- (Photo: Reuters/James Lawler Duggan)
A federal court has blocked the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing its birth control mandate on two Christian colleges, Dordt College in Iowa and Cornerstone University in Michigan, while their cases move forward.
The preliminary injunction was granted for three reasons, U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett wrote: 1) The plaintiffs, Dordt and Cornerstone, "may suffer irreparable harm" because "they would be forced to comply" with the birth control mandate "to the detriment of their religious exercise." 2) On balance, the plaintiffs would suffer more than the defendants. The worst that could happen if the government eventually wins the case is that the mandate would take a few extra months before going into effect. And, 3) the plaintiffs "are sufficiently likely to succeed on the merits."
The birth control mandate, issued by HHS as part of its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," requires most employers, even most religious employers, to cover contraceptives, sterilization and some "morning-after" contraceptives that may cause an abortion.
Bennett wrote that he is waiting to issue a decision in the case because a similar case involving two Christian-owned businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case in March. The outcome of that decision, due this Summer, will likely influence how he decides the case, or could make the suit unnecessary.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the colleges, praised the decision, arguing that religious colleges should have the freedom to behave according to their religious convictions.
"Christian colleges should remain free to operate according to their defining beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor said. "Under this mandate, religious employers have no real choice: they must either comply and abandon their religious freedom, or resist and be taxed for their faith. If the government can force Christian colleges to act contrary to their deeply-held religious convictions, then the government can do just about anything. The court was right to block enforcement of this unconstitutional mandate."