A new development is on the forefront of the highly-scrutinized debacle over the Affordable Care Act’s HHS contraception mandate. Last week, Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled on a joint lawsuit filed by Houston Baptist University (HBU) and East Texas Baptist University, determining that the universities cannot be forced by the federal government to pay for the contraceptives mandated in the Affordable Care Act.
The lawsuit held that the mandate is unconstitutional because it forces groups with a conscientious objection – in this case, the university’s Christian views – to participate in what they view as immoral or unethical behavior. By facilitating the provision of contraceptives (some of which can be abortifacient in nature), the university would have to compromise deeply held convictions.
Judge Lee Rosenthal wrote a 46-page opinion on the case, in which she responded to the central concern, saying:
The belief [that the government does not have the right to decide that certain religious beliefs against contraception are illegitimate] need not be long-standing, central to (their) religious beliefs, internally consistent with any written scripture, or reasonable from another’s perspective. They need only be sincerely held.
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The mandate violates the consciences of many religious employers, and enforcement of the HHS mandate continues to remain under intense scrutiny by supporters and opponents alike. On New Year’s Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled that the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to pay for contraceptive coverage through the HHS mandate. The Obama administration responded negatively to this ruling, and is also expected to appeal the HBU decision. However, Josh Blackman, a legal scholar at the South Texas College of Law, believes that the appellate court is unlikely to overturn the injunction.
Without a similar ruling in their favor, other groups that refuse to comply with the HHS mandate will face crippling fines. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing many of the non- and for-profit plaintiffs in cases against the unconstitutional mandate.