Religious college sues over Obamacare contraception mandate

David Demirbilek Contributor
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On Constitution Day, President Barack Obama’s health care law returned to court.

The College of the Ozarks filed a lawsuit on Monday asserting that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate is unconstitutional, forcing it to subsidize even abortifacients.

The college argues the law violates its First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech as well as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Although Department of Health and Human Services regulations exempt certain religious employers from the contraception mandate, the college doubts that it will qualify.

The suit was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services and two other Cabinet departments in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Jerry C. Davis, president of the College of the Ozarks, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that his school should be regarded as a religious employer.

“To give you a little background, here’s a college that’s been a pervasively religious school for over 100 years, and for the last 40, we’ve been looking to [our] exemption that originated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” Davis declared. “Now, all of a sudden, somebody’s dreamed up a new definition of what’s a religious employer, and our understanding is we don’t qualify.”

“That’s crazy… What’s wrong with the old definition?”

The College of the Ozarks is not the first organization to challenge the contraception mandate. Following the Supreme Court’s June ruling broadly upholding the Affordable Care Act as a tax, organizations ranging from like Wheaton College have filed suits challenging the contraception coverage provision specifically.

A federal district court judge dismissed the Wheaton College lawsuit in August because the mandate won’t be enforced until June 2013.

When asked what might distinguish the College of the Ozarks’ case from a case like Wheaton’s, Davis cited the fact that his college is well-documented under the law as a religious institution.

In addition to the exemption under the Civil Rights Act, he also referenced a court decision delivered two years ago holding that the college “fit squarely” within the definition of a religious institution.

He also pointed out that courts have been divided on the mandate, pointing to a federal district court that blocked the contraception mandate in late July through a preliminary injunction.

Davis did not limit his criticism of the Affordable Care Act merely to the contraception mandate.

Under federal regulations, employers are allowed an exemption from the contraception mandate if they offer grandfathered health insurance plans to their employees. Material changes to plans result in a loss of grandfathered status.

When asked why the college did not utilize the grandfather exemption and retain its old health insurance plans to steer clear of the mandate, Davis blamed, in part, rising healthcare costs stemming from the Affordable Care Act that necessitated updating their insurance plans.

“We’re… trying to deal with these escalating costs. The name in this act, the ‘Affordable Care Act’ is almost a joke.  Where’s the confidence that anything’s going to be affordable?”

The College of the Ozarks was not the only Missouri institution challenging the contraception mandate on Monday.

Accompanying Monday’s lawsuit, the Missouri state legislature enacted a new law — over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto — that expanded Missouri’s religious exemptions from the contraception mandate.

Davis clarified that the college’s lawsuit was not coordinated with the Missouri state legislature’s vote.

However, he did confirm that the college deliberately timed the filing to coincide with the Constitution’s 225th birthday.

“It seemed like a logical time,” Davis explained to TheDC News Foundation. “We think some of those folks up in Washington need to pay more attention to the Constitution.”

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