Union University in Jackson, Tenn., has settled its lawsuit against the U.S. government concerning the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate that Union provide abortion-causing drugs as part of its employee health plans.
Union University photo
Under the terms of the settlement, the U.S. government agreed that the mandate was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and that under the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, it imposed a “substantial burden” on Union’s free exercise of religion.
“We rejoice over this outcome,” Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said, “in which the government acknowledges that the contraception mandate would impose a substantial burden on our exercise of religion and violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“We believe, based on the Bible, that life begins at conception,” Oliver said. “We went to court to defend religious liberty, the right to believe and to live according to those beliefs, and we are glad that religious liberty prevailed.
“Rights of conscience were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as the first freedom. I hope Union will always be a place that stands for such God-given rights,” Oliver said.
The agreement between Union and the U.S. government specifies that Union’s employee health plans are permanently exempt from the HHS contraception mandate.
The settlement follows new rules issued by the Trump administration Oct. 6 to exempt entities from the mandate based on their religious beliefs.
Union filed one of 56 lawsuits involving more than 140 faith-based plaintiffs against the federal HHS mandate in 2014 that sought a judgment declaring that the abortifacient mandate of the Affordable Care Act violated the university’s rights, not only under RFRA but also under the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act.
“Causing the death of the embryo conflicts with Union University’s beliefs based on [s]cripture,” the Union lawsuit stated. “Therefore, Union University has religious-based objection to drugs and devices that kill the embryo and to education and counseling related to the use of these abortion-causing drugs and devices.”
The lawsuit also said the “mandate forces Union University to choose between its sincerely held religious beliefs and the government-imposed adverse consequences” of non-compliance.
As part of the settlement, the government agreed to pay the bulk of the legal fees that Union accrued.
The Tennessee law office of Rainey, Kizer, Reviere and Bell represented Union in the case; attorney Dale Conder Jr. said it was an honor for his colleague John Burleson and him to represent Union in its fight for religious liberty.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)