Christian college sues over contraception directives

Posted: August 09, 2014

A Christian college in Chester County has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandates violate its religious freedoms.

If a federal judge does not grant temporary relief, Valley Forge Christian College could be fined $100 per day per beneficiary, causing "severe economic consequences," according to the suit filed Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as several other federal agencies and employees.

Defense attorney Joel Sweet referred questions to a Department of Justice spokesperson, who declined to comment.

The suit takes aim at an "accommodation" under the ACA that allows religious nonprofits to opt out of providing contraceptives while still allowing employees to receive services or drugs through the insurer or a third-party administrator.

The Phoenixville college, affiliated with the Assemblies of God, says it is not willing to "transfer its legal and moral authority to a third party that would provide the same potentially life-threatening drugs and devices."

The Department of Justice, in a brief filed in connection with several cases similar to the college's, said it expected the federal departments responsible for implementing the accommodation to issue an interim regulation soon to address the situation.

The drugs the college is opposed to include Plan B emergency birth-control pills, according to school attorney James Maza, who added that the college also objects to abortion services except to save the life of the mother.

"The college does not want to be in a fight with the federal government," Maza said. "It wants to solve a problem."

In Pennsylvania, three federal judges in Pittsburgh have sided with religious nonprofits that challenged the contraception accommodation in cases brought by Geneva College, a Reformed Presbyterian school in Beaver Falls, and the Catholic Dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also has sued on behalf of several of its associated charities, but a U.S. District Court judge rejected its arguments in June.

All four cases have been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The justices have yet to rule on any of them.

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.

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