A federal judge in December granted Biola University relief from complying with a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires faith-based employers to provide free insurance access to all government-approved contraceptive drugs — including those that might induce abortions. U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio issued a preliminary injunction on Dec. 27 to allow Biola to exclude coverage for the drugs it finds objectionable, including Plan B and ella (known as the “week-after pill”), while the university’s ongoing court case against the federal government proceeds. The mandate, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1.
“This case is about whether the government can force Biola University — under penalty of severe fines — to violate its deeply held religious convictions about the sanctity of human life,” the university responded in a statement. “Biola applauds the court for taking this initial step as the university seeks to protect its constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.”
Biola filed its joint lawsuit with Grace College and Seminary in Indiana in August 2012. The suit challenges the HHS mandate on the grounds that the controversial regulation violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. (Other institutions that have filed similar suits include the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College, Geneva College and Catholic University.)
Biola’s primary concern with the mandate is the dangerous federal precedent it sets in narrowing constitutionally protected religious freedoms, President Barry H. Corey has explained. The regulation creates a full exemption for churches, but not for other faith-based organizations such as universities and hospitals — meaning they must comply with the mandate, even if it violates doctrinal positions, or choose to either pay substantial annual fines or stop offering health insurance altogether.
Since the original filing, the government has implemented an “accommodation” for faith-based organizations with religious or moral objections to the contraceptives. The change would allow institutions such as Biola to opt out from including objectionable contraceptives directly in their insurance plans, but would instead require the institutions’ insurance providers to offer the contraceptives to employees free of charge through separate individual policies.
The universities’ attorneys have argued in legal filings that the accommodation continues to violate their religious freedom — an argument that the court’s ruling affirmed.
“That the accommodation scheme allows [Biola and Grace] to avoid the costs of such services provides no comfort or relief,” DeGuilio wrote in his decision for a preliminary injunction. “It’s the facilitation of the objectionable services, not the related cost, that offends their religious beliefs. Ultimately, the plaintiffs would be forced to modify their behavior and violate their religious beliefs by either giving up their health insurance plans or by providing insurance but taking critical steps to facilitate another’s extension of the objectionable coverage.”
With the ruling, Biola joined numerous other groups to receive relief from the mandate. During 2013, courts consistently ruled in favor of groups challenging the HHS mandate, with 53 of 60 decisions going against the government, according to a tally from Alliance Defending Freedom, the group providing free legal representation in Biola’s case. In cases involving nonprofit religious groups, the courts have decided 19–1 against the government.
More information about Biola's federal lawsuit can be found in the university's Frequently Asked Questions document and in a 2012 column from President Barry H. Corey published in the National Review. President Corey explains the university's original decision to file suit in the following video from August 2012.