A Christian college based in Chester County has filed a federal suit with the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against members of the executive branch, saying that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act violates its First Amendment right to freely exercise its religious beliefs.
Representatives of Valley Forge Christian College of the Assemblies of God challenge the mandate that requires employers to provide insurance plans that include coverage for contraception medications and devices. The college claims that paying for certain products that harm a fertilized human egg, such as Plan B contraceptives, violates its sincerely held religious beliefs.
The defendants in the case include Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Department of Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The college says that it will not be able to comply with the mandate by its October 2014 deadline and is concerned about the financial hardship the resulting fines will bring to the school.
Under the mandate, certain religious employers are exempt from the mandate, namely churches and other religious orders organized and operated as non-profit entities. The suit says that Valley Forge Christian College does not qualify for that exemption.
In 2013, an accommodation was made to non-exempt religious organizations by instituting a system where a third party would provide contraception coverage for the insurance plans.
According to the accommodation, one of the criteria for the third-party coverage is that the entity must self-certify that it opposes some or all of the contraceptive services required, organizes and operates as a non-profit and is a religious organization. Once the self-certification is submitted, the third-party accommodation is automatically triggered.
The final step is the major point of concern for Valley Forge Christian College. According to the complaint, a meeting in April 2014 with the board of trustees resulted in a resolution that opposes not only the "direct provision of potentially life-threatening drugs and devices which harm or terminate a fertilized human egg," but also the indirect method of transferring the moral authority to a third party.
Because of its sincerely held beliefs, the college has not submitted its self-certification and prevented triggering the third party. If the issue cannot be resolved before the October start of its plan, Valley Forge Christian College faces a $100 per day fine for each beneficiary, representing a severe economic consequence for the school, the complaint says.
The plaintiff seeks relief in the form of declarations that the mandate and accommodations violate the school's First Amendment rights, that they are also a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the mandate and an injunction against Valley Forge Christian College's insurance provider, preventing it from covering the purchase of the contraceptives.
Valley Forge Christian College is represented by James Maza of Maza, David & Hoeffel in Lederach, Pa.
The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-04622-AB.