Two Christian colleges in Michigan and Iowa don’t have to provide insurance coverage for certain contraceptives, according to a federal appeals court.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a lower court’s order that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the two schools’ exercise of religion.
Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, faced federal fines for noncompliance.
The decision was hailed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law group that represented both schools.
“In America, faith-based colleges and and universities should be free to operate according to the faith they espouse and live out on a daily basis,” said Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance.
If the federal government could punish Christian groups for abiding by their faith, there is no limits to what other freedoms could be taken away, said Baylor.
Officials with Cornerstone, a nondenominational Christian school, were’t immediately available for comment. Dordt is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church.
In its ruling, the appeals court found that the federal government was using heavy fines to coerce the schools to follow the contraceptive mandate.
The two schools filed a lawsuit against the government in 2013, saying they were trying to protect their religious freedom.
They argued that contraception, specially morning-after drugs, was equivalent to abortion and against their religious beliefs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services couldn’t be reached for comment.
Earlier, the Justice Department had called the lawsuit meritless and an attempt to prevent female workers from obtaining insurance coverage.