East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell

Attorneys for the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on behalf of East Texas Baptist University challenging the birth control benefit. The birth control benefit is the provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires certain providers of group health insurance plans to cover contraception without charging a co-pay.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the process established by the Obama administration for accommodating religious objections to the birth control benefit in the ACA violates their religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The accommodation permits religious nonprofits to self-certify their eligibility for an exemption from the birth control benefit by notifying either their insurance company or the federal government that they object to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.

Plaintiffs allege that this self-certification process violates their religious rights because it “triggers” the provision of contraceptive coverage for staff and students by a third party. They further allege that the paperwork the government requires them to fill out that states their eligibility for a religious exemption from the birth control benefit is, in and of itself, an infringement on their religious freedom in violation of RFRA.


On December 27, 2013, the district court granted plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, which it later converted into a permanent injunction. The government appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On June 22, 2015, a three-judge panel reversed the district court’s ruling, reasoning that the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious freedom.

Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 23, 2016. This case has been consolidated with six other cases: (1) Zubik v. Burwell; (2) Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell; (3) Priests for Life v. HHS; (4) Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; (5) Geneva College v. Burwell; and (6) The Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.


**last updated March 17, 2016