(Photo: White House / Pete Souza)
In another blow against the Obama administration's contraceptives mandate, a Houston federal court ruled on Friday in favor of two Baptist universities, saying it is in the public's interest to protect the religious freedom of the schools.
East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University were granted an injunction, which prevents the government from enforcing a mandate that requires coverage of abortion-causing drugs and devices in employees' health care plans.
"The government doesn't have the right to decide what religious beliefs are legitimate and which ones aren't," Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the two universities, said in a statement. "In its careful opinion, the Court recognized that the government was trying to move across that forbidden line, and said 'No further!'"
In the decision, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote that "based on the pleadings, the motion for the preliminary injunction and response, the parties' submissions, the lengthy oral argument, and the governing law, this court finds that the plaintiffs and the intervenor have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."
The "Obamacare" mandate has gone through a number of revisions amid opposition from religious and pro-life institutions. An exemption was made for churches and nonprofit institutions – or certain "religious employers" – but many, such as businesses and schools that may be religious in nature, do not qualify.
According to the Becket Fund, which has long been campaigning for the government to expand the exemptions, religious plaintiffs have now won injunctions against the controversial mandate in nine out of 12 cases where nonprofit entities have challenged the mandate.
"The government has enforced the health care reform law very unevenly, handing out exemptions to those it sees as its allies," Rassbach added. "Perhaps the worst part of the government's approach is that it seems to have decided that religious institutions are the only ones not to get an exemption."
East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University, both affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, believe that life begins when an egg becomes fertilized. They also believe that the emergency contraceptives their group health-plan issuer or third-party administrator will have to pay for under the Affordable Care Act's mandate cause abortions. Though they are not opposed to all contraception, they are against abortifacients which are among the contraceptives that must be covered under the HHS mandate.
Several other Christian universities have also challenged the HHS mandate, including the recently founded Ave Maria University in Naples, which is also represented by the Becket Fund.
"The University's sincere religious beliefs forbid it from facilitating, participating in, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting contraception, sterilization, or abortion," the Catholic university argued in a lawsuit in August.
"The University cannot fulfill its mission of preparing students to impact the world by living their Christian values if it violates its own religious convictions by complying with the challenged regulations and facilitating access to contraception, sterilization, or abortion, or related counseling and services."