HOUSTON, Texas — A federal judge appointed by George H.W. Bush has granted an injunction to two Christian universities and one seminary that sought relief from the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare.
East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were granted the injunction on Friday, just days before the mandate goes into effect in the new year.
U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled that the requirement violated federal civil rights laws and that the government could provide a number of options in lieu of denying religious groups an exemption from the mandate.
“The courts have identified several ‘less restrictive means’ of serving the interests the government has identified than a total denial of the religious exemption request,” she wrote. “One is to have the government provide the contraceptive services or coverage directly to those who want them but cannot get them from their religious-organization employers.”
“Another alternative would be to have the government work with third parties to provide emergency contraception without requiring the plaintiffs’ active participation,” Rosenthal continued. “Still another alternative could be to have the employee self-certify on an as-needed basis that their employer is a religious nonprofit that does not provide coverage for such service.”
“The government has not explained why the mandate and accommodation is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest,” she said.
Following the ruling, attorneys for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented both East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University, expressed thankfulness for Rosenthal’s decision.
“The government doesn’t have the right to decide what religious beliefs are legitimate and which ones aren’t,” Deputy General Council Eric Rassbach wrote in a news release announcing the ruling. “In its careful opinion, the court recognized that the government was trying to move across that forbidden line, and said ‘No further!’”
The organization also noted that non-profit religious groups have thus far won nine out of twelve injunction requests.
“The government has enforced the health care reform law very unevenly, handing out exemptions to those it sees as its allies,” Rassbach said. “Perhaps the worst part of the government’s approach is that it seems to have decided that religious institutions are the only ones not to get an exemption.”
The ruling comes just days after a federal court in Oklahoma City granted nearly 200 Christian ministries that receive health insurance through GuideStone Financial Resources a reprieve from the Obamacare abortion pill mandate.
“[These] organizations face substantial financial penalties, and their refusal will cause a substantial financial loss to GuideStone if it excludes nonexempt, noncompliant organizations from the GuideStone plan,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy DeGuisti wrote of the class action lawsuit.
In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide two cases next year surrounding the requirement. As previously reported, the Court announced last month that it would hear two challenges to the Affordable Care Act: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.
“The government shouldn’t be able to punish Americans for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who represents Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to choose between making a living and living free. We trust the Supreme Court will agree. A government that forces any citizen to participate in immoral acts—like the use of abortion drugs—under threat of crippling fines is a government everyone should fear.”