Sixteen US states and several religious groups have thrown their support to three Christian schools in their opposition to the contraception provisions under the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
The states and religious groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs at the US Supreme Court on Monday to support the case filed by the Houston Baptist University (HBU), East Texas Baptist University (ETBU), and Westminster Theological Seminary.
The three schools have appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a federal circuit court ruling that compels them to expand the contraception options in their health insurance plans.
The 5th Circuit Court earlier ruled that the schools must offer all 14 types of contraception spelled out in the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate of Obamacare within their health insurance plans.
The schools, which only offer 10 types of contraception methods, say the mandate violates their religious freedom. This is the reason why they're seeking exemption from the Obamacare provision. If exemption is not granted, all three schools would have to pay millions of dollars in IRS fines for failure to fully comply with the provision.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the schools' legal counsel, says the filing of the briefs by the 16 states and religious organisations is a major breakthrough.
"This strong show of support for HBU and ETBU demonstrates just how important it is that the Supreme Court address the impact of the HHS mandate, particularly on religious groups," said Diana Verm, attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "It is especially significant that 16 state governments are supporting HBU and ETBU at the Supreme Court."
The 16 states supporting the Christian universities, according to Fox News, are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
In addition, religious groups that support the challenge are the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian and Missionary Alliance Foundation, the Alliance Community for Retirement Living, Simpson University, Crown College, and the 181-member Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.
Under the Obamacare accommodation mandate, religious entities may opt out from providing contraception benefits to their employees by signing a form or sending a notice to the Department of Health and Human Services to state that they oppose it based on their religious beliefs.
"The Supreme Court has already granted interim relief from the HHS Mandate to religious groups five times," said Verm. "The government has exempted thousands of businesses from the HHS Mandate, so why is it needlessly forcing religious institutions, nuns and homeless shelters to carry out its goals?