A federal court has ruled in favor of four Christian universities that filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) five years ago to challenge a mandate requiring them to provide contraceptive coverage in the health plans of employees.
Four private colleges - Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University - filed the suit in 2013, with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), seeking relief from the mandate.
The mandate, which was introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, requires employers to provide abortifacients and contraceptives regardless of their religious or moral convictions.
According to Life News, the Department of Justice has ceased from defending the HHS mandate in court under the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump rescinded the HHS mandate and expanded the religious exemptions for nonprofits and businesses in October 2017.
On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma issued an order that prevented the federal government from enforcing the mandate against the four universities, due in part to the DOJ's decision to stop defending regulation.
"Having considered the parties' briefs and all relevant legal authority, Defendants' representations that they are no longer raising a substantive defense to Plaintiffs' Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims regarding compliance with the HHS Mandate, and rules issued by Defendants with regard to the HHS Mandate, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED," the court stated.
The ADF hailed the ruling as a victory for religious freedom. "These universities no longer have to fear being forced to pay fines for simply abiding by the Christian beliefs they teach and espouse, and they are no longer required to fill out forms authorizing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs," ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor stated.
"The government has many other ways to ensure access to these drugs without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions," Baylor added.
The HHS mandate drew complaints from various religious groups when it was enacted in 2011. The lawsuit filed by the four private colleges was just one of several cases that has challenged the mandate in court.
The lawsuit by the four universities were later consolidated with other similar cases, but it was sent back to lower courts by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, in the hopes that it would be resolved by the parties involved.