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Domestic News | September 17, 2012

Another school files suit

Religious freedom

College of the Ozarks joins more than a dozen Christian colleges fighting the contraceptive mandate

College of the Ozarks (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Board of Tourism)

A small Christian college in Missouri filed suit against the federal government today over the mandate requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs.

The College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Mo., is the fourteenth Christian school to challenge the mandate in court. The school timed its suit to coincide with the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, school President Jerry C. Davis said in a prepared statement.

"The so-called Affordable Care Act is government at its worst," he said. "This is not a partisan issue. It is a constitutional issue, and the College wants its rights respected and enforced, instead of being trampled upon. The Constitution still matters."

The College of the Ozarks, founded in 1905 by a Presbyterian missionary, objects to a provision in the 2010 healthcare reform legislation that requires health insurance plans offered by employers to cover elective abortion and abortifacient drugs. Although the College of the Ozarks qualifies for a one-year exemption to the mandate, which went into effect Aug. 1, the delay only postpones the inevitable, Davis said. The government's "safe harbor" is more like Pearl Harbor, he said: "Do you want to be shot today or do you want to be shot tomorrow?"

Like other small schools, College of the Ozarks has seen insurance costs skyrocket under the health care reforms. Rising premiums might force the school to make a substantive change to its insurance plan, which would end its eligibility for the exemption, Davis said.

According to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal group representing several schools, institutions and companies fighting the mandate, 29 challenges are pending in courts around the country. Judges have dismissed three cases, two of which were filed by schools. Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic school in North Carolina, and Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, had their cases dismissed by a judge in Washington D.C. In both cases, the judge ruled the schools hadn't yet been harmed by the mandate and so did not have grounds to sue.

But the government is only dragging its feet by offering the one-year exemption and delaying the legal challenges, Davis said. The mandate, written by bureaucrats rather than legislators, puts all religious employers in an untenable position of choosing to obey the law or ignore their religious beliefs. At some point, the government will have to defend its decisions, or drop the mandate, Davis said. Although the mandate's opponents keep hoping the government will come to its senses, such a resolution seems unlikely, Davis said: "Give us an exemption we can all live with. Otherwise, we want a restraining order and eventually want our day in court."