Patrick Henry College
|Amicus Brief for HHS Mandate|
Patrick Henry College has joined an amicus brief, filed October 12 in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in support of a lawsuit by Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College against the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The underlying issue is the federal government’s decision to force religious organizations to cover the cost of birth control and abortifacients like the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill,” against their religious beliefs.
Organizations participating in the brief as “friends of the court” include Patrick Henry College, the Christian Legal Society, Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Christian Medical Association, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Association of Christian Schools International, and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others.
The suit against HHS, filed last week with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, seeks to overturn the recent decision to dismiss the lawsuit against HHS’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate. The suit was initially dismissed because HHS strategically decreed a year’s delay in enforcement. But when the HHS rule takes effect next year, it will impose severe penalties for not complying with this component of the “Obamacare” Affordable Care Act.
The suit disputes the government’s novel definition of a “religious employer.” The new HHS guidelines define colleges as non-religious employers which are thereby ineligible for any religious exemption—even when a college is as distinctly religious as Patrick Henry College. They also define rescue missions and other Christian ministries serving the needy as non-religious employers.
“We are not co-litigants,” said Dr. Graham Walker, president of Patrick Henry College. “We’re simply joining with other Christian organizations in moral support of Wheaton and Belmont Abbey. HHS’s rule aims to coerce thousands of ministry organizations, including Christian colleges like Patrick Henry College, to violate their religious convictions. We cannot sit by and say nothing about this impending violation of religious liberty.”
In response to Wheaton’s original lawsuit, the federal government rewrote the mandate guidelines to give affected ministries until August 2013 to comply. Like many colleges, Wheaton's medical policies are renewed each calendar year, meaning that implementation would be effective January 1, 2014. The judge therefore ruled Wheaton’s present lawsuit was premature, since the law hadn’t taken effect, and dismissed it.
“The government’s decision to postpone enforcement for a year looks like a clever ploy,” noted Dr. Walker, “and the court fell right into line with it. It pushed the legal controversy beyond the threshold of the November elections. Wheaton and Belmont Abbey are now asking the D.C. Court of Appeals to hear the case anyway, and we’re simply saying ‘we agree,’” said Dr. Walker.
Assuming the mandate goes into effect on schedule, he explained, “then PHC would have to make sure that our health plan included paid coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients. Or, in order to not violate our conscience, we would not offer health insurance to our employees, which itself carries a significant financial penalty.”
Wheaton’s lawsuit seeks to preserve its right to offer health insurance to employees that aligns with its beliefs.
“We’re appealing because we continue to believe that our case should be considered on its merits,” says Wheaton College President Philip Ryken. “While we are pleased that our lawsuit has compelled the government to delay enforcement, waiting another year will not change the fact that the mandate violates our religious liberty and puts our ability to offer our employees health insurance at risk.”
There are now 26 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act.
The amicus brief, joined by PHC, is in support of the appellants in the case titled “WHEATON COLLEGE and BELMONT ABBEY COLLEGE v. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, et. al.”