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Court rules in favor of Baptist schools challenging Obamacare mandate

Published: Friday, Dec. 27 2013 10:50 p.m. MST

Two Baptist colleges challenging the HHS contraception mandate under Obamacare got a late Christmas present on Friday when a federal judge issued a ruling striking down the federal requirements that the school provide contraception.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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Two Baptist colleges challenging the HHS contraception mandate under Obamacare got a late Christmas present on Friday when a federal judge issued a ruling striking down the federal requirements that the school provide contraception.

East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University had challenged the requirement, arguing that it violated religious liberty protections offered in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute passed and signed into law in 1993. In a 46-page opinion issued Friday, the judge agreed and issued and injunction against HHS enforcing the mandate.

“The religious organization plaintiffs have shown a sincerely held religious belief that the court cannot second-guess," the court held.

RFRA was signed into law in 1993 to reverse a Supreme Court that had narrowed religious liberty. The court had held that laws neutral in intent could heavily burden religious practice without violating the First Amendment. In restoring broad religious freedom for federal law, RFRA had bipartisan, introduced in the Senate by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and signed by President Bill Clinton.

The Obama administration argued that "accommodations" on the contraception mandate that should satisfy religious objections. The plaintiffs, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“The government doesn’t have the right to decide what religious beliefs are legitimate and which ones aren’t,” Eric Rassbach said, Deputy General Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in a statement. “In its careful opinion, the Court recognized that the government was trying to move across that forbidden line, and said 'No further!'

“The government has enforced the health care reform law very unevenly, handing out exemptions to those it sees as its allies,” Rassbach said. “Perhaps the worst part of the government’s approach is that it seems to have decided that religious institutions are the only ones not to get an exemption.”

The decision comes exactly a week after a federal judge in Oklahoma issued a temporary injunction against the mandate nearly 200 religious organizations, the Huffington Post reported last week.

"The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti will prevent the government from enforcing the mandate as the religious groups' lawsuit makes its way through the legal system," the Huffington Post noted. "The lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of 187 ministries that provide their employees with health benefits through GuideStone Financial Resources, the health benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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