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WASHINGTON -- A three-judge U.S. District Court panel has sided with Belmont Abbey College in its case against the Obama administration over the requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that employers must provide free contraceptives in employee insurance plans.

In a decision announced Tuesday, the judges ordered administration officials to rewrite the law, so it will not force religious institutions to offer contraceptives.

Belmont Abbey College, a Roman Catholic institution in Gaston County, had sued the Obama administration over the Obamacare mandate. College officials said it would require the school to act in a manner contradictory to church teachings.

Roman Catholic doctrine is opposed to the use of artificial birth control.

Christmas came early this year, Belmont Abbey College President William Thierfelder said in a statement released Wednesday.

Attorneys for the college and the Obama administration presented oral arguments Friday before Judges A. Raymond Randolph, Merrick Garland and Thomas Griffith.

In the decision, the judges noted that attorneys from the Department of Health and Human Services said the Obama administration would not require religious institutions to comply with the mandate and said the government would develop a different rule for employers such as Belmont Abbey.

The judges said they will hold the government at its word to make such a change in the law. The court did not overturn the requirement that free contraceptives be provided in health insurance plans, but it ordered the administration to provide exemptions for religious organizations.

The government has until March 31 to rewrite the law, judges said.

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