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July 18, 2012

Wheaton College Sues Over HHS Mandate

Blanchard Hall, Wheaton College

OCTOBER 17, 2014

The Wheaton College Board of Trustees has voted to continue with the College’s lawsuit. The College expects the case to proceed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

JULY 3, 2014

On July 3, Wheaton College received last-minute relief from the Supreme Court, protecting the College's right to carry out its religious mission free from crippling IRS fines.

“On the eve of Independence Day, we are grateful to God that the Supreme Court has made a wise decision in protecting our religious liberty–at least until we have an opportunity to make our full case in court," said Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. "We continue to believe that a college community that affirms the sanctity of human life from conception to the grave should not be coerced by the government into facilitating the provision of abortion-inducing drugs.”

A full news release is available on the website of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

JULY 1, 2014

On June 30, the Supreme Court entered a temporary injunction protecting Wheaton College from enforcement of the mandate while the government responds to Wheaton’s application for an injunction pending appeal.

JUNE 23, 2014

On June 23, 2014, the court denied Wheaton's motion for a preliminary injunction. Wheaton is pursuing an appeal.

DECEMBER 13, 2013

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE RE-FILES LAWSUIT IN DISTRICT COURT

Today the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty re-filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wheaton College against the administration’s controversial HHS mandate, which forces the evangelical liberal arts institution to violate its religious beliefs or pay ruinous fines. Wheaton College’s original lawsuit was delayed for over a year by the government’s promise of a religious accommodation, but the government still insists that Wheaton College is not a “religious employer” and therefore ineligible for a religious exemption. The suit was re-filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

“The administration is still forcing Wheaton College to make an impossible choice either to comply with the mandate and violate its conscience, or pay severe fines,” said Adèle Keim, Counsel at the Becket Fund and lead counsel for Wheaton. “Any definition of ‘religious employer’ that leaves out Wheaton College is obviously flawed.”

Wheaton College is an explicitly Christian liberal arts college and graduate school with a deep commitment to do all things “For Christ and His Kingdom.” A pervasively Christian institution, Wheaton’s students, faculty, and staff affirm “the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death.” The institution’s religious convictions prevent it from providing its employees with access to abortion-causing drugs that can harm human life. Wheaton College is now fighting for the right to carry out its Christian mission free from government coercion.

“We cannot abandon our Christian beliefs simply because the government refuses to recognize that Wheaton is a religious institution,” said Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College. “The government has exempted plans covering millions of people from this mandate—we believe it should exempt Wheaton too.”

AUGUST 29, 2013

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE TO RE-FILE HHS SUIT

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will re-file Wheaton College’s HHS lawsuit in response to a new HHS rule issued in July.

Churches with religious objections are fully exempt from the HHS mandate. As a religious non-profit that is not a church, Wheaton is classified by the government as a “non-exempt eligible organization,” and is not exempt from the mandate.

The new rule describes an accommodation for non-exempt religious objectors like Wheaton College, and supersedes the prior version of the rules. For that reason, Wheaton’s original case was dismissed in early August.

However, the new accommodation does not resolve the religious liberty concerns that led to Wheaton’s original filing. Under the new rules, Wheaton College will still be forced to designate its insurance administrators to pay for drugs that cause early abortions. The new rule also includes an expansion of the previous “safe harbor” provision, so that Wheaton becomes subject to the mandate on July 1, 2014.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will re-file Wheaton’s case in due course.

On July 18, 2012, Wheaton College filed a lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate, a regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which forces Wheaton College to violate its deeply held religious beliefs by providing access to abortion-causing drugs or pay severe fines. More information about the College’s lawsuit is available here.

 

APRIL 2, 2013

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE FILES COMMENTS ON HHS RULE

Wheaton College has asked the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to file comments on Wheaton’s behalf with the Department of Health and Human Services by the end of the comment period on April 8.

In these comments, which are related to the federal government’s February 1 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Wheaton requests clarity on the proposed rule’s application to self-insured organizations, identifies problems with implementing it, and reiterates its belief that the clearest and best resolution to the conscience concerns raised by the HHS mandate is to extend to Wheaton College the full exemption already available to many houses of worship.

On July 18, 2012, Wheaton College filed a lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate, a regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which forces Wheaton College to violate its deeply held religious beliefs by providing access to abortion-causing drugs or pay severe fines. More information about the College’s lawsuit is available here.

