By Dave Andrusko
My apologies, I had intended to write about this yesterday but got swamped.
For Evangelical Christians there are few colleges or universities more readily recognized than Wheaton College in Illinois. On Wednesday—the same day a federal judge gutted another challenge to the Obama mandate filed by the attorneys general of seven states—the college filled a lawsuit challenging the HHS requirement that religious institutions pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and consciences.
In an email sent to Wheaton faculty and staff yesterday, President Philip Ryken announced that “This morning, the Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C. District Court opposing the mandate, which, if enacted, would force the College to violate its religious beliefs or pay severe fines. He explained, “We are joining with Catholic University of America in order to demonstrate that a deep concern for the sanctity of human life and a strong belief in the importance of religious freedom are areas of commonality that transcend our theological differences.”
Ryken said, “I have every hope that Wheaton College will continue to provide excellent health care to all of its employees,” adding, “However, we stand to face punitive fines for not complying with the HHS regulations as of January 1, 2013.” Wheaton is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Wheaton College, of course, has plenty of support from the Catholic community.
On May 21, 43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and other institutions filed suit, accusing the Health and Human Services of violating the First Amendment and federal law by requiring Catholic organizations to “sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving all people in need.” Catholic universities joining in the lawsuits included, The Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, the University of St. Francis in Indiana, and the University of Notre Dame. In all, 12 lawsuits were filed simultaneously in various U.S. district courts around the country.
Shapri LoMaglio, who heads government relations for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, told Christianity Today, “The more who file suit makes clear what a watershed moment it is for religious institutions.” She noted “Any attempt to narrow the scope of what is legally recognized as a religious institution sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the character of the institution going forward because their religious identity is vital to who they are.” What these lawsuits show, LoMaglio added, “is that religious groups do not view the accommodation as adequate.”
In a jointly written op-ed, which appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal, Ryken and John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, affirmed their solidarity in opposing the HHS mandate.
They cite an important statement written 20 ago, shepherded to completion by the work of evangelical Charles Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. They quote from that statement which says,
“we [Catholics and Evangelicals] contend together for religious freedom. . . . In their relationship to God, persons have a dignity and responsibility that transcends, and thereby limits, the authority of the state and of every other merely human institution.”
They write, “Recent efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Affordable Care Act [ObamaCare] have brought us together to defend that freedom.”
On Wednesday U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom dismissed a federal lawsuit brought by seven states. He concluded they lacked standing to challenge a portion of Obama because they “face no direct and immediate harm” from the mandate, which will not go into effect for most religious organizations until August 1, 2013.
Some who support the mandate are floating the theory [hope] that Judge Urbom’s decision will foreshadow either fewer opponents filing lawsuits or all lawsuits dismissed, or both. As Wheaton’s decision to lock arms with fellow co-religionists illustrates, the number of opponents seeking justice in court will only grow.
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