While its students enjoyed the waning days of 2013 as a reprieve from schoolwork, the University of Dallas was eyeing the new year with trepidation. On January 1, Obamacare's contraception mandate was set to kick in, meaning the school would have to start offering free contraception under its insurance plans.
It had objected to the requirement in a 2012 lawsuit against the Obama administration, arguing that the measure would violate the school's Catholic principles, but the suit was far from resolution. UD probably could have qualified for an exemption under a compromise, announced by Obama last February, allowing religiously affiliated institutions to opt out of the mandate by getting a waiver and having their insurer (in UD's case a small nonprofit created to provide coverage to employees of UD, Austin College and TCU) foot the bill for contraception coverage, but the school found such a legalistic workaround deeply unsatisfying.
Then, on New Year's Eve, U.S. District Judge Terry Means gave UD its wish: a temporary injunction exempting the university from the contraception mandate. The school boasted of its victory in a Thursday press release.
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"Providing these types of care is contrary to the values of the University of Dallas and to the teachings of the Catholic Church," UD President Thomas Keefe said in a prepared statement. "Clearly, the provision is a violation of the First Amendment and federal civil rights laws."
The reprieve isn't permanent, though Means writes that there is a "substantial likelihood" that the university will prevail once the case goes to trial. It also isn't quite as momentous as it might have been had not Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor handed down a decision on the same day in a case involving a group of Denver nuns temporarily barring the federal government from enforcing the contraception mandate. But a win's a win.
In his opinion, Means notes that federal courts have been divided on whether the contraception mandates violates the rights religiously affiliated institutions. He takes his cue from a judge in Houston, Lee Rosenthal, who granted an injunction on behalf of East Texas Baptist University on the grounds that the new rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.