Judge Dismisses HHS Mandate Lawsuit From Evangelical College

National   Steven Ertelt   Aug 28, 2012   |   12:31PM    Washington, DC

One of the nation’s top evangelical colleges has seen a federal judge dismiss its lawsuit opposing the Health and Human Services mandate that forces religious institutions to pay for and refer women for abortion-causing drugs, birth control and contraception.

Wheaton College of Wheaton, Illinois joined many other educational institutions in arguing against the controversial mandate, which requires religious employers to either violate their religious beliefs or pay fines.

Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, said the main reason for the lawsuit is that the pro-life institution opposes the use of drugs that can cause abortions and would be forced to violate its religious beliefs.

“This insurance mandate is against our conscience and against our Christian convictions. We have no recourse now but to file suit,” Ryken said. “Institutions like Wheaton College should not be merely accommodated, they should be exempted like churches are.”

However, a federal judge tossed the lawsuit saying the Obama administration has sufficiently altered the mandate to include the college’s concerns — giving it one year to comply with the revised mandate.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represented Wheaton in the case and a representative of the pro-life legal group told the Washington Examiner the changes are not sufficient to alleviate the college’s concerns.

“The government has now re-written the ‘safe harbor’ guidelines three times in seven months, and is evidently in no hurry to defend the HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate in open court,” Becket Fund General Counsel Kyle Duncan said.

“By moving the goalposts yet again, the government managed to get Wheaton’s lawsuit dismissed on purely technical grounds,” he said. “This leaves unresolved the question of religious liberty at the heart of the lawsuit.”

Wheaton joined forces with Catholic University of America to sue the government and Ryken added that Wheaton and Catholic University also wanted to demonstrate cross-denominational solidarity on the issue of religious freedom.

“We have a respect for Roman Catholic institutions and in this case we recognize we have common cause with Catholic University of America and other Catholic institutions in defending religious liberty. We’re, in effect, co-belligerents in this fight against government action. I think the fact that evangelicals and Catholics are coming together on this issue ought to be a sign to all Americans that something really significant for religious liberty is at stake,” he said.

John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America, said Wheaton College’s joining the 24 lawsuits demonstrates that the issue is about religious freedom, not contraception.

“This is not a fight over contraception. Evangelicals, in fact, don’t agree with Catholics on their opposition to contraception and birth control,” he said.

The mandate “runs roughshod over Wheaton’s religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing it to provide health insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling,” the lawsuit reads.

Wheaton noted it has “no conscientious objection” to contraceptives, but objected to providing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs or services “even if those items were paid for by an insurer or a plan administrator and not by Wheaton College.”

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A few days ago, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration Thursday on behalf of two evangelical Christian colleges: Grace College and Seminary in Indiana and Biola University in California.

A federal court issued an order in July that halts enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate against the Colorado family-owned business. The decision only applies to the company, and the court emphasized the ruling did not apply nationwide.