 

FEBRUARY 1, 2013

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE STATEMENT REGARDING NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING

Today’s announcement of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the HHS mandate may affect Wheaton College’s lawsuit seeking to protect its ability to operate according to its religious convictions. At this time, we are reviewing the proposed rule in consultation with our legal counsel to determine its implications for the College.

DECEMBER 19, 2012

Update: WHEATON'S HHS SUIT REINSTATED

Yesterday, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. handed Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College a substantial victory in their challenges to the HHS mandate.

Wheaton’s religious convictions prevent it from providing its employees with access to abortion-causing drugs as mandated by the federal government. Wheaton College’s lawsuit, filed July 18, 2012, seeks to preserve its right to offer health insurance to employees that aligns with its beliefs.

Last summer, two lower courts dismissed the Wheaton and Belmont cases as premature. On Tuesday, the appellate court reinstated those cases, and ordered the Obama Administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom. The new rule must be issued by March 31, 2013.

"We are grateful that the Circuit Court's ruling—which is substantially a victory for Wheaton College—makes it clear that the original judge was wrong to dismiss our case and that we are suffering real harm as a result of the HHS mandate,” said Wheaton College president Dr. Philip Ryken. “We stand ready to resume our pending lawsuit if the federal government fails to respect our rights of religious conscience by providing the exemption we have requested."

The court based its decision on two concessions that government lawyers made in open court. First, the government promised “it would never enforce [the mandate] in its current form” against Wheaton, Belmont Abbey or other similarly situated religious groups. Second, the government promised it would publish a proposed new rule “in the first quarter of 2013” and would finalize it by next August. The administration made both concessions under intense questioning by the appellate judges. The court deemed the concessions a “binding commitment” and has retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure the government follows through.

“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Wheaton College in its case. “The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word.”

While the government had previously announced plans to create a new rule, it has not yet taken the steps necessary to make that promise legally binding. Lower courts dismissed the colleges’ cases while the government contemplated a new rule, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided the cases should stay alive while it scrutinizes whether the government will meet its promised deadlines. The court acted quickly, issuing Tuesday’s order just days after hearing lengthy arguments.

More information regarding the College’s lawsuit is available via its July 18 news release, and its Frequently Asked Questions. A Case Summary, Frequently Asked Questions about legal challenges to the HHS mandate, and a Media Information Sheet are available on the Becket Fund website.

 

DECEMBER 12, 2012

Update: On December 14, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will be the first appeals court to consider whether the government’s one-year "safe-harbor" adequately protects religious employers like Wheaton College from the HHS mandate which forces them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs or pay crippling fines each year. More information is on the Becket Fund website.

 

OCTOBER 9, 2012

Update: More information on Wheaton’s appeal is posted on the Becket Fund website.

AUGUST 30, 2012

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE APPEALS DISMISSAL OF HHS LAWSUIT

Wheaton College has appealed a federal judge’s decision to dismiss its lawsuit against the HHS mandate. The mandate forces Wheaton to cover the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” against its deeply held religious beliefs, or face crippling fines of $1.4 million dollars each year.

In response to Wheaton’s lawsuit, the federal government rewrote the mandate guidelines to give Wheaton until August 2013 to comply. Because Wheaton's medical policies are renewed each calendar year, this means implementation would be effective January 1, 2014. The judge therefore ruled Wheaton’s present lawsuit was premature.

“Wheaton will keep fighting for its religious freedom,” says Kyle Duncan, General Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The government has granted Wheaton a temporary reprieve—but has not addressed its core concerns.”

Wheaton’s religious convictions prevent it from providing its employees with access to abortion-causing drugs as mandated by the federal government. The College’s lawsuit seeks to preserve its right to offer health insurance to employees that aligns with its beliefs.

“We’re appealing because we continue to believe that our case should be considered on its merits,” says Wheaton College President Philip Ryken. “While we are pleased that our lawsuit has compelled the government to delay enforcement, waiting another year will not change the fact that the mandate violates our religious liberty and puts our ability to offer our employees health insurance at risk.”

There are now 26 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act.

