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Iowa, Michigan Christian colleges win freedom from HHS mandate

A federal district court issued an order Tuesday (June 12) that permanently halts enforcement of the 2011 HHS mandate against two Christian colleges: Dordt College of Iowa and Cornerstone University of Michigan.

“Everyone in America, and especially Christian college communities, should be free to live, study, and work consistently with their deeply held beliefs without the threat of unjust punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “Under the HHS mandate, religious employers were given no real choice: They had to either comply and abandon their religious freedom, or resist and pay severe fines for their faith. The district court in Iowa has rightly blocked enforcement of this mandate to protect the colleges’ religious freedom.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services forced employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy financial penalties. Last year, under the new administration, HHS freed nonprofits like Dordt College and Cornerstone University from that mandate, but federal courts in Pennsylvania and California later blocked the new rules nationwide, effectively maintaining the mandate against Christian colleges.

Tuesday’s action by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa permanently blocks enforcement of the mandate against Dordt and Cornerstone. The court also issued a judgment that, consistent with a previous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, declares the mandate to be in violation of federal law.

In its order in Dordt College v. Azar, the court states that “Plaintiffs have demonstrated, and Defendants now concede, that requiring Plaintiffs to comply with [the HHS mandate], to the extent such compliance contradict[s] Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, violates their rights protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act….”

Serving as co-counsel on behalf of the colleges are Jeff W. Wright of the Heidman Law Firm in Sioux City, Iowa, and Carole D. Bos of the Grand Rapids, Michigan, firm of Bos & Glazier, two of the more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF.

Two other federal district courts issued similar orders recently for four Christian universities in Oklahoma, a Christian college and seminary in Indiana, and a Christian university in California. ADF attorneys and allied attorneys continue to litigate numerous other lawsuits against the mandate.

— CNJ staff report

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