University “actively moving forward” with impending lawsuit against government

A controversial mandate in the Affordable Care Act has some institutions going to court. SNU is “actively moving forward” with an impending lawsuit over this issue. (Photo by Austen Hufford used under Creative Commons license.)

By Brad Crofford

While the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Health Care Act’s individual mandate earlier this year, another component that would require insurance coverage of controversial contraceptive drugs has institutions with religious ties going to court.

Hobby Lobby has already filed suit and SNU president Dr. Loren Gresham told The Echo  that SNU and other Christian schools in Oklahoma are “actively moving forward” in the process of filing a lawsuit.

There are two key issues at stake with this mandate, Gresham explained.

First, this mandate reflects a trend of increasing government regulation of religious institutions. For example, students at religious institutions such as Colorado Christian University have been denied grant aid because the university was deemed too pervasively religious. This is critical as half of the funding for universities like SNU comes from loans and grants.

“We don’t know where this all ends,” Gresham said.

Second, the mandate also raises the issue of the sanctity of life.The mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would require group health plans to provide “preventive services” that includes contraceptives approved by the FDA.

The Becket Fund, “a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute that protects the free expression of all faiths” and is assisting with the lawsuits against the measure, explains on its website, “The ‘FDA-approved contraceptives’ covered by the mandate include “emergency contraception” drugs. One of them is “ella” (ulipristal)—which is a close analogue to the abortion drug RU-486 (mifepristone)—and can cause an abortion when taken to avoid pregnancy.”

While churches and certain religious orders are granted an exemption, other faith-based institutions are not. This raises issues for groups like the Church of the Nazarene, whose Manual states: “From the moment of conception, a child is a human being…Therefore, we believe that human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception. We oppose induced abortion by any means…”

The mandate has led to some fierce opposition. According to the Becket Fund, over 31 cases involving 90 plaintiffs have already been filed.

“I’ve never seen the conservative evangelical Christian community as unified as they are against this because it’s about the sanctity of life,” Gresham said.

SNU may be joining the list of cases, along with other universities belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

“We’re actively moving forward with other CCCU schools in the state. We will be filing, but I don’t know the precise timeline yet,” Gresham said.

According to Gresham, the universities’ presidents have been assured by the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom that the universities will not be responsible for court costs and legal costs; SNU’s only costs will be indirect, such as time spent assembling materials.

Gresham emphasized that the opposition to the DHHS mandate is not meant to deprive women of their rights.

“Some people view it as an attack on women, but we provide, through our employee health benefit, preventive contraception,” Gresham said. “It comes down to when you believe life starts. There is no intention on our part to in any way deprive women of their rights. None.”