The U.S. Supreme Court ruled July 3 for a prestigious Christian college in the ongoing battle against the Department of Health and Humans Services' (HHS) contraception mandate. The ruling came just days after the decision that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are exempt from the HHS mandate requiring companies to provide abortifacient drugs and other contraceptives to their employees. In the July 3 ruling, the High Court gave Wheaton College in Illinois temporary emergency relief from the mandate while the Christian college's suit against the “Affordable Healthcare Act” rule is pending in the courts.
Wheaton College is one of over one hundred Christian non-profits and private companies that have sued to stop the mandate, arguing that the it would require them to violate their religious convictions by making available to their employees contraceptives that are known to cause abortion.
Without the last-minute decision by the High Court, the college faced as much as $35 million in fines per year if it refused to follow the mandate. While the HHS contraceptive mandate allows non-profits such as Wheaton College to opt out of direct coverage for contraceptives by completing a government form that would effectively hand off the duty to a third-party insurance provider, the college has argued that submitting the form would still make it complicit in providing the abortifacient drugs. As in the Hobby Lobby case, Wheaton College is arguing that the mandate represents a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects entities from following federal laws and mandates that violate their religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“Because the government would require Wheaton to sign a form authorizing, directing, obligating, and incentivizing other parties to provide the contraceptives in Wheaton's place, Wheaton can't instruct someone to do things that it cannot do itself,” explained attorney Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Wheaton College in the case.
The Supreme Court order states that Wheaton “need not use the form prescribed by the Government” under the HHS Mandate, and it prohibits the government “from enforcing against [Wheaton] the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of appellate review.”
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