More information regarding the College’s lawsuit is available via its July 18 news release, and its Frequently Asked Questions. A Case Summary, Frequently Asked Questions about legal challenges to the HHS mandate, and a Media Information Sheet are available on the Becket Fund website.

 

AUGUST 27, 2012

Update: WHEATON COLLEGE ELIGIBLE FOR SAFE HARBOR; WEIGHS APPEAL TO DISMISSAL OF HHS LITIGATION

A federal district judge has dismissed Wheaton College’s lawsuit requesting relief from the Health and Human Services abortion-drug mandate, a provision under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires Wheaton College to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs in opposition to its religious convictions, or to pay severe fines.

When Wheaton filed its suit in July, it was facing crippling fines beginning January 1, 2013. On August 15, Wheaton won an important victory when, as a direct result of the College’s emergency motion, the government re-wrote the “temporary enforcement safe harbor” guidelines to give Wheaton an additional year before heavy fines begin to accrue.

Because the government has now agreed not to enforce the mandate against Wheaton in 2013, and because the government has pledged to revise the mandate in 2013, federal district court judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled that Wheaton’s lawsuit was premature.

“The government argued that Wheaton’s case should not proceed because it is premature—but the court is mistaken in accepting that argument,” says Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Wheaton College in its case. “In dismissing this case, the court did not address the substantive merits—Wheaton’s argument that being forced to offer drugs that violate its religious beliefs is harmful to its religious freedom.”

In response to the College’s July lawsuit, the Department of Health and Human Services has expanded its “safe harbor” provision, under which the government agrees to wait one year before beginning to fine qualifying non-profits for refusing to cover abortion-causing drugs. However, Wheaton’s suit seeks permanent relief in the form of an exemption from the mandate.

“The dismissal fails to recognize that the new safe harbor still leaves Wheaton in violation of federal law, and therefore vulnerable to lawsuits authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to enforce the mandate,” Duncan says. “For that reason, Wheaton is considering its options for an appeal.”

“Today’s ruling is disappointing to Wheaton—and should be of concern to anyone who values religious freedom,” says Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. “We remain hopeful that the courts will eventually address our case on its merits.”

More information regarding the College’s lawsuit is available via its July 18 news release, and its updated Frequently Asked Questions. A Case Summary, Frequently Asked Questions about legal challenges to the HHS mandate, and a Media Information Sheet are available on the Becket Fund website.

AUGUST 7, 2012

Update: Wheaton's Frequently Asked Questions have been updated.

AUGUST 1. 2012

Update: Wheaton College Seeks Emergency Relief Against HHS Mandate

JULY 20, 2012

Update: Frequently Asked Questions Wheaton College has received since the July 18 filing of the HHS lawsuit.

JULY 18, 2012

Today Wheaton College filed a lawsuit alongside The Catholic University of America in the Washington, D.C. District Court opposing the Health and Human Services Preventative Services mandate.

The mandate, which is a regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, forces both institutions to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by providing access to abortion-causing drugs or paying severe fines.

This alliance marks the first-ever partnership between Catholic and evangelical institutions to oppose the same regulation in the same court.

“This mandate is not just a Catholic issue—it threatens people of all faiths,” says Kyle Duncan, General Counsel, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the College in its suit. “Wheaton’s historic decision to join the fight alongside a Catholic institution shows the broad consensus that the mandate endangers everyone's religious liberty.”

Wheaton’s religious convictions, as described in its Community Covenant, prevent it from providing its employees with access to abortifacient drugs. Through this lawsuit, the College acts to preserve its religious liberty and the right to carry out its mission free from government coercion.

“Wheaton College and other distinctively Christian institutions are faced with a clear and present threat to our religious liberty,” says Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. “Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom. In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again.”

“As the president of the national university of the Catholic Church, I am happy to express solidarity with our evangelical brothers and sisters from Wheaton College as they challenge the HHS mandate. Wheaton's lawsuit is another sign of how troubling many people of faith find the government's efforts to chip away at our first freedom,” added Catholic University President John Garvey.

There are now 24 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate. Catholic University filed suit on May 21, 2012. These HHS challenges were not affected by the Supreme Court’s June 28th ruling on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

More information about the College’s lawsuit, including a Case Summary, Frequently Asked Questions, and a Media Information Sheet, are available on the Becket Fund website.

A link to the audio of today's news conference is available here.

 

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