The Obama administration's HHS mandate – requiring employers to provide birth control, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs to their employees with no co-pay – faced a significant setback today, as a federal judge temporarily exempted a Catholic university from complying with it.
Ave Maria University won a preliminary injunction against the mandate from U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. in Tampa earlier today.
“I have wonderful news to share with you!” Ave Maria President Jim Towey announced today. “Ave Maria University won in federal court on its motion for injunctive relief. This is a significant victory because it is the first Federal Court case since the United States Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case and the subsequent issuance of the so-called 'augmented' regulations by the Obama administration.”
The regulation, which was set to go into effect on Saturday, would have cost the university millions of dollars a year in fines. With legal help from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the institution said the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause. “The University's sincere religious beliefs forbid it from facilitating, participating in, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting contraception, sterilization, or abortion,” the lawsuit said.
Judge Moody, who was named to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 2000, cited the university's strong faith teachings as an element in his ruling concerning Ave Maria University v. Burwell.
“Defendants do not dispute that Ave Maria is a non-profit Catholic university purposed with 'educat[ing] students in the principles and truths of the Catholic faith.' One such element of the Catholic faith that Ave Maria holds and professes concerns the sanctity of life,” Judge Moody wrote. “Ave Maria 'believes that each human being bears the image and likeness of God, and therefore that any abortion — including through post-conception contraception — ends a human life and is a grave sin.'”
The university based in Naples, Florida, will not have to comply with a government edict that violates its faith. Nearly 90 percent of courts that have weighed in on the mandate have sided with faithful business owners and non-exempt entities.
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“After dozens of court rulings, the government still doesn’t seem to get that it can’t force faith institutions to violate their beliefs,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at The Becket Fund. “Fortunately, the courts continue to see through the government’s attempts to disguise the mandate’s religious coercion.”
Ave Maria's case is stayed, pending the outcome of EWTN's lawsuit against the HHS, which is also being represented by The Becket Fund.
“Thank you for your prayers and please continue them,” Towey said. “Be assured that Ave Maria University will press on until our religious liberty rights are fully vindicated.”
Proponents of religious liberty see this as yet another indication that the HHS mandate will ultimately be invalidated as unconstitutional, and suggest the Obama administration should begin preparing for inevitable defeat.
“The government has been retreating since it first issued the mandate three years ago,” Baxter said. “Now it’s time for the government to stop going after religious colleges and ministries and start respecting religious liberty.”