Christian Colleges Score Victory against HHS Mandate

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In a major victory Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College, saying they can challenge the Obama administration's contraception coverage mandate.

So far, more than 40 cases have now been filed against that Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers to cover abortion-causing contraceptives in their health plans, even if they have serious religious objections.

Kyle Duncan, the attorney representing Wheaton and Belmont,  said it's not a case just about contraception. It's ultimately about the religious liberty of all Americans.

Duncan, with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said this suit has brought together the Catholic Belmont Abbey of North Carolina and the evangelical Wheaton College of Illinois.

"The case is about whether the government can say, 'We're going to force you to violate your faith or pay a fine,'" Duncan explained to CBN News. "Today it's contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. Tomorrow what else is it going to be?"

Wheaton President Philip Ryken said this is just one of dozens of cases against the HHS mandate.

"To my knowledge, this is the largest number of lawsuits filed against the federal government on a religious liberty issue in the history of our country," Ryken stated.

"The principle that will be laid down in these cases, we hope, will protect people from having their religious beliefs violated and coerced by heavy-handed government regulations," Duncan said.

Ryken suggested the lawsuit would "help all Americans see that there's a fundamental issue at stake here that affects all of us and cuts across a lot of our religious differences."

At the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Obama administration had argued colleges like Belmont Abbey and Wheaton shouldn't be able to sue right away because HHS has put off penalizing religious objectors for a year. The administration is promising to work on some sort of accommodation for those objectors.

"They made that promise way back in March. They haven't done anything since then," Duncan complained. "Government cannot regulate by promise. Government cannot regulate by saying, 'Trust us.''"

Duncan said the colleges can't wait because they must prepare for massive fines now.

"Their fiscal year will start in July," Duncan explained. "They've having to plan and prepare for that fiscal year now for fines on the order of $1.3 million for Wheaton and several hundred thousand dollars for Belmont Abbey."

With more than 40 cases against it, the fate of the HHS mandate and its threat to religious institutions is far from settled.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.