(Photo: ETBU/Jason John Cowart)
Two religiously-affiliated academic institutions have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services over its controversial "preventative services" mandate.
East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) and Houston Baptist University (HBU) filed the suit on Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Dr. John Mark Reynolds, provost at HBU, told The Christian Post that while the Baptist General Convention of Texas does not have a position on contraception, the suit goes beyond that issue.
"Baptists know that when another brother or sister Christian's religious freedom is transgressed by the state, no citizens are free. It isn't a 'Catholic' issue when religious freedom is transgressed: it is an American issue," said Reynolds.
"If the state can force Catholic charities to transgress their conscience, then the government is on a path to destroy the first freedom: freedom of religion."
Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver, president of ETBU, told The Christian Post that his university "cannot, in good conscience, comply with the HHS mandate" and that the decision to sue was not "taken lightly."
"We believe that the federal government is obligated by the First Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based organizations of all kinds, Catholic and non-Catholic," said Oliver.
The two Baptist institutions are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. According to the Becket Fund, at present there are a total of 33 different ongoing suits against HHS over the mandate.
In January, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that religious charities would not be exempted from having to provide contraception services in their employee health insurance plans.
With the announcement came a backlash by many religious groups, especially Roman Catholic organizations who opposed having to provide services that went contrary to their beliefs.
In February, President Barack Obama delivered a message stating that the mandate would be modified so that the insurance companies for religious organizations would directly cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization if the religious organization had objections to providing such services.
Erin Shields of the HHS Office of the Secretary told The Christian Post that the department could not comment on pending litigation. Shields did provide a fact sheet outlining the February compromise.
According to the fact sheet, "Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception," "Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception," and "churches, other houses of worship, and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections" will be exempted.
While some religious organizations have denounced the mandate, others have supported it. In an earlier interview with The Christian Post, Gene Robinson, outgoing bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, believed the issue to be a "women's issue" rather than a matter of religious liberty.
"We would see it as a women's health issue. We've never described it as a surreptitious abortion as some contraceptive methods have been. We've never drawn that distinction. And therefore we would see it as a very personal and legitimate choice," said Robinson.
Regarding the issue as to whether or not it was a women's issue, Reynolds of HBU told CP that he also believed it was "women's issue."
"It is a woman's issue, because religious liberty is a human rights issue. Of course, that makes it an issue for men as well," said Reynolds.
"The lawsuit is not about the legality of contraception or whether organizations can choose to pay for those services, but about the state forcing religious groups to pay for things that damage their mission."
"It's ridiculous to claim that organizations like ETBU don't care about women's health. As far as I am aware, no religious group objects to most of the preventative services in the mandate," said Oliver to CP.
"It is about whether the government will force religious people and organizations to do something they believe is wrong. Good people everywhere want women to have access to quality health care."