Colorado Christian University (CCU) is helping take the lead against the Obama Administration’s mandate that health plans cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients. CCU, a nondenominational Evangelical university led by former Senator Bill Armstrong, filed suit Wednesday in federal court to defend its