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Court: Christian colleges can’t be forced to fund abortion, contraception pills

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana, June 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A court has ruled that the government can’t force two Christian colleges to follow an Obama-era mandate to provide abortifacient contraceptives to employees.

Citing federal religious freedom protections, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division sided with Grace College and Seminary in Indiana and Biola University in California.

The court found that the abortion/contraceptive mandate violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says that only the “least restrictive means” of advancing a “compelling government interest” can interfere with Americans’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Religious organizations have the freedom to peacefully operate according to their beliefs without the threat of punishment by the government. Monday's order fully affirms that freedom and provides permanent protection from the mandate,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior counsel Gregory Baylor said of the decision. ADF represented the schools.

“These schools no longer have to fear being forced to pay fines for simply abiding by the Christian beliefs they teach and espouse, and they are no longer required to fill out forms authorizing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs,” he continued. “The government has many other ways to ensure access to these drugs without forcing people of faith to violate their deepest convictions.”

One of the key elements of the victory, ADF notes, is the fact that the Justice Department (DOJ) “abandoned its defense of the flawed mandate” after President Donald Trump took over.

“Defendants with the federal government now agree that enforcement of the rules regarding the contraceptive mandate against employers with sincerely held religious objections would violate the RFRA,” the court wrote.

Had the mandate prevailed, ADF says the colleges would have been subjected to “crippling” fines if they refused to comply.

Last month, ADF won a similar case over the mandate on behalf of four Christian universities in Oklahoma. The DOJ also ended their pursuit of that case thanks to the new administration, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma also ruled that the mandate violated the RFRA.

However, ADF notes that several lawsuits over the mandate are still awaiting resolution. The group says that it is still “negotiating with the Department of Justice regarding the resolution of pending lawsuits,” and that courts themselves have also interfered with the Trump administration’s efforts to end the mandate.

In October 2017, the administration released interim rules “[ensuring] that organizations with religious and moral objections were able to conduct their affairs in accord with their beliefs,” ADF’s Natalie Wyman explains, but “district courts in Pennsylvania and California have both ruled against the Trump Administration’s interim final rules, temporarily blocking them from going into effect.”

“We expect that the federal government will appeal these rulings to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third and Ninth Circuits, respectively,” Wyman says.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Congress failed to enact a variety of proposals to repeal Obamacare. Trump has taken several steps to dismantle parts of Obamacare through executive action. The elements Trump has gutted, damaged, or destroyed include the contraception mandate, regulations on the kinds of health insurance plans Americans can purchase, and the penalty attached to the individual mandate if (among other objections) the only options in their state cover abortions.

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