CHICAGO (CN) – Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school in Illinois, is entitled to a religious exemption from the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act, a federal judge ruled.
For five years, Wheaton College has sought an exemption from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate based on the alleged burden of filling out a short form to opt out of paying for the contraceptive needs of its employees or insured students. The federal health care law is perhaps better known as Obamacare.
In addition to mailing this form to the government, it was also required to provide its insurer and insurance administrator with a copy.
The college sought a preliminary injunction against this certification requirement, arguing that “no compelling governmental interest” justified the burden of filling out the form.
But when the school first sought the injunction, the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius was controlling, and Wheaton’s request was rejected.
In that opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote, “The process of claiming one’s exemption from the duty to provide contraceptive coverage is the opposite of cumbersome. It amounts to signing one’s name and mailing the signed form to two addresses.”
But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision without an accompanying opinion following its 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a victory for closely held companies owned by individuals with religious objections to contraception.
Given the changed legal outlook, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, Jr. wrote in a three-page opinion Thursday, “Wheaton has demonstrated, and defendants now concede, that enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against Wheaton would violate Wheaton’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
“Wheaton will suffer irreparable harm to its ability to practice its religious beliefs, harm that is the direct result of defendants’ conduct, unless defendants are enjoined from further interfering with Wheaton’s practice of its religion,” Dow continued.
Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said in a statement, “We are grateful to God that the court recognized Wheaton’s religious identity and protected our ability to affirm the sanctity of human life. The government should never have tried to force us to provide drugs and services against our faith, but that episode is now behind us.”
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