First Amendment: A federal appeals court has reinstated lawsuits from two religious colleges against the HHS contraception mandate, saying promises to rework it aren’t enough. Can a group of nuns helping the poor be protected?

On Tuesday, a chink in ObamaCare’s armor developed as a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reinstated lawsuits by Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College that had been dismissed by lower courts on the grounds the two schools had not yet suffered or demonstrated real harm by a law not yet fully implemented. The lower courts ruled the schools had to wait until the oncoming train actually hit them.

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The appellate court reinstated those cases and ordered the Obama administration to report back every 60 days — starting in mid-February — until the administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the colleges’ religious freedom. The new rule must be issued by March 31.

The courts seem to be saying that, yes, ObamaCare threatens religious liberty, that religious institutions are not merely defined by church buildings open on Sunday but by the work they do and that the government needs to ensure the First Amendment is not gutted.

The court based its decision on promises government lawyers made in open court. First, they vowed to “never enforce (the mandate) in its current form” against Wheaton, Belmont Abbey or other similarly situated religious groups and it would issue a rule guaranteeing that. The D.C. court said, fine, we’ll hold you to that.

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