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Major Victory for Religious Freedom19 Dec

Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit delivered a major victory in the fight to protect the First Amendment rights of religious organizations. The case, one of the first to be filed over the HHS preventive services mandate requiring coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, had been dismissed by lower courts because the mandate had not yet taken effect for those institutions and the Administration had pledged to address the underlying religious liberty issues in an unspecified accommodation.

During oral arguments, the Court of Appeals panel questioned the attorneys for the government about the seriousness of the Administration’s promise to provide an exemption for institutions such as plaintiffs Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey. The government pledged to the court that the current mandate would never be enforced against organizations like the plaintiffs and that there would be a different preventive services mandate applied to them which fully respected their religious freedom. The court considered those statements to be a “binding commitment,” and ordered the Administration to file status reports with the court every 60 days, beginning in February, demonstrating that this commitment is being kept.

This order provides a very encouraging framework to resolve the concerns many religious organizations have about the HHS mandate. The Administration must now document their progress toward a resolution that respects the First Amendment rights of all religious institutions to serve others in accordance with the teachings of their faith.

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