Carla Hinton, 4 private OK colleges lose contraception case appeal, NewsOK

An appellate court ruled Tuesday against four Oklahoma private Christian universities in the schools’ battle over a controversial federal health care mandate they said violates their religious convictions.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned a U.S. District Court ruling that temporarily stopped enforcement of a so-called federal contraception mandate imposed on Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Mid-America Christian University.

The four colleges are among numerous other religious nonprofit organizations that filed suit against the federal government on the basis that complying with the mandate violates their religious beliefs. The colleges, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, said under the mandate, some of the contraceptives their insurance carriers are required to provide for free for their employees are abortion-inducing drugs that fly in the face of the schools’ anti-abortion convictions. The morning-after pill is among the drugs the schools said they found offensive.

In its ruling, the appellate court said religious nonprofits were given an opportunity to “opt out” of providing the drugs they deemed offensive to their employees. To do this, the ruling stated, the universities could deliver a form to their group health plan’s insurance issuer or third-party administrator or send notification to the Health and Human Services Department.

In their ruling, the appellate court justices disagreed with the Oklahoma universities’ contention that the process to “opt out” of the mandate placed a substantial burden on them, while violating their religious freedom.

“Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of Plaintiffs’ beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) or infringe upon their First Amendment rights,” justices said in their ruling.

An appellate court ruled Tuesday against four Oklahoma private Christian universities in the schools’ battle over a controversial federal health care mandate they said violates their religious convictions.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned a U.S. District Court ruling that temporarily stopped enforcement of a so-called federal contraception mandate imposed on Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Mid-America Christian University.

The four colleges are among numerous other religious nonprofit organizations that filed suit against the federal government on the basis that complying with the mandate violates their religious beliefs. The colleges, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, said under the mandate, some of the contraceptives their insurance carriers are required to provide for free for their employees are abortion-inducing drugs that fly in the face of the schools’ anti-abortion convictions. The morning-after pill is among the drugs the schools said they found offensive.

In its ruling, the appellate court said religious nonprofits were given an opportunity to “opt out” of providing the drugs they deemed offensive to their employees. To do this, the ruling stated, the universities could deliver a form to their group health plan’s insurance issuer or third-party administrator or send notification to the Health and Human Services Department.

In their ruling, the appellate court justices disagreed with the Oklahoma universities’ contention that the process to “opt out” of the mandate placed a substantial burden on them, while violating their religious freedom.

“Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of Plaintiffs’ beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) or infringe upon their First Amendment rights,” justices said in their ruling.

Loren Gresham, president of Southern Nazarene University, deferred comment to Alliance Defending Freedom’s senior counsel, Gregory S. Baylor, who likened the appellate court’s ruling to a punishment.

“The court is wrong to punish people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith,” Baylor said in a prepared statement.

He said his organization, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., planned to consult with the colleges to consider their options for appeal.

“The government should not force religious organizations to be involved in providing abortion pills to their employees or students,” Baylor said in his statement.

“All Americans should oppose unjust laws that force people — under threat of punishment — to give up their fundamental freedoms in order to provide health plans the government prefers. It’s no different for these Christian colleges, which simply want to abide by the very faith they espouse and teach.”

The federal birth-control mandate has faced opposition by various groups since it was handed down in 2012. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but affiliated organizations that serve the general public, such as universities, hospitals and charitable groups, are not.

A U.S. District Court judge granted the Oklahoma universities a preliminary injunction in 2013 that prevented the government from enforcing the health care mandate while the appellate court considered their case.

Full article: http://newsok.com/4-private-ok-colleges-lose-contraception-case-appeal/article/5433721/?page=2