Biola to join lawsuit against government for Affordable Care Act

Biola will be joining Grace College in a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act, which will require organizations to provide health insurance, including contraceptives, to employees.

Elizabeth Sallie and Elizabeth Sallie

In its first ever federal lawsuit, Biola University filed a suit against the government over birth control and religious liberties. Biola has jointly filed the suit with Grace College in Indiana against the government on Aug. 23 over the controversial birth control mandate set by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, all organizations with more than 50 employees and who do not qualify for the religious exemption will be required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives with their company insurance plan. Religious exemption currently covers only churches and religious orders.

In addition to traditional birth control, the list of contraceptives includes Plan B, more commonly known as the morning-after pill, and ella, the week-after pill, both of which are abortifacients — or abortion-inducing drugs. This goes against Biola’s strong pro-life stance, president Barry Corey said in a small speech to students on Friday in chapel.

Motivated by Biola’s beliefs

The suit is being filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, based out of Washington, D.C. ADF is a legal ministry dedicated to preserving the rights of people to live out their faith, according to their website.

The lawsuit is more than a move to relieve the university of the obligation to pay for the much debated drugs, said Biola University Legal Counsel Jerry Mackey.

Corey urged that the suit was not a politically motivated decision. University officials say that the issue actually is much larger: The suit is about religious liberty, Mackey said.

The religious exemption in the Affordable Care Act currently applies only to churches and a few religious orders.

Mackey said that such a narrow definition of religious organizations could stretch out to apply to other areas — such as Biola’s ability to selectively hire Christian employees.

“This mandate leaves religious employers with no real choice: You must either comply and abandon your religious freedom and conscience, or resist and be taxed for your faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor in a press release.

Employers are required to comply with the mandate or face fines. The lawsuit seeks relief from being required to comply with the mandate while the suit is in court.

What could the future look like?

Proposals have been made for a provision to be enacted that would affect what Mackey called second-tier religious organizations — those that are not churches, but still uphold religious values. Mackey said he sees the proposal as a shell game.

“As the Obama administration and HHS has looked at this, they’ve tried to backpedal in some ways,” Mackey said.

The option on the table, which is only in the very beginning stages, would allow schools to not provide a co-pay for abortifacients. Instead, the money would come from their insurance providers.

For schools like Grace College, who provide their own insurance, the proposal would not alleviate any issues. Biola, though it is not self-insured, is worried because they’d still be required to provide the option for the drugs under the plan. The university also believes that the cost of the drugs would eventually come out of the insurance premium, since it seems unbelievable that insurance companies would pay for such costs themselves, Mackey said.

A long-term commitment

The eventual decision is still a long way off. If the lawsuit makes it past the initial stages, it could still take up to a few years. Two of three similar suits that have been filed have been dismissed on procedural grounds.

If that were to happen to Biola’s suit, the schools would have to regroup and decide when to file again. The lawyers for this case did consider the previous concerns raised with other cases while compiling the suit and hope to avoid dismissal.

Other large religious schools, such as Wheaton College in Illinois, Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, have already filed very similar suits.

Biola is the first university in the state of California to file such a suit, and they filed in Indiana, with hopes of a better reception than California’s notoriously liberal circuit court, the lowest level of the federal court system.

“Filing in the Ninth Circuit was not an attractive option,” Mackey said, with a grin.

He hopes that the Seventh Circuit in Indiana will be more open.

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