East Texas Baptist University & Houston Baptist University v. Burwell

Houston Baptist University students rally against the HHS Mandate outside of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on April 7, 2015.

East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University and have a few things in common: Both are Christian liberal arts colleges in Texas, both hold faith central to their educational missions,and both are standing up to the HHS mandate, which forces them to violate their conscience or pay crippling fines.

Baptists in America, by virtue of their history, are particularly sensitive to coercive government actions that infringe on religious liberty. America’s first Baptist leader, Roger Williams, had to flee Massachusetts and found a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, because his religious beliefs were not tolerated by the laws of Massachusetts.

Houston Baptist University

The founders of Houston Baptist University, which was created by action of the Baptist General Convention of Texas on November 15, 1960, sought to establish a Christian college of the highest order in the city of Houston that stressed quality of life as well as quality of learning. The Preamble to the University’s By-Laws, which the founding fathers drafted to describe the distinctive nature of the institution, states that HBU was “founded under the providence of God and with the conviction that there is a need for a university in this community that will train the minds, develop the moral character and enrich the spiritual lives of all people who may come within the ambit of its influence.”

The University’s current mission statement emphasizes the important Christian witness of its administration, faculty, and students: The mission of Houston Baptist University is to provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual, and professional excellence as a result of our central confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

East Texas Baptist University

East Texas Baptist University is committed to “Christian stewardship” and “academic excellence while integrating faith with learning.”  East Texas Baptist University holds religious beliefs that include traditional Christian teachings on the sanctity of life—this includes that all human beings bear the image and likeness of God, and therefore that all human life is sacred and precious, from the moment of conception.

Challenging the HHS Mandate

The HHS mandate runs roughshod over these Universities’ religious beliefs by forcing them to either violate their faith-driven mission or pay crippling IRS fines. That is why, on October 9, 2012 Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University joined Becket Law in fighting this unconstitutional mandate.

On March 8, 2013, Westminster Theological Seminary moved to intervene in Becket’s lawsuit on behalf of Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University Houston in federal district court.

On December 27, 2013, Judge Rosenthal ruled in favor of the schools in a decisive victory. The government appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 7, 2015, the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in this case,  but on June 22, 2015, reversed the district court’s decision.

On July 8, 2015 Becket Law along with former Solicitor General and leading Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement, filed a petition on behalf of Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Pennsylvania-based Westminster Theological Seminary to the Supreme Court. The schools’ appeal makes it highly likely that the Court will decide whether religious universities will be required to provide contraceptive coverage in violation of their faith in the upcoming term.

On August 10th, 2015, 16 statesalong with several religious groups, filed friend-of-the-court briefs at the Supreme Court supporting Houston Baptist University (HBU), East Texas Baptist University (ETBU), and Westminster Theological Seminary in their HHS mandate challenge. On November 6th, 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case facing Houston Baptist University & East Texas Baptist University.

On March 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of ETBU and HBU along with the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. Less than a week later, the Supreme Court took the rare step of asking for additional briefs from each side. On April 12, 2016, both Becket and the government filed their briefs.

On May 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government cannot fine East Texas Baptist (ETBU) and Houston Baptist (HBU) Universities for carrying out their religious beliefs in their health plans. It also threw out the lower court decision against the universities.

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