yet any harm to the organization, so the case must wait. That’s not what Judge Cogan said yesterday, though, and he strongly rebuked the Obama DOJ’s arguments.
The DOJ had argued (in this case and the others) that harm was unlikely to occur to the plaintiffs because the government has said that it will change the rules before the end of the safe harbor period. Here’s what Judge Cogan said:
The Court will assume that the Departments issued the ANPRM in good faith and not as litigation posturing . . . . But the ANPRM is not a “formally announced change to official government policy.” Despite defendants’ attempt to characterize the ANPRM as a binding promise not to enforce the Coverage Mandate, the fact is that the ANPRM does not prevent the Coverage Mandate, as it currently exists, from going into effect. It is not a change in policy; it merely seeks input to allow the Departments to consider possible revisions to the Coverage Mandate. The Departments need not make any changes to the Coverage Mandate to accommodate religious groups at all. In this light, the Court finds that plaintiffs’ claimed future injuries are certainly impending. The law as it currently written requires that, beginning January 1, 2014, plaintiffs must either pay onerous fines or provide contraceptive coverage in violation of their beliefs. The Departments may alter the Coverage Mandate before that time, but the possibility of a change in the law does not mean that a requirement that will become effective by operation of law is not certainly impending . . . Thus, plaintiffs’ future injuries are sufficiently imminent to constitute injuries in fact.
In simpler English, the government has said, “trust us, we’re going to change the rule and you’ll be happy.” The judge said “not good enough, the rule isn’t changed until it’s changed.”
This case will proceed on to the next level of the judicial system.