Update on HHS Lawsuit

January 02, 2014

Court Rules in Favor of Westminster and Co-Plaintiffs

A Message from Jim Sweet, General Counsel and Vice President of Institutional Advancement

Westminster filed suit in federal district court in Houston, Texas in March 2013 seeking an injunction and other relief against the government’s enforcement of the so-called contraceptive mandate – part of the Affordable Care Act – as to Westminster. On December 27, the court ruled in favor of Westminster and its co-plaintiffs, Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University, and enjoined the government from enforcing the mandate as to any of the plaintiffs. Click here to see our announcement of entering the lawsuit from March 2013. We are truly grateful to the Lord for this result. Here are the essential details:

Since Westminster is not an “exempt” religious organization under the Affordable Care Act, i.e., a church or an integrated auxiliary of a church, it would be required to comply with the government’s so-called “accommodation” to non-profit religious institutions if it wished to have all abortifacient drugs and devices removed from its medical and drug plans. To comply with the terms of the accommodation, Westminster would be required to “self-certify” to its insurer that it is a religious organization that is opposed to the abortifacient products and devices. Upon that self-certification, the insurer would be required to remove those drugs and devices from Westminster’s health plan and, separately, to issue policies to its employees that included access to those drugs and devices – at no cost to the employees. We took the position in our briefs and at oral argument that the requirement of self-certification itself was a violation of our First Amendment “free exercise of religion” rights, as well as our rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) because that act of self-certification “triggered” the very result that we opposed and implicated us in the very actions we found to be offensive.

The Court agreed with us on all points and held that the free exercise of our religious beliefs was “substantially burdened” by this self-certification requirement, and further that the government did not meet its burden of proof under the RFRA of demonstrating a “compelling public interest” in forcing the accommodation upon Westminster. The court further found that, in any event, the government’s method under the contraceptive mandate of accommodating the free exercise rights of religious non-profits was not the “least restrictive means” of accomplishing that interest. In short, we won on all points.

According to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there are now approximately 12 “accommodation” cases like ours that have been decided nationally with 9 going our way and 3 in favor of the government. All are very recent decisions. These cases will probably make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court where another case involving for profit companies – Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties vs. Sebelius-- is pending and will most likely be decided in the current Supreme Court Term.

One of our board members, Ken Wynne represents Westminster pro bono in the litigation. Kudos to Ken for the result he achieved and his terrific efforts on Westminster’s behalf.

Click here to see The Beckett Fund’s write-up of the court’s decision. The Becket Fund represents our co-plaintiffs and is an invaluable ally in the religious liberty struggles that are ongoing across the country.