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Wheaton wins one for religious nonprofits

Wheaton College has secured what even the Little Sisters of the Poor has not: A permanent injunction against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. After five years of legal wrangling, a U.S. district court judge’s Feb. 22 ruling finally freed the college from the federal regulation.

It is the first such decision providing injunctive relief since the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Zubik v. Burwell, better known as the Little Sisters of the Poor case.

The Catholic order that ministers to the elderly ostensibly won its legal challenge when the high court vacated lower court rulings and ordered the parties to hash out an agreeable resolution for all nonprofit organizations, accommodating religious liberty while finding a way to provide the contraceptive coverage government regulators demanded. But ongoing court challenges kept the mandate technically in effect.

In granting the injunction for Wheaton, a Christian college in Illinois, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow noted the government’s concession that continued enforcement of the mandate would violate the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

“The public interest in the vindication of religious freedom favors the entry of an injunction,” Dow wrote.

For five years, Wheaton’s case faced setbacks and sat idle as the Zubik case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In October, it appeared all lawsuits filed by nonprofit groups challenging the mandate on religious liberty grounds would be resolved when the Trump administration expanded the mandate’s religious exemptions to include all employers objecting to contraceptive and abortifacient drugs.

But with the ink barely dry on Trump’s order, and despite the government’s admission that the mandate violates RFRA, pro-abortion attorneys general from California and Pennsylvania filed lawsuits to halt the new accommodations. Federal judges in both states placed injunctions on the remedy, keeping the contraceptive mandate in place nationwide.

Read more at World Mag. 

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