Contraception Mandate Yields to Baptist Schools

     HOUSTON (CN) - Two Baptist schools in Texas need not cover the contraceptive needs of their employees as required by the health care reform law, a federal judge ruled.
     East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University were two of many religious organizations that balked at a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to include contraceptive services in group health plans they provide to workers.
     In addition to exempting churches and other religious employers from the mandate, the Obama administration provided an accommodation for nonprofit religious organizations.
     The accommodation, which does not extend to emergency contraception, keeps nonprofits from having to directly provide coverage or pay for any contraception that they deem offensive to their faith.
     For-profit employers are not similarly eligible, however, even though they might be owned by religious-minded.
     The for-profit issue heads to the Supreme Court in its next term with the cases Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Meanwhile federal courts across the nation are considering the challenges brought by nonprofit religious organizations such as East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University.
     In their October 2012 federal complaint, the schools argued that assisting their employees' free access to abortion-inducing drugs makes them complicit in killing innocent lives.
     The government meanwhile countered that schools should not be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on employees who may hold different views.
     Houston-based U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal decided Friday to grant the schools an injunction from the mandate, which is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
     Though the government has tried to reduce any direct involvement religious nonprofits might face in providing employees with contraceptive devices, Rosenthal said it had not done enough.
     "The effort to accommodate the religious organizations by reducing their involvement in providing their employees with such access to emergency contraception did not end the plaintiffs' involvement so as to avoid required acts on their part that offend their faith," the 45-page ruling states
     Earlier this month, federal judges in Washington, D.C., granted injunctions to Thomas Aquinas College and to the nonprofit group Priests for Life