Biola University in California and Grace College and Seminary in Indiana added their voices to the chorus of lawsuits against the Obama administration and its contraceptive mandate, filing suit together in Indiana on Thursday. Now eleven colleges and universities have sued the federal government over the issue, including major schools like the evangelical Wheaton College, the University of Notre Dame, and Catholic University. The federal government is facing 25 lawsuits across the country over the mandate.
"This lawsuit is not politically driven nor is it an attempt to pick a fight with the federal government," said Biola President Barry Corey in a video on the school's website (see below). "Rather it is simply a natural outgrowth of our calling to be stewards of the mission Biola's founders have trusted to us, to hold fast to biblical convictions even in the midst of shifting cultural sands."
Biola, one of the largest evangelical colleges on the West Coast, has about 6,250 students and 850 full-time employees receiving benefits. Grace, also evangelical, has about 1,800 students and 180 full-time employees receiving benefits. Grace is self-insured, while Biola uses an outside insurer. The colleges said they objected to providing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs: Plan B, also known as the "morning-after pill," and Ella, the "week-after pill."
"It is unjust that the federal government has mandated that institutions of faith like Biola, which has held biblically centered convictions for over a century, violate their consciences in this manner," said Biola's Corey. "It is an infringement on our freedom to be the university God has called us to be."
Both colleges cover contraceptives, but not Plan B and Ella. Biola acknowledges in the suit that it did at one point unknowingly cover oral contraceptives, including Plan B and Ella, but it analyzed its plan after the government issued its mandate and changed insurance plans to remove that coverage.
"Most judges will accept that that story rings true and that they're not playing games," said the Alliance Defending Freedom's Greg Baylor, the lead attorney on the case. "I'm not concerned about that."
Biola and Grace filed together in Indiana even though they are based in different states and aren't affiliated (download a PDF of the lawsuit). If Biola had filed its suit in California, it would be under the jurisdiction of the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it likely didn't stand much of a chance of winning its case. None of the plaintiffs in the contraceptive mandate cases have filed in any courts that would fall under the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction so far.
Baylor said he thought the Indiana court, which is under the 7th Circuit, was a good place to file. But these cases won't make it to the appellate level for a while. Baylor doesn't expect to hear any circuit-level decisions this year. "I don't think the government's in any big hurry," he said.
In response to all of the lawsuits, the federal government has argued to judges that the cases aren't ready for hearing because the Department of Health and Human Services hasn't finalized the mandate, which goes into effect for most religious groups in August 2013. That argument succeeded in two different cases, and the judges dismissed the lawsuits. But in July, another court in Colorado issued an injunction against the mandate after a Catholic family who owns a business sued, saying the mandate forced the owners to violate their beliefs. Baylor expects the government to use the same arguments against this new lawsuit.
"We think we have some compelling responses-that the merits of these cases should be adjudicated now," he said.