Criswell College files suit against HHS mandate

DALLAS—Criswell College has joined a growing list of religious institutions filing suit against the federal contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. 

On Nov. 1, Plano-based Liberty Institute on behalf of Criswell College, filed a lawsuit against the federal government’s Health and Human Services department mandate in U.S. District Court in Dallas.

The lawsuit, The Criswell College v. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the HHS requirements that employers’ coverage include contraceptives such as Plan B and ella, which can act as abortifacients, “unconstitutionally coerce Criswell College to violate its religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties. Specifically, the HHS Mandate violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act,” according to a statement from Liberty Institute.            .

“The mandate requires us to violate our religious beliefs by forcing us to fund something that is contrary to the biblical values we stand for,” said Jerry Johnson, Criswell College president. “We feel betrayed that the government is trying to use the force of law to make us change our religious beliefs and practice by forcing us to fund the taking of innocent life.”

Liberty Institute lawyer Hiram Sasser said the federal government is “forcing Criswell College and others to pay for and otherwise facilitate the use of abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their religious beliefs and practices.”

Criswell joins more than three dozen other legal challenges to the mandate representing hospitals, universities, and businesses opposed to it on religious grounds. Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University filed their lawsuit on Oct. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.—a Becket Fund client—has pled in their lawsuit that they could face in excess of $17 million in fines for not complying, plus potential civil liability for not providing such coverage. HBU and ETBU claim they stand to face $10 million annually in fines. Another Southern Baptist-related school, Louisiana College, filed suit on Feb. 20 contesting the mandate. It is represented by the Alliance for Defending Freedom.

Wheaton College, an evangelical school near Chicago, and Belmont Abbey, a Catholic school in North Carolina, are among other schools Becket is representing in the suits.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed a friend-of-the-court brief filed Oct. 12 asking a federal appeals court to reverse the dismissal of two lawsuits brought by Wheaton and Belmony Abbey.

The HHS mandate became effective in August, with non-profit religious organizations given until August 2013 to comply. The federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama gave the HHS the ability to issue the mandate.

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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