The Supreme Court granted an injunction against the Obama administration’s so-called religious fix to Obamacare’s birth control mandate for a small Christian college late Thursday.
Wheaton College in Illinois will not have to sign a form signaling their religious opposition to the birth control mandate so that employees can obtain contraceptives free from their insurer until court battles over the contraceptive rule are concluded, the court announced.
The Obama administration workaround for religious nonprofits that have a moral objection to contraceptives forces them to sign a federal form signaling their objection, which would allow employees to receive birth control at no cost from the insurance company instead. But many religious nonprofits believe that signing the form and hiring a third party to provide birth control violates their religious beliefs as well and litigation is ongoing in several states.
Wheaton asked the Supreme Court Sunday to be released from the mandate and the opt-out while its claim is considered by the courts — a request which the Department of Justice argued against Wednesday using the court’s own remarks in the Hobby Lobby decision.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s decision in Hobby Lobby that there were obvious, less substantial burdens the government could have placed on religious for-profit employers other than forcing them to cover contraceptives which they oppose — such as the Obama administration’s fix for nonprofits.
Some have argued that the example is a sign that the court would uphold the opt-out against religious groups’ wishes, but the injunction could signal that the opt-out may not be on solid ground after all, according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor wrote a biting and lengthy dissent to the injunction, accusing the court of going back on its word from the Hobby Lobby decision.
“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Sotomayor complained. “Not so today. After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Reform Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might…retreats from that position.”
Sotomayor argued that clearing Wheaton from the accommodation while the issue is decided by the courts would only be appropriate when “the legal rights at issue are indisputably clear,” which she contends is not the case with the college. If a majority of the court agrees, it’s possible the contraceptive mandate could suffer yet another blow from the courts.