On February 23, 2018, a district court ruled that the federal government cannot force a Christian college to provide reproductive services (including the morning-after pill) in its healthcare plans because it violates the college's religious beliefs. It took a five year battle between Wheaton College and the Department of Health and Human Services to settle this challenge to Obamacare’s birth control mandate. It comes as President Trump is scaling back the mandate and trying to find ways to effectively end Obamacare even if the law itself is not changed. The judge in the case, Bush appointee Robert M. Dow Jr. of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois issued the ruling. Filed in 2012, it finally protects Wheaton from any future application of the HHS’ mandate, and provides precedent for other institutions not given standing under the original Obamacare exemptions.
It is a significant victory, late, to be sure, but still timely. Yet there was virtually no news coverage about it. In fact, there was a flurry of news activity when Wheaton had a dust up over a faculty member who claimed Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God. This was rather small potatoes politically, at least compared to the legal challenge to the Obamacare reproductive mandate that had previously only given exemption to churches. But that is how it goes in the media. The sins of Christians are well reported but little else.
This is a small victory in one sense but it is a big victory in another. Yet it is clear that this legal advance has come at the same time as many other defeats for religious liberty in a land which enshrined such freedom in the Bill of Rights. It is not a freedom of worship but a freedom of religion, not simply to churches but to agencies of churches and to individuals who exercise this right by living in accordance with the tenets of their faith at home and at work. We will wait to see what happens next.