On December 13, 2013, Wheaton College, a Christian school, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The college sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedures Act against the Department of Health and Human Services. The college, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the Final Mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires the college to offer health insurance plans that provide free coverage of contraceptives that the college views as abortifacients, violates the RFRA; the APA; the Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Establishment Clauses of the 1st Amendment; and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 5th Amendment. The college had previously filed this suit in the District of the District of Columbia, where it was dismissed as moot by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on August 13, 2013 Wheaton College v. Sebelius
Specifically, Wheaton claimed that its identity as a Christian liberal arts college forbids it from providing access to abortion, including what it views as abortifacient drugs or devices. The college claims that these religious beliefs preclude it from participating in the ACA's regulatory scheme to provide and subsidize these drugs and devices. Nor can the college participate in the accommodation offered by the government, which would still require it to designate an agent to pay for the objected-to services on Wheaton's behalf, as well as to take steps to trigger the coverage; the accommodation itself violates the school's religious beliefs, Wheaton argued.
The Final Mandate was set to go into effect on July 1, 2014.
On June 23, 2014, the district court (Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.) denied Wheaton's motion for a preliminary injunction of the Final Mandate. The court held that Wheaton had no likelihood of success in establishing a substantial burden on its religious exercise, given the accommodation that the government offered it.
On June 30, 2014, the day before the regulations took effect, Wheaton filed an emergency motion for reconsideration, which the court denied based in part on the Hobby Lobby
decision handed down by the Supreme Court that same day. Nothing in that decision, the court said, overruled controlling 7th Circuit precedent regarding the sufficiency of the government's accommodation.
That same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit (Judge Richard Posner) also denied Wheaton's emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, stating that Hobby Lobby
emphasized that the accommodation provision "constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty."
But the Supreme Court did
grant a temporary injunction on June 30, 2014, over the dissents of Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. 134 S.Ct. 2898.
On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that the injunction remain, pending appeal, so long as Wheaton informed the Secretary of HHS of its religious objections in writing. In other words, the college did not have to follow the accommodation's procedures. Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan dissented. 134 S.Ct. 2806.
On July 1, 2015, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s denial of Wheaton’s request for a preliminary injunction. On December 2, 2015, the District Court issued a minute entry granting the parties’ joint motion to stay the case until the ruling inLittle Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell
., consolidated as Zubik v. Burwell
, so that the parties can evaluate the case following that ruling, expected in summer 2016. Andrew Junker - 10/16/2014
Kate Craddock - 02/07/2016