Six Christian organizations have won their years-long legal battles against an Obama-era federal mandate ordering the provision of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health care plans.
U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Brimmer in Colorado issued an order granting the organizations an injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services Affordable Care Act contraception mandate that they felt required them to violate their organizations’ deeply-held religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life or be forced to pay millions in crippling fines.
Those organizations include three Christian higher-education institutions — Taylor University in Indiana, Indiana Wesleyan University and Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky — and the Colorado Springs-based Association of Christian Schools International, an accreditation agency for evangelical primary and secondary schools worldwide.
Also included were the Christian health care sharing ministry Samaritan Ministries International and the nonprofit legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which regularly takes on high profile First Amendment cases.
“These faith-based organizations no longer have to fear being forced to pay fines for simply abiding by the Christian beliefs that they teach and espouse, and they are no longer required to fill out forms authorizing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization,” ADF Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor said in a statement following the order. “The government has many other ways to ensure access to these items without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions.”
The court order comes as the Trump administration has stopped defending the Obamacare birth control mandate in federal court. According to the order, HHS has conceded that the mandate requires employers with sincerely held religious objections to abide by the mandate.
Additionally, the HHS conceded that the Obama administration’s accommodation process allowing the groups to “opt-out” but still forces them to allow insurers to provide their employees with contraceptive coverage directly was insufficient and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“It is declared that the requirements of [the mandate], as those requirements relate to the provision of sterilization or contraceptive drugs, devices, procedures, and related education and counseling to which plaintiffs have sincerely-held religious objections, violate plaintiffs’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the court order declares.
The six Christian organizations are among others who have been granted court victories in their claims against the Obamacare mandate this year as federal courts in other districts have issued orders in favor of Christian organizations and institutions across the nation.
Those rulings have come after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling against the Little Sisters of the Poor (a Catholic order of nuns caring for the elderly) in 2016 and remanded their case and that of other Christian groups with objections to the mandate back to lower courts.
Last year, the Trump administration issued new rules that effectively expanded the religious exemption of the Obamacare contraception mandate that was available to churches to also be available to non-profit and for-profit organizations who claim religious and moral objections.
Roger Severino, the current head of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, spoke this week at a Washington, D.C. lunch gathering for social conservatives and assured that the HHS was doing everything it could to “respect human dignity.”
Severino, who previously served as the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, criticized the Obama HHS for its treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Christian groups.
“[The Little Sisters of the Poor were] dedicated to being there for the elderly in their last days, literally, so they do not die alone so that they know that they are loved, so their life has dignity and worth,” Severino explained in his remarks at the American Principles Project Foundation’s “State Lunch” at the Mayflower Hotel. “Instead of supporting this incredible organization, the HHS went after them, threatening to shut them down with millions in fines because they would not assist in the provision of contraceptives to their fellow nuns.”
“I don’t know how we got to this place but it is a very topsy-turvy world where that was the official position of the federal government and the Department of Justice for years until very recently when we undid the contraceptive mandate through regulatory rulemaking,” he added.