Criswell files suit against abortion mandate
DALLAS (BP) -- Criswell College, a Christian school with deep Baptist roots, has filed suit against the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate, asserting the rule unconstitutionally forces it to violate its "deeply held religious beliefs."
Criswell on Nov. 1 became the latest Christian school to take legal action against the mandate, which forces businesses -– including religious organizations –- to carry health insurance plans covering contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. The latter drugs often are called "emergency contraceptives" and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella. They can act after fertilization and even after implantation.
Liberty Institute filed the suit on behalf of Criswell College.
"Criswell believes that, as a matter of religious conviction, it would be sinful and immoral for it to intentionally participate in, pay for, facilitate, or otherwise support abortion, which destroys human life," the suit states. "It believes that the Sixth Commandment ('thou shalt not murder') proscribes payment for and facilitation of the use of drugs and devices that can and do destroy very young human beings in the womb."
The administration's regulations "trample on the freedom of Criswell College and millions of other American organizations and individuals to abide by their religious convictions and to comply with moral imperatives they believe are decreed by God Himself," the suit states.
Criswell believes "life begins at conception," the lawsuit adds.
Although the media has focused on Catholic institutions in its coverage of the mandate, more and more non-Catholic organizations are filing suit, mostly because of the abortion issue. Louisiana College was the first Baptist institution to file suit earlier this year. Since then, Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University have joined the list.
There are now 39 lawsuits against the mandate, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The mandate was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 and went into effect in August of this year, although HHS gave nonprofit religious organizations such as Criswell another year -- until August 2013 -- to comply. The new health care law signed by President Obama opened the door for the mandate. The law itself does not require coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, although it did give HHS the authority to determine what is and is not covered under the new law, often dubbed "Obamacare." The Supreme Court upheld the law earlier this year but did not deal with the issue raised by the mandate lawsuits.
The HHS rule exempts churches but not religious organizations such as Christian colleges and hospitals.
The list of businesses and organizations suing to overturn the mandate also has grown in recent months, with arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and Christian publisher Tyndale House joining the ranks.
Criswell College has ties to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and embraces the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.
"The mandate requires us to violate our religious beliefs by forcing us to fund something that is contrary to the biblical values we stand for," Criswell College President Jerry Johnson said in a statement. "We feel betrayed that the government is trying to use the force of law to make us change our religious beliefs and practice by forcing us to fund the taking of innocent life."
The lawsuit claims the mandate violates the U.S. Constitution's First and Fifth Amendments, as well as two federal laws.
The lawsuit says the government has "provided thousands of exemptions" to businesses but refuses to exempt religious organizations from the mandate. For example, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt. Businesses also had the option of "grandfathering" in their previous health care plans and thereby avoid many of the new law's requirements, such as the mandate. Criswell is not able to grandfather its plan because it has made changes that resulted in it losing its grandfather status, the suit states.
"Yet, the government refuses to exempt many religious groups (and religiously observant individuals) from this unprecedented Mandate," the suit states.
The HHS mandate provides an exemption for churches and church-like bodies provided they are nonprofit and meet all four of the following criteria: 1) "The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization"; 2) "The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization"; 3) "The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization"; and 4) The organization is a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, a convention or association of churches, or is an exclusively religious activity of a religious order, under Internal Revenue Code 6033(a)(1) and (a)(3)(A)."
The suit says, "Criswell College is not 'religious' enough under this definition in several respects, because, among other reasons, it has purposes other than the 'inculcation of religious values' and because it does not fall into the category of churches, integrated auxiliaries of particular churches, conventions or associations of a church, or the exclusively religious activities of a religious order."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).