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Courts

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Grace College sues US over health mandate

Winona Lake-based Grace College and Seminary is suing the federal government, attacking the 2010 health care overhaul law.

The lawsuit, joined by California-based Biola University, is alongside a number of federal lawsuits filed around the country alleging that mandates in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional, infringing on the religious freedom of churches and other religious organizations.

It was filed on Grace’s behalf by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal organization that partners with other organizations such as the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation.

At the heart of all these lawsuits, including those filed earlier this year, is a health care mandate requiring most employers or their insurers to cover services considered objectionable by various religious groups.

In May, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, along with Catholic Charities, the University of Saint Francis, the Franciscan Alliance Inc., Saint Anne Home & Retirement Community and Our Sunday Visitor, sued in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. The University of Notre Dame filed a similar lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in South Bend.

Those lawsuits specifically objected to the mandate requiring the organizations to provide birth control, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

Grace College also filed its lawsuit in South Bend. However, unlike the lawsuits filed by the Catholic Church and organizations, the evangelical college affiliated with the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches does include some contraceptive coverage in its health insurance plans. Grace officials said on the school’s website that they will continue to offer contraceptive coverage, and drugs prescribed to treat diagnosed medical conditions, not as “contraceptives” or abortion-inducing, are covered and will likely be covered in the future.

“The purpose of the prescription is relevant,” officials wrote on the website.

However, the current health insurance plan excludes “morally objectionable” abortion-inducing drugs like Plan B, according to court documents.

“Government officials do not have the right to require religious organizations to act in a way contrary to deeply-held religious beliefs, nor do they have the right to define what constitutes the free exercise of religion,” Grace College and Seminary President Ronald E. Manahan said in a written statement.

“To determine that Grace College and Seminary is not ‘religious enough’ to qualify for an exemption from this mandate is an affront to the religious freedom and free conscience of dedicated Christian organizations across America,” Manahan said.

While the health care law offered an exemption for religious employers, the schools expressed concern they were not “religious” enough under the law because they have purposes other than religious teaching and are not churches, associated with churches or “integrated auxiliaries of a particular church,” according to court documents.

“Christian colleges should remain free to operate according to their deeply-held beliefs. Punishing religious people and organizations for freely exercising their faith is an assault on our most fundamental American freedoms,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor in a written statement.

“This mandate leaves religious employers with no real choice: you must either comply and abandon your religious freedom and conscience, or resist and be taxed for your faith. Every American should know that a government with the power to do this to anyone can do this – and worse – to everyone.”

According a release by Grace College, the school’s board of directors voted unanimously in March to file suit and waited until after the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding most of the Affordable Care Act.

Like the lawsuits before, Grace College names U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and their respective departments.

The lawsuits filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend locally are pending, with the judge yet to rule on a motion to dismiss filed by the government.

The motion said none of the plaintiffs has suffered injury and the suit was filed prematurely.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have requested the court hear oral arguments on the issues.

rgreen@jg.net

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