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Thomas Aquinas College Wins Permanent Protection from HHS Contraceptive Mandate

October 16, 2017
10,000 Ojai Road
Santa Paula CA 93060
Contact: Anne Forsyth, Director of College Relations
(805) 525-4417
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SANTA PAULA, CAOctober 16—After nearly 4 years of litigation, Thomas Aquinas College has won permanent protection from the HHS contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. On Friday, October 13, the 4-year, Catholic college and 73 other plaintiffs in 13 federal cases around the country reached a settlement with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury. The parties have filed dismissals in each of the federal courts today.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the government has conceded that the imposition of the contraceptive mandate imposed “a substantial burden” on the college’s exercise of religion and that of the other plaintiffs, and therefore violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress during the Clinton Administration. It further states that the plaintiffs will be permanently protected from the HHS mandate “or any materially similar regulation or agency policy.”

Says Thomas Aquinas College president Dr. Michael F. McLean, “While we welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate last week by the Trump administration, we have under our agreement today something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive — and any similar future directive — that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs. This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom.”

Instituted in 2012, the HHS Mandate sought to compel all employers — even Catholic ones — to provide free contraceptive, abortifacient, and sterilization coverage to their employees. In 2013 the College and several co-plaintiffs, citing the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, challenged the mandate in federal court. The litigation eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2015 agreed to consider the lawsuit, as well as six others, in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. One year later, the high court took the unusual step of vacating the lower court opinions and remanding the consolidated cases back to their respective lower courts of appeal for further consideration.

Negotiations between the involved parties began in earnest earlier this year, following the change in presidential administrations, and led ultimately to Friday’s settlement. The agreement comes eight days after these same departments broadened the religious-liberty exemptions of the original HHS Mandate, dispensing religious employers from the requirement to provide morally objectionable coverage in their health plans.

Though there is no statutory requirement that the government compensate the college and the other plaintiffs, the Department of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury have nevertheless agreed to pay plaintiffs for a portion of their costs and attorney fees. Says Quincy Masteller, General Counsel for Thomas Aquinas College, “This financial concession by the government only reinforces its admission of the burdensome nature of the HHS contraceptive mandate and its violation of the College’s free exercise of religion.” He went on to say, “We are delighted that the law firm of Jones Day, which has represented the college pro bono, will receive some remuneration for its charitable efforts. And we could not be more grateful to our attorneys at Jones Day for taking on our case and bringing it to such a salutary conclusion.”

Chairman of the Board of Governors, R. Scott Turicchi, said, “Thomas Aquinas College would not compromise its Catholic identity and instead took a stand for religious liberty. Today it is vindicated. This settlement agreement assures that the college can continue its mission of Catholic liberal education, providing its students the intellectual, spiritual, and moral formation they need to take up positions of leadership in the Church and in society, in service to the truth.”


About Thomas Aquinas College

A four-year, co-educational institution, Thomas Aquinas College has developed over the past 46 years a solid reputation for academic excellence in the United States and abroad and is highly ranked by organizations such as The Princeton Review, U. S. News, and Kiplinger. At Thomas Aquinas College all students acquire a broad and fully integrated liberal education. The College offers one, four-year, classical curriculum that spans the major arts and sciences. Instead of reading textbooks, students read the original works of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization — the Great Books — in all the major disciplines: mathematics, natural science, literature, philosophy, and theology. The academic life of the college is conducted under the light of the Catholic faith and flourishes within a close-knit community, supported by a vibrant spiritual life. Graduates consistently excel in the many world-class institutions at which they pursue graduate degrees in fields such as law, medicine, business, theology and education. They have distinguished themselves serving as lawyers, doctors, business owners, priests, military service men and women, educators, journalists and college presidents.