It’s been an interesting legal journey for four Christian universities in Oklahoma: Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and Mid-America Christian University.
These universities have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down again seeking relief from an Obama-era mandate that required them to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health insurance plans – violating the religious beliefs at the very core of who they are.
After five years, that journey has finally come to an end.
This week, a federal district court ruled in favor of these universities, permanently stopping the federal government from enforcing the abortion-pill mandate against them. The court also ruled that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Praise God! And thank you for your support and prayers as Alliance Defending Freedom has represented these universities over the past five years.
Here’s how we got here.
In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (known as “Obamacare”). Under Obamacare, these universities were required to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception through their health plans or face heavy penalties, regardless of their religious or moral convictions.
That left these universities – and Christian and pro-life organizations across the U.S. – with an impossible choice: disregard their faith, or feel the weight of extreme and unsustainable fines.
So these four Oklahoma universities took a different path.
In 2013, ADF filed suit on their behalf, asking that their right to operate their schools according to their religious beliefs be upheld. ADF also represents a number of other Christian and pro-life organizations against the mandate.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and our client Conestoga Wood Specialties, upholding their right to operate their businesses according to their beliefs. This ruling should have paved the way for a victory in the case of these universities as well as several other Christian and pro-life organizations who were seeking relief from the abortion-pill mandate.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit had other ideas.
In 2015, the Tenth Circuit ruled against the Oklahoma universities as well as the Little Sisters of the Poor in a single decision.
The only option left was to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in Zubik v. Burwell to vacate the rulings against these four Oklahoma colleges, as well as Geneva College, Little Sisters of the Poor, and many other religious groups, sending their cases back to their respective appellate courts for further proceedings.
The Court made it clear that the Obama Administration should come to a resolution that does not burden the religious organizations and fulfills the government’s admitted interests.
That resolution has finally been reached in the case of these Oklahoma universities, and we are thankful that freedom, and common sense, have prevailed.
“Religious organizations have the freedom to peacefully operate according to their beliefs without the threat of punishment by the government. Today’s order fully affirms that freedom and provides permanent protection from the mandate,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “The government has many other ways to ensure access to these drugs without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions.”
Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to work to ensure that this same freedom is upheld for the other Christian and pro-life organizations we are representing against the abortion-pill mandate.