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Naples college invigorated in its Obamacare battle

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  • | 3:44 p.m. July 1, 2014
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NAPLES — Ave Maria University President Jim Towey says the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a religious freedom case bodes well in its own fight against a provision of the federal health care overhaul.

Towey, who ran the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, released a statement about the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case late yesterday after the decision. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion, ruled some for-profit companies don't have to provide contraception coverage to employees under religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. The ruling only applies to certain businesses, not colleges, faith-based groups or nonprofits like Ave Maria.

But Towey says the narrow ruling is a confidence boost in Ave Maria's case because it's a “sharp rebuke of the Obama administration and its treatment of” groups that hold sincerely held religious beliefs. Ave Maria sued the federal government in 2012. The school, and later the University of Notre Dame in a separate suit, contends the “preventive care” aspect of the law is unconstitutional. That portion of the law requires group health plans to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and other contraceptive services for free, the school says. No conscience clause is offered and only places of worship are exempted.

“The administration waged a 28-month campaign of harassment against Ave Maria that endangered the health insurance of our employees and forced us to expend massive amounts of time and energy defending our rights,” says Towey in the statement. “Ave Maria University was among the first to go to federal court to fight their proposed, unjust regulations. Today's decision by the Supreme Court is a victory for all who support faith-based organizations and their right to practice their religion free from governmental interference.

Adds Towey: “People can disagree about the morality of contraception, and the federal government already has the ability to fund these services to whatever extent it wishes, but faith-based colleges and universities should not be compelled to violate conscience to carry out such a mandate. The Obama administration could have expanded access to contraception through any number of methods but instead chose to require Ave Maria University and others to be complicit in their scheme. The Supreme Court made it clear today that the Obama administration violated Federal law when it failed to choose the least restrictive way to offer these services.”

The Ave Maria lawsuit is pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the school, which has 170 employees and is based in the town of Ave Maria, east of Naples. The school was founded in 2003.


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