Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, a Catholic four-year liberal arts college, has prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, the school said Dec. 23.
The U.S. District Court judge, however, ruled against Thomas Aquinas’ co-plaintiffs, including the Catholic University of America and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, in the suit over the new health-care law.
Because Thomas Aquinas self-insures, the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the organization and was therefore in violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, Judge Amy Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled. Jackson entered summary judgment on behalf of the school and issued a permanent injunction against the U.S. government from enforcing the mandate in its current form. The government has 30 days to file a notice of appeal.
In her ruling, the judge found that because Thomas Aquinas self-insures, the challenged regulations force the Catholic school to facilitate access to contraceptive and abortion-inducing services. The school has said providing access to such services goes against its Catholic principles.
“In the case of a self-insured entity like Thomas Aquinas, the newly enacted regulations fall short of the mark,” Jackson said in her ruling. “Since the accommodation imposes a duty upon the religious organization to contract with a willing third-party administrator that will arrange for the payments for contraceptives, they compel the organization to take affirmative steps —
to do something — that is in conflict with the tenets of its faith.”
However, Jackson ruled against the school’s co-plaintiffs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies involved in implementing the new health-care rules have made accommodations alleviating the “burden that the mandate imposes on religious organizations that are not entirely exempt” from the law, the judge wrote in her ruling. The other Catholic groups have said they plan to appeal the ruling.
“While we are delighted with Judge Jackson’s ruling concerning Thomas Aquinas College in this matter, we deeply regret that our co-plaintiffs did not receive similar rulings,” Thomas Aquinas College President Michael McLean said in a statement. “We stand with the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America, and all our co-plaintiffs, and we pledge our prayers that they, too, will be successful in securing their religious liberties.”