Four Christian universities in Oklahoma are suing the Obama administration, challenging the constitutionality of a federal mandate requiring employee insurance plans to cover contraceptives.
The lawsuit claims the mandate violates constitutional rights of freedom of religion.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit, filed the suit Friday in Oklahoma City federal court on behalf of the four schools — Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, Southern Nazarene University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
According to the lawsuit, the four universities are seeking an injunction that would prohibit Obama administration officials from requiring the universities' employee and student health insurance plans to cover contraception. That mandate is a part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
In particular, the universities take issue with a requirement that they cover emergency contraceptive drugs, commonly known as the morning-after pill. According to the suit, the universities contend those drugs are a form of abortion, which conflicts with their religious convictions.
Greg Baylor, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the universities haven't been offered the same protection from the mandate as other religious organizations like churches and denominations.
Baylor said the administration has offered no plausible rationale for limiting those protections to churches and denominations, but not religious colleges and universities.
“These colleges are being treated as sort of second-class organizations by the government,” he said.
Alliance Defending Freedom is representing parties in 13 other cases involving the Affordable Care Act. In one of those cases, Geneva College, a Christian school in western Pennsylvania, received a temporary injunction against the requirements.
“The track record so far is pretty good,” Baylor said.
In a statement, OBU President David Whitlock said the university could face fines of millions of dollars per year if it chose not to comply with the Department of Health and Human Services mandate.
"We did not enter into this action lightly, but believe the federal government has given us no alternative,” Whitlock said. "The HHS mandate requires every employer, including Christian educational institutions like OBU, to provide insurance coverage for items we believe violate our religious beliefs.”
The universities aren't the only Oklahoma institutions challenging the mandate. Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. filed a similar lawsuit last year. At the time, David Green, the company's founder and CEO, said the new mandate forced his family to choose between following federal law and maintaining their religious convictions.
Earlier this year, the company won a preliminary injunction that allowed the company to avoid paying millions of dollars in fines for refusing to cover the cost of some contraceptives for its employees.