Southern Nazarene University and Others
“To make Christlike disciples through higher education in Christ-centered community” – Southern Nazarene University, mission statement
“[Oklahoma Wesleyan University] is a place of serious study, honest questions, and critical engagement, all in the context of a liberal arts community that honors the Primacy of Jesus Christ, the Priority of Scripture, the Pursuit of Truth, and the Practice of Wisdom.” – Oklahoma Wesleyan University, mission statement
“As a Christian liberal arts university, OBU transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world, and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ.” – Oklahoma Baptist University, mission statement
“Mid-America Christian University prepares students through a Wesleyan perspective to create, collaborate, and innovate to solve local and global problems for the glory of God through Jesus Christ and the good of society.” – Mid-America Christian University, mission statement
At the heart of four Oklahoma universities - Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University - is one common mission: to educate and operate in service of Christ. This mission is entrenched in every aspect of the universities’ respective cultures - including the health insurance benefits they offer students and employees.
With the Christian faith as their cornerstone, it comes as no surprise that these universities oppose a federal healthcare mandate that forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide access through their health insurance plans to abortion-inducing drugs and devices under threat of heavy financial penalties through the IRS.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, the universities joined together and filed a lawsuit in September 2013 against the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies. In December 2013, the district court suspended the enforcement of the abortion-pill mandate against the universities.
In February 2014, the Obama administration appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which ultimately ruled in the administration’s favor, raising the prospect that the universities would need to choose between violating their religious beliefs and paying massive fines.
Not willing to give up their pursuit to serve God in all areas of school operations, the universities asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their case. On November 6, 2015 the Court agreed to hear their case and six others brought by religious non-profits challenging the mandate.
Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, said of their case, “The reason for our lawsuit is simple and clear. Under the guise of Obamacare, the Obama administration claims it has the right to require Oklahoma Wesleyan to include the provision of abortifacient drugs in its employee health insurance package. This is a requirement that we view as immoral and untenable. It is a compromise of our First Amendment rights that we are not willing to accept.”
The case, consolidated with that of fellow ADF client, Geneva College in Pennsylvania and five other similar cases, was argued in March of 2016.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court decided to send the consolidated abortion-pill mandate cases back to the lower courts for reconsideration.
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Southern Nazarene University v. Azar
What's at stake
- The freedom to integrate Christian commitment into all aspects of a Christian community.
- The freedom for religious educational institutions to provide health insurance for their employees and students according to their beliefs.
- The freedom from the threat of crippling fines for resisting illegal government mandates.
Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University are Christ-centered institutions of higher education in Oklahoma. Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, the universities are being pressured to compromise their commitment to their faith and their belief in the sanctity of life. HHS issued a mandate that requires the universities to include all FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs and devices, in their health plans. The mandate forces the universities to choose between providing the objectionable items or paying crippling fines that would harm the schools’ ability to fulfill their vision and mission. Represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, they filed a lawsuit challenging the abortion pill mandate.
Before the end of 2013, the district court had suspended the abortion pill mandate for the universities’ health plans while this case moved forward. The government appealed those decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which reversed the district court’s decision and held that the universities needed to comply with the mandate. The universities appealed the Tenth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court in 2015. In November 2015, the Supreme Court granted review of the case and consolidated it with six other cases, similarly challenging the mandate.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court decided to send the consolidated abortion-pill mandate cases back to the lower courts for reconsideration. And in May 2018, a federal district court issued an order that permanently prevents the federal government from enforcing the Obamacare abortion-pill mandate against these four Christian universities in Oklahoma. The court also ruled that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represented the universities, defending their freedom to operate according to their deeply held religious beliefs.