SUPREME COURT HEARS MAJOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CASE
APRIL 3, 2016
On March 23, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the religious liberty case of Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged vs. Burwell. Although the Little Sisters are the primary plaintiffs, the case combines seven challenges to the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive/abortifaciemt mandate, including those brought by East Texas Baptist University, Geneva College, Houston Baptist University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Southern Nazarene University. The mandate requires group healthcare plans to provide coverage for all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including some abortifacients. This case marks a significant moment for those who have continued to stand for religious liberty in response to this mandate prohibiting the free exercise of the tenets of their religious faith. Other groups who have brought similar lawsuits, such as Wheaton College, will also be affected by the outcome of this ruling.
To fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), the federal government passed a regulation that attempts to force groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. Numerous religious groups have objected on the grounds that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and federal Religious Freedom Restoration ACT (RFRA).
Court watchers expect that, because of the absence created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the decision will result in a 4-4 tie. In cases such as this where there is not a majority decision, the lower court verdicts are upheld. However, in this particular case, several lower courts in different parts of the country have issued rulings, all but one of which upheld the government mandate. Because of the divided lower court rulings, a 4-4 tie would likely mean that the issue will once again be brought back to the Supreme Court after a ninth justice is appointed to the bench.
The arguments have been heard; now comes the waiting for the Court's decision. I ask you to join me in praying for our judicial leaders between now and when the decision is released in June. This decision has implications for thousands upon thousands of churches and religious organizations in the United States, including hundreds of institutions of Christian higher education.
Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant