Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on behalf of Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-American Christian 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 to which they object on religious grounds. 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 23, 2013, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The government appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On July 14, 2015, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision denying plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, reasoning that the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.

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


**last updated March 17, 2016