The Obama Administration received another legal blow today over a controversial rule requiring that employers — including many faith-based schools and businesses — provide health plans that cover emergency birth control.
U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled in favor of two Texas-based colleges — East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University — that challenged the contraceptive mandate on the grounds that it violated religious freedom protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). He also issued an injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from enforcing the mandate.
“The courts have identified several ‘less restrictive means’ of serving the interests the government has identified than a total denial of the religious exemption request,” wrote Rosenthal, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. He identified a few different ways to provide contraception to employees without the mandate.
“The result is to find and conclude that plaintiffs have shown both a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits of their claim that the mandate and accommodation substantially burden the plaintiffs’ religious exercise and the absence of a genuine factual dispute material to this determination,” he noted. “The government has failed to show that the mandate and accommodation are the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest.”
In granting the injunction, Rosenthal explained that “[p]rotecting constitutional rights and the rights under RFRA are in the public’s interest.”
The contraceptive mandate would include coverage for the morning after pill, Plan B and Ella, which religious groups and business owners consider to be tantamount to abortion.
Though this is yet another victory for religious freedom, this decision won’t be the final word on the contraception mandate. The Supreme Court agreed last month to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The respondent in the case has argued against the mandate on RFRA grounds.