The U.S. Supreme Court is pondering a case that could decide whether Obamacare can force a Christian school or organization to finance abortions.
In March, the court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, with Christian organization fighting a ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services to force Christians to provide to employees mandatory health insurance that funds abortion and birth control.
Four universities from Oklahoma are involved in this case – Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic group, is part of the fight against Obamacare.
“This case is a key test of First Amendment religious freedom protection, and of the intended, sweeping effect of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma. “In January, I joined with 207 members of the House and Senate in submitting a friend of the court brief in support of the Zubik v. Burwell petitioners.”
Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, expressed his concerns at a press conference at the Supreme Court on March 23.
“The Wesleyan Church has stood firm for human freedom and the dignity of women since its inception some 150 years ago,” Piper said. “I never imagined I would find myself at the Supreme Court, forced to defend the teachings of Christianity and our church that form the basis and core of Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s purpose and mission.
“Oklahoma Wesleyan University has a history of standing up against injustice. One of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was Orange Scott, a passionate abolitionist. His example inspired our university’s current ‘Orange Movement,’ an initiative we’ve launched to actively oppose and raise awareness of human trafficking, an epidemic that affects 8.4 million children globally.”
OKWU has adopted “Rahab House” in Southeast Asia, a safe house for 38 young girls who were victims of human trafficking.
“If the government had wanted to, they could have set up plans on the state and federal health exchanges that would allow women to access these particular drugs and devices,” Piper said. “In fact, there is nothing stopping the government from doing that even now. Instead, the Obama Administration has exempted billion-dollar corporations for reasons that have nothing to do with religion and is targeting Christian institutions like us, under threat of millions of dollars in crippling fines, to carry life-ending drugs like the week-after pill in our employee health insurance plans – against the beliefs and mission of our school and against the beliefs of the Oklahoma Wesleyan women who are eligible for these plans.
“In attempting to force us to comply with an unjust edict that tears at the very heart of who we are, the government is attacking the very motivation that drives and inspires us to serve this next generation.
“Oklahoma Wesleyan simply wants to continue to operate according to the faith-driven freedom it was founded on and the faith that still inspires us to serve our college students, our community and our world today. In a free and democratic society, we should be able to do so.”
Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, made oral arguments before the court in defense of the Christian groups.
“The government shouldn’t be allowed to force religious organizations to choose between providing life-destroying drugs and devices or paying massive, unsustainable penalties,” Baylor said. “The government has many other ways to make sure women are able to obtain these drugs, but it has chosen the unlawful and unnecessary path of forcing people of faith to participate in acts that violate their deepest convictions.
“Thousands of businesses and organizations, like Pepsi and Exxon, are already exempt from the administration’s abortion-pill mandate for reasons that have nothing to do with religion, yet the government is targeting people of faith – forcing them to comply with an unjust edict that tears at the very heart of who they are. We hope the justices will agree that this injustice shouldn’t stand.”
Professor Millie Johnson, a faculty member at Geneva College, said she works at Geneva because of its adherence to Christian principles.
A former police officer with the City of Pittsburgh, she is a minister and a volunteer at Choices Pregnancy Services.
“Geneva College is committed to preserving freedom, and we live according to our God-ordained and constitutional right to not contribute to the mass genocide that is abortion,” she said. “We support and preserve the sanctity of life. As a college community, we should not be made to go against our deeply held religious convictions and be forced to provide abortion-inducing medications through our health-care plan. We do not want to be responsible for terminating life once it has been conceived.
“The freedoms guaranteed under federal law and the First Amendment are civil rights. They are not special gifts that government can give or withhold when it chooses.”
Elsa Spear, a student at Geneva College, also spoke at the press conference.
“One question that has become close to my heart during my time at Geneva is the question of what it means to be human,” Spear said. “It is terrifyingly easy for people to dehumanize others, and we can see that in the way that people treat others who look, act, and believe differently than themselves.
“I firmly believe that humanity begins at conception. The government is trying to force me and my college to act against that belief. The government is trying to force Geneva College to dehumanize an extremely vulnerable group of people, to force Geneva College to be a participant in what we believe is the intentional killing of these people.
“If my college does not comply, we will face millions of dollars in fines. The choice Geneva College faces – abandon your religious principles or undergo severe punishment – is a clear assault on religious freedom. There are other ways for women who choose to use abortion-inducing drugs to access them, but the government has chosen to force people and organizations whose faith guides every aspect of their lives to take actions that go against our peaceful and life-affirming beliefs.
”Geneva students helped end slavery, by assisting those who in captivity to freedom via the Underground Railroad. We were among the first in the nation to admit women into academic programs and employ them as faculty. Now, the students at Geneva are fighting sex-trafficking, serving those in tragic poverty in Western Pennsylvania, and partnering with Habitat for Humanity.
“We believe that all deserve life, and abundant life. Why? Because we love God, and we love our world.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, agrees with the Christian groups and is opposed to the overreach of Obamacare.
“This case represents a serious concern that many Americans have with their First Amendment rights and the ability to live out their convictions in everyday life,” Lankford said. “It is not the place of government to determine what a person’s religion requires, and the government cannot justify trampling religious beliefs when there are reasonable accommodations. Religious charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor and faith-based universities like Oklahoma Wesleyan, Oklahoma Baptist, Southern Nazarene, and Mid-America Christian, should not be forced to provide health insurance that violates their deeply held beliefs.”
Lankford also pointed out a Thomas Jefferson statement from two centuries ago, “Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…”
On January 11, Lankford submitted a bipartisan amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the religious nonprofits and charities challenging Obamacare’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate.
President Pro Tempore and Senator Orin Hatch, R-Utah; and Representatives Diane Black, R-Tennessee and Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, joined Lankford in leading the congressional effort, which was signed by 207 bipartisan Members of Congress.
Hatch was the lead Republican sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it passed Congress in 1993 – by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, and unanimously in the House – and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The amicus brief argued that religious freedom is a fundamental guarantee of the United States Constitution and, more recently, of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), noting that “Despite RFRA’s command that the religious beliefs of all individuals and organizations be accorded the same deference, HHS has given the religious liberties of religious nonprofits second-tier status.”
The court will determine if Obamacare’s employer mandate for nonprofit entities to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception is constitutional. In 2014, the Supreme Court held that this mandate violated RFRA as applied to a for-profit corporation.