Non-Catholic Christian groups, state governments sue over Obama birth control mandate

Jason Howerton Contributor
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At least seven religious plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the Obama administration over the president’s contraception mandate for health care coverage. That requirement forces most health insurance plans to offer free preventative services for women.

So far the majority of civil complaints have come from small religious colleges and universities that claim the mandate infringes upon their religious liberty and forces institutions to provide services that violate their faith.

“The issue here is exercising our religious freedom, not contraception or abortion,” Geneva College President Ken Smith told The Daily Caller. “And I will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Roman Catholic Church on this issue or anyone else for that matter.”

Nebraska and six other states also challenged the mandate with a lawsuit in federal court Thursday, according to a Reuters report. “The First Amendment has for centuries served as a rampart against government interference with religious liberty,” the suit argues.

The other states include Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Catholic Social Services, the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America and Pius X Catholic High School in Nebraska were identified as co-plaintiffs.

But the more surprising development may be the entrance into the fight of Christians from denominations other than Roman Catholicism. (RELATED: Full coverage of the health reform law)

On Tuesday the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on behalf of Geneva College, a Beaver Falls, Penn. school affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and Louisiana College, a Baptist institution, adding them to the growing list of plaintiffs.

Others include Catholic schools Ave Maria University and Belmont Abbey College, the Baptist-influenced Colorado Christian University, and the Catholic-aligned Eternal World Television Network and pro-life Priests for Life organization, all of which filed separate lawsuits and are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“This mandate is a violation of our first amendment rights and we will not stand for it,” Louisiana College President Dr. Joe Aguillard told The Daily Caller. “There will be no compromise. We will go to jail if that’s what it takes but we’ve put our foot down.”

The Obama administration’s controversial mandate will most likely be a factor through the entire 2012 Presidential election season.

The Catholic University of America, located in Washington, D.C., takes an official position against the policy. Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Victor Nakas said the university has not yet determined whether it will file its own lawsuit.

Even if Catholic University remains on the sidelines, it could decide to revoke its employees’ health care coverage in protest. A number of Protestant colleges have already expressed enough discontent with the Obama mandate to justify a national discussion about that option.

Roughly 120 college presidents, many from Protestant schools, met in the nation’s capital Feb. 1–3 for an annual meeting sponsored by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. The contraceptive mandate was a hot topic of discussion.

In a bid this month to quell the outrage expressed by religious groups, Obama and his Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius rolled out what they called an “accommodation” to religious opponents of the contraception coverage requirement.

The compromise would permit religious-affiliated organizations such as Catholic schools and hospitals to refuse to pay for contraceptive care. Instead, insurers would be required to foot the bill for free preventive services to women, including contraception and medications like Plan B and Ella that are taken after intercourse to prevent pregnancies.

Critics say the cost will likely be passed on to employers, however, and that the change does nothing to help self-insured organizations.

“This is nothing more than an accounting gimmick,” said Emily Hardman, communications director at the Becket Fund. “Even the insurance companies are saying it: There is no free lunch here. Someone has to pay for this.”

Nakas said the annual cost of contraceptives is roughly $600 per person, an expenditure insurance companies are unlikely to absorb without defeating the purpose of Obama’s “accommodation” by raising premiums.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, agrees that the compromise is unfair — not to religious institutions, but to women.

“I think this whole argument about religious freedom is bogus,” he told TheDC. “It’s disingenuous and dishonest. No one is forcing anyone to use contraception; they are being given a choice.”

Catholic Bishops are using freedom of religion to carve out an exemption for their religious interests so they don’t have to “play by the same rules,” O’Brien insisted. He also said Republicans are using the controversy to gain leverage in the upcoming elections — a plan he says will backfire.

“It’s creepy that religious institutions want to tell you what to do in your personal life,” he added. “We need freedom of religion but we also need freedom from religion.”

According to a federal court document obtained by The Daily Caller, the U.S. Department of Justice has already asked the courts to dismiss the Belmont Abbey College lawsuit. Hardman said the Becket Fund has not received responses on any other pending lawsuits pertaining to the contraception mandate.

In the court pleading, the Obama administration said the issue “is not fit for judicial decision and plaintiff would not suffer substantial hardship if judicial review were withheld or delayed.”

“[T]his case should be dismissed in its entirety as unripe,” the government argued.

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