Supreme Court lets Wheaton College deny birth control coverage

It did not take long for Supreme Court to extend the logic of Monday’s Hobby Lobby ruling in strange ways. Yesterday it granted an injunction to Wheaton College of Wheaton, Illinois, an evangelical liberal arts college, so that it may deny contraceptive coverage to its employees. All three of the women who sit on the Supreme Court strongly objected to the unsigned order.

Washington Post:

The three female justices of the Supreme Court sharply rebuked their colleagues Thursday for siding with a Christian college in the latest battle over providing women with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, saying the court was retreating from assurances offered only days ago.

In a short, unsigned opinion, the court said that Wheaton College in Illinois, at least temporarily, does not have to comply even with compromise provisions in the law that the college says still violate its religious beliefs.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the action cast doubt on the very accommodation the court’s majority seemed to endorse Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which concerned businesses that objected to providing birth control that offends the owners’ beliefs.

What’s odd about the case is that Wheaton objects to both the birth control requirement and the requirement that the College inform its insurance carrier of that objection on religious grounds. If the carrier received the form stating the objection, then the carrier works out the coverage with the government. So instead, the court majority must write a letter to Federal Government who would then, presumably, notify the insurance carrier and work out alternative arrangements. This, it appears, is the “substantial burden” that the evangelical college objects to.

Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent:

Wheaton, for religious reasons, categorically opposes the provision of contraceptive services. The Government has given it a simple means to opt out of the contraceptive coverage mandate—and thus avoid any civil penalties for failing to provide contraceptive services—and a simple means to tell its third-party administrator of its claimed exemption.

Yet Wheaton maintains that taking these steps to avail itself of the accommodation would substantially burden its religious exercise.

She continues:

Let me be absolutely clear: I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened—no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be—does not make it so.

See also Religion Clause.

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