Ohio Christian school continues fight over Obamacare regulations

A small, religious university in Ohio is leading the charge against Obamacare in defense of religious liberty.

In 2012, Franciscan University filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against the federal government seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) controversial contraception mandate. The Steubenville-located school sought to have the mandate deemed unconstitutional due to the objection that the coverage that is required for certain women’s health services infringes on religious liberty. The services they are opposed to include sterilization, contraception, and potentially abortion-inducing drugs.

Franciscan became one of the first universities to drop its requirement for student health insurance because of moral and economic concerns.

“Franciscan University’s mission is and always has been to teach from the heart of the Church,” Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, former president of Franciscan University said in a press release. “The Obama administration’s mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out that mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely as a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference.”

The university’s lawsuit against then-Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration was dismissed in March 2013 because the university had not yet been affected or injured by the mandate.

On August 22, 2014, the government released a new set of regulations concerning the mandate and how it relates to religious employers. Employers can now send letters to the federal government objecting on religious grounds to the services that are provided through Obamacare, and then the government will determine how to provide those services to the employees through third-party providers.

“It is still nebulous as to how that happens, and so we are still in a position of evaluating the legal and moral implications,” said the Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University in an interview with Campus Reform. “From the moral perspective that actually triggers the providing of the coverage that we object to … while up-front an employer may not pay for it, there is always the economical possibility that the charges will be related back to the employer somehow.”

These new sets of accommodations have not granted religious employers any type of exemption. There remains only a narrow religious exemption that applies only to dioceses, parishes, or religious orders—Christian schools, hospitals, and soup kitchens do not directly meet the requirements.

Franciscan University is currently not obligated to conform to the requirements of the HHS mandate because of its “grandfathered” status, and the school is not providing any of the services the mandate requires.

“We are maintaining that ‘grandfathered’ status,” said Sheridan, “but at some point there may come a time when we have to make a decision to change the health insurance for our employees somehow which would then trigger us out of that ‘grandfathered’ status. We don’t want to do that until these kind of issues are resolved. Healthcare is changing so rapidly, it is amazing that we have been able to maintain our ‘grandfathered’ status for as long as we have.”

Sheridan continued by calling for prayer for the protection of religious liberty. He also encouraged people to speak to their government officials about their concerns pertaining to the mandate.

Sheridan said the government has released eight different accommodations to try to satisfy religious employers since the original promulgation of the regulations back in 2011. The government continues to staunchly refuse Franciscan University a religious exemption status.

“I don’t know that this current administration is going to do anything to satisfy the religious employers,” said Sheridan. “It is a battle that continues.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Lauren_Ramseyer