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Judge rules for Grace in fight against health-care mandate

A second religious organization in northeast Indiana has won a reprieve from having to provide contraceptives to its employees and students as stipulated by the federal health care law.

Grace College and Seminary of Winona Lake, along with Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., announced Tuesday they had sought and received a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The ruling temporarily exempts the schools from the birth-control insurance mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio in South Bend ruled in favor of the injunction Friday, the same day he approved a similar request from the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for it and six affiliates in Indiana and Illinois.

In both cases, the plaintiffs argued their religious freedoms would be violated if they were forced to provide their employees with medical insurance that pays for contraceptive methods. For Grace and Biola, the injunction applies to students as well. The insurance mandate takes effect beginning Wednesday.

“Grace appreciates the court’s decision in upholding our rights as a Christian based institution to keep our most core beliefs and convictions regarding the sanctity of human life,” Grace President Bill Katip said in a statement. “Although this is only the first step, we believe the courts will continue to see the unconstitutional nature of this mandate and continue to protect our religious freedoms.”

Grace and Biola filed a joint lawsuit against Health and Human Services in 2012, saying the contraception insurance mandate would violate their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution (religious and due-process rights, respectively). The injunction delays the mandate until a decision is reached in the suit.

DeGuilio wrote in his decision that the plaintiffs “have shown that their RFRA claim stands a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, that irreparable harm will result without adequate remedy absent an injunction, and that the balance of harms favor protecting the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs.”

He wrote the same thing in granting a preliminary injunction to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. DeGuilio was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama; the Affordable Care Act was Obama’s signature legislative achievement in his first term and is commonly called Obamacare.

Grace and Biola are private evangelical Christian colleges. The injunction states that 168 of Grace’s 457 workers, and 60 of its 3,100 students, are enrolled in the school’s health insurance plan.

Biola – founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles – says that 856 of its employees are eligible for medical coverage. The school has 6,323 students but did not specify how many are enrolled in its health plan.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Wednesday.