Evangelical colleges sue over birth-control mandate

Under the mandate, most employers must provide coverage for a range of birth-control methods without a co-pay in their health plans or pay a fine.

The methods must include so-called emergency contraception, which is taken after intercourse and was believed for many years to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting to the uterus.

Experts recently called this understanding outdated and scientifically incorrect, but it continues to prompt lawsuits against the mandate by Catholic and Protestant groups united by their opposition to abortion. 

"Christian colleges should remain free to operate according to their deeply held beliefs," said Gregory S. Baylor, an attorney with the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which is representing the schools.

"Punishing religious people and organizations for freely exercising their faith is an assault on our most fundamental American freedoms."

Twenty-five actions have been filed so far, five on behalf of Protestant groups, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The suits represent more than 60 plaintiffs — primarily Catholics, whose doctrine holds birth control to be immoral.

In its complaint, Biola University admitted that prior to April 2012, its employee insurance plans had covered "all FDA-approved contraceptives," including the morning-after pill. The school said the circumstance was "neither knowing nor intentional." Both Biola and Grace College cover other forms of contraception for employees.

Thursday's suit represents the first time a California-based college has challenged the mandate.