Two Baptist universities, seminary appeal to U.S. SC over contraceptive mandate

By Jessica Karmasek | Jul 10, 2015

Houston Baptist University Hinton Building  

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Two Baptist universities in Texas and a Pennsylvania-based seminary have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court over the contraception requirement of President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.

Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary, represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and former Solicitor General Paul Clement, filed their petition for a writ of certiorari, or review, with the court Wednesday.

They are asking the nation’s high court to protect them from millions of dollars in IRS fines that will be triggered if they refuse to comply with the mandate.

The contraception coverage mandate, which was imposed under Obama’s health care law, requires employers to offer insurance -- including contraception coverage -- or they may be fined.

Family-owned companies and religious-affiliated nonprofits have argued the mandate requires them to provide contraceptives, procedures and drugs that are contrary to their teachings.

In December 2013, a Houston federal court ruled in favor of the schools, but last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied relief to the two universities and Westminster. Westminster is separately represented by Ken Wynne of Wynne & Wynne LLP in Houston.

“We didn’t go looking for this fight,” said Dr. Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University. “But here we stand and can do no other. We cannot help the government or anyone else provide potentially life-threatening drugs and devices.

“The government has many other ways to achieve its goals without involving us. It ought to pick one of those and let us go back to educating our students.”

The lawsuit is similar to those filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Diocese of Erie and Diocese of Greensburg.

In May, the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Erie also filed a petition with the Supreme Court over the mandate. Meanwhile, the Greensburg case has been stayed pending the outcome of those cases.

“The government has already told thousands of businesses they don’t need to comply with the HHS Mandate,” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at The Becket Fund.

“So why is it bullying nuns, religious schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters unless they comply? It makes no sense.”

Twice in recent months, the Supreme Court has thrown out federal appellate court decisions backing the requirement, remanding cases for consideration in light of its Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision.

The June 2014 ruling allowed closely-held, for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest.

The Becket Fund was part of the legal counsel that successfully led the charge against the mandate in Burwell.

“The Supreme Court should step in and tell the federal government that separation of church and state is a two-way street,” Verm said.

“The state should not be able to take over parts of the church -- including these religious ministries -- just so it has an easier way of distributing life-terminating drugs.”

The court likely is to consider the petition in late September or early October.

If the petition is granted, the case would be argued and decided before the end of the court’s term in June 2016.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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