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updated: 6/30/2014 6:30 PM

Lawyers hope Hobby Lobby decision will help Wheaton College

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Wheaton College officials are "prayerfully" waiting for a court decision regarding a health law mandate that would require them to cover contraceptives for female employees or face fines starting Tuesday, according to the law firm representing the college in an ongoing lawsuit.

Daniel Blomberg, the legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty representing the college, said Wheaton filed an emergency application for relief from the mandate Monday afternoon with the Seventh District Circuit Court in Chicago.

The application was quickly denied, however, and passed to Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Elena Kagan, who had a dissenting opinion on the Hobby Lobby case. Blomberg said Kagan can either act on the request herself or refer it to the full court for consideration.

College officials were hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on their request before Tuesday.

Wheaton College's decision to apply for emergency relief came shortly after Monday's ruling that Hobby Lobby -- which also was represented by the Becket Fund -- and some other profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law and opt out of the health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.

"We think it's a very good step for Wheaton College," Blomberg said of the Hobby Lobby decision.

The Department of Health and Human Services' preventive service mandate includes full exemption for churches and other houses of worship because the department recognized the mandate might violate the beliefs of some employers due to religious reasons.

However, that exemption doesn't extend to other religious institutions, including Christian colleges and universities such as Wheaton College.

In 2012, Wheaton College filed a lawsuit opposing the mandate, which required the school to either provide access to what college officials say are "abortion-causing drugs," or pay severe fines.

Since then, the case has been dismissed, appealed, reinstated and refiled. But with the college's insurance plan year set to begin Tuesday, officials said they are desperate for a decision that would exempt them from covering contraceptives.

The full court ruled on a nearly identical case on Dec. 31, 2013, involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, Blomberg said. The nonprofit group was granted a temporary injunction just hours before its insurance plan year began, exempting it from the contraception mandate.

Blomberg is hopeful Kagan will allow the full court to consider the Wheaton College case, too.

Blomberg said the main difference between the Hobby Lobby case and the Wheaton College case is that the owners of Hobby Lobby were being told they had to directly provide the drugs, as part of their insurance plans -- despite their religious belief against them -- while the government is forcing Wheaton College to sign a piece of paper that would allow for someone else to provide the drugs, even though it is against the college's beliefs.

According to the Wheaton College website, Wheaton supports nine of the 10 preventive services required by the HHS mandate. The college's Statement of Faith and Community Covenant also doesn't require anyone to refuse contraception, but the covenant is a voluntary commitment to "uphold the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death," ruling out any form of abortion.

There are currently 51 nonprofit lawsuits nationwide opposing the mandate, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty website.

Injunctions have been granted to 28 nonprofits, including several religious colleges such as Colorado Christian University, Southern Nazarene University and East Texas Baptist University. Four injunctions have been denied, including those from Wheaton College and the University of Notre Dame.

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