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Wheaton College Sues Obama Administration Over Health Care Law

July 24th, 2012

Wheaton College sues due to birth control law

Wheaton College is not alone in its convictions; four dozen other religious organizations have also filed lawsuits against the Obama administration over the new birth control law.

Wheaton College is a small, liberal arts college located in the Midwestern United States. It is also an evangelical Protestant college with strong religious views. Last Wednesday, the college filed a law suit, under the auspices of the Catholic University of America, opposing President Obama’s new health care plan mandate that requires all schools, charities and hospitals to offer health insurance plans that include birth control coverage, even if the institutions are religiously affiliated. Under the new plan, educational religious organizations, such as Wheaton College, must offer employers health insurance plans that cover the cost of birth control medications and devices, including the morning after pill.

In the past, a religious college would have been exempt from offering this kind of health insurance plan under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees religious rights in the constitution for all. The president and the board of directors of Wheaton College, along with four dozen predominantly Catholic colleges and universities, decided to take legal action after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision on the 28th of June to maintain Obama’s health care mandate that requires “secular” religious institutions, such as hospitals and universities to offer health care plans that cover federally approved sterilization procedures, contraceptive medications and devices to their patients.

Catholic doctrine specifically prohibits the use of any kind of birth control. Many of the co-litigants of Wheaton College’s lawsuit are Catholic. A few of the other co-litigants are evangelical. Evangelical beliefs do not actually oppose the use of birth control. Evangelical institutions, such as Wheaton College, do oppose the use of the morning after pill because they believe the pill causes abortions. President Ryken of Wheaton College specified that evangelical beliefs are clearly in opposition to abortion. He believes that the plan’s mandate requiring the college to provide health insurance coverage that offers the morning after pill to its employees goes against the college’s core religious beliefs.

This requirement is in direct opposition to the fundamental values of evangelical institutions and also contradicts religious freedom rights, which are upheld in the constitution time and again by many landmark cases, according to Kyle Duncan, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom. Duncan is representing Wheaton College in the lawsuit. One of pivotal legal issues in the case is the narrow definition of a religious institution. If religiously affiliated colleges are not legally defined as religious institutions, these institutions will be required to offer health insurance policies that cover birth control, including the morning after pill.

President Ryken believes that this narrow definition of a religious institution creates two classes of religious organizations, one of which is protected by religious law and one of which is not. Last Tuesday, a judge in a federal court in Nebraska dismissed the lawsuit that was filed by a handful of private religious employers and seven states. In the ruling, the judge stated that the Obama administration has promised to work with these organizations and states to address their concerns about the bill’s mandate. As the litigation process unfolds, this case may be heard again at the Supreme Court level where it could become one of the defining landmark court cases about the guarantee of religious freedom under the U.S. constitution.

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