Pa. Christian college sues over birth control regs

By Joe Mandak

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 4:01 p.m. MST

PITTSBURGH — A Christian college in western Pennsylvania sued the federal government Tuesday, saying regulations that require employers to offer birth control coverage that includes drugs that abort fertilized embryos are "directly at odds" with its religious values, including the Bible's Sixth Commandment.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of Geneva College. The school in Beaver Falls was founded by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

"At Geneva College, we only have one Lord, and he does not live in Washington, D.C.," Geneva College President Ken Smith said in a statement.

The lawsuit argues that the contraception provision "illegally and unconstitutionally coerces Geneva College to violate the Sixth Commandment under threat of heavy fines and penalties," a reference to the biblical directive against murder.

It asks for a judge's ruling that the regulations violate federal law and the First Amendment rights of the college and similar faith-based or church-related groups. It also seeks an order exempting the school from complying with the birth control rule in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The suit comes amid national controversy that erupted this year when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups protested the rule that required church-affiliated universities, hospitals and nonprofits to include birth control without co-pays or premiums in their insurance plans.

Their opposition led President Barack Obama to modify the rule with changes that shift the burden from religious organizations to insurance companies, a solution that did little to satisfy the opposition.

The alliance has filed a similar lawsuit in Louisiana on behalf of Louisiana College in Pineville, and Republican lawmakers in a handful of states have filed legislation that would allow insurance companies to ignore the mandate.

Other religious and conservative groups also have criticized the Obama administration. They object in particular to contraception that prevents fertilization or aborts embryos after fertilization. These include "ella" and "Plan B," also known as the morning-after pill.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are named as defendants in both lawsuits. A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services said Tuesday the department doesn't comment on litigation and referred an Associated Press reporter to a 23-page agency document that states reasons for the regulations.

The document states: "The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is not violated by a law that is not specifically targeted at religiously motivated conduct and that applies equally to conduct without regard to whether it is religiously motivated — a so-called neutral law of general applicability."

The Geneva College complaint also claims that the school would face annual fines of at least $500,000 if it dropped its health care plan, which covers students under certain conditions and all employees. The school has more than 2,000 students.

"The state shouldn't punish people of faith for making decisions in accordance with their faith," Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for ADF, said.

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