Alliance Defending Freedom asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit Monday to hear the case of Pennsylvania’s Geneva College, which is challenging a three-judge panel’s ruling that would force the Christian school to provide access to abortion pills as required by an Obama administration mandate.
ADF attorneys argue that the ruling conflicts with the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which protects Americans from being forced to act contrary to their beliefs by the government’s mandate. That mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide access, through their health insurance plans, to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy financial penalties through the IRS.
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“Faith-based schools should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “Both the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect this freedom. If that freedom exists for family-owned businesses run by people of faith, as the U.S. Supreme Court so recently affirmed, then it should certainly apply to Christian colleges, which also clearly have a religious purpose and identity.”
“The administration’s attempts at an ‘accommodation’ for non-profits have not been accommodations at all,” Baylor explained. “They still force schools like Geneva to violate their conscience, and that’s why we are asking the full 3rd Circuit to weigh in.”
Last year, a federal district court suspended enforcement of the mandate against Geneva College’s employee and student health plans. The administration appealed those decisions to the 3rd Circuit, which consolidated the case, Geneva College v. Burwell, with two other similar cases.
“In its decision, the Supreme Court resolved the debate, holding that government substantially burdens religious exercise when it substantially pressures a religious claimant to take an action contrary to its religious convictions,” the ADF en banc petition filed with the 3rd Circuit explains.
“The panel’s approach is inconsistent with Hobby Lobby,” the brief continues. “If it were true that RFRA claimants can never point to ‘the effects’ of the actions the government requires them to perform, then the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood would not have prevailed at the Supreme Court.”
“All Americans should oppose unjust laws that force people – under threat of punishment – to give up their fundamental freedoms in order to provide insurance,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “That’s no different for this Christian organization, which simply wants to abide by the very faith it espouses. The government is forbidden from punishing people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”