Christian College Re-Files Lawsuit Challenging Obamacare Contraception Mandate

Lawsuit highlights Obama administration’s narrow view of religious liberty, experts say

August 8, 2013

A Christian college in Colorado reopened its lawsuit on Wednesday against the Department of Health and Human Services challenging the Obamacare mandate requiring them to provide employees access to contraceptives.

Colorado Christian University (CCU) filed its suit in a federal district court in Colorado, announced the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the school. This makes it the first nonprofit organization to reopen its suit against the federal government after courts dismissed a similar suit late last year.

The courts dismissed the previous suit because the federal government had pledged to create an accommodation.

The suit presents yet another controversy around President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation. The mandate that employers provide insurance to their employees was previously delayed, and questions surround subsidies intended for those who enter government-run health care exchanges.

Some groups, primarily Catholic ones, objected to covering all forms of contraceptives, while CCU and others only objected to covering certain drugs they considered abortion-inducing.

Obama initially announced the contraception mandate at the beginning of 2012, setting off a firestorm of controversy over the administration’s perceived indifference to religious groups’ concerns. CCU, along with over 200 other plaintiffs, sued the federal government over the mandate.

The administration’s accommodation requires the nonprofit organization’s health insurer to provide the organization’s employees access to the objectionable drugs. The administration announced the accommodation in June, which the Becket Fund immediately condemned as insufficient.

"It’s really a convoluted way of trying to hide the employer’s involvement in facilitating the government’s scheme to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs," said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund.

"The administration has not offered an ‘accommodation,’ but rather a bookkeeping ruse," said Thomas Farr, director of the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University. "No ‘third party’ will pay for these abortions and sterilizations."

Because CCU is self-insured, it would have to ask its insurance administrator to pay for the objectionable drugs under the accommodation. If the administrator refuses, CCU would then have to find someone else to pay—a morally untenable situation for the school, Baxter said.

"They can’t in good conscience go find someone to do the very thing they find morally wrong," he said.

If CCU does not comply with the mandate, they will have to pay over $12 million in fines each year, Baxter noted.

The fact that the administration was unable to come up with a satisfactory accommodation is indicative of its overall view of religious freedom, experts say.

"The entire creation of this mandate has shown the administration’s very narrow view of religious freedom," said Sarah Torre, a religious liberty expert at the Heritage Foundation.

This Obama administration has constricted religious liberty in America, shifting to a "freedom of worship" framework from a more robust freedom of expression view of religious liberty, Torre and Baxter contended.

"This is consistent with the pattern that the administration has shown for several years now," Baxter said about the mandate.

While limiting religious freedom hurts only a few organizations in the short term, it ultimately hurts America’s democracy, Farr argued.

"Religious liberty is not simply a claim of privilege by religious people," Farr said. "As our founding generation understood, religious communities are the centerpiece of civil society and are crucial to limiting the potential for tyranny by governments."

The Department of Health and Human Services did not return a request for comment.