Today is the day when the Obamacare mandate forcing employer-provided health insurance plans to provide "free" abortion pills, contraception, and sterilizations kicks in.

Most religious charities, hospitals, and universities have been granted a one-year reprieve from the mandate. "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences," as Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it in January when the administration decided there would be no exception for religious institutions that employ or minister to people other than coreligionists.

But some religious institutions, such as evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, do not even have the benefit of Obamacare's one-year reprieve. Today, the Becket Fund announced that is has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wheaton College asking for emergency relief from the mandate:

“Remember August 1, 2012. Today begins a violation of American conscience like we have never seen before in our country, and Wheaton College personifies it,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Everyone knows Wheaton is a school that lives out its faith. But today our government is telling Wheaton it is not ‘religious enough’ to have a conscience, and so can be forced to participate in abortions or face heavy fines. Wheaton’s only recourse is to ask the federal courts for emergency relief.”

Wheaton does not qualify for the one-year “safe harbor,” which the government offered to certain religious organizations as a temporary reprieve from the HHS mandate. So, in a few short months, Wheaton faces the prospect of over a million dollars per year in fines and other penalties—unless it agrees to violate its core religious beliefs by providing insurance coverage for “emergency contraceptives” that they believe cause abortion.

“Wheaton’s employees are standing with the school but they are afraid,” said Duncan. “Many employees have said that, if Wheaton is forced to terminate insurance coverage, they will not be able to afford health care for their families. Wheaton has always provided generous employee benefits, but now the government is forcing it to choose between caring for its employees and honoring its faith. The government should never be able to put anyone in that position.”

To avoid making dramatic changes to its employee health insurance, Wheaton is asking the court for a decision by September 30—which is a month before Wheaton’s open enrollment starts for its 2013 health insurance plans.

The Becket Fund led the charge against the unconstitutional HHS mandate, and along with Wheaton represents: Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, and Ave Maria University. There are now 24 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate.

For more on the mandate, see "Obamacare vs. the Catholics" and "The High Price of 'Free' Health Care."

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