On Tuesday, Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College won a legal round against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate—not only for themselves, but also for dozens of fellow religious employers that have filed similar suits.
"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 Philip Ryken.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the HHS must not enforce the mandate for employer-provided contraceptives as currently outlined in the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the government must make good on a previous promise to establish a new rule regarding enforcement of the mandate for religious employers by March 2013.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who argued the case, says this is a significant victory for religious plaintiffs (including schools with similar lawsuits, like Biola University, Liberty University, and Tyndale House Publishers).
"At least one of the judges kept coming back to the point: This is about the First Amendment. This is about religious freedom," he said.
But Carl Esbeck, a church-state law expert at the University of Missouri, says the colleges did not get the relief that they wanted—and that the government won the day overall.
"The result of the three-judge panel's opinion is that the colleges will continue to have to wait … and there's no promise that the new rule will take care of Wheaton or Belmont Abbey," he said. "The only promise is that the existing rule won't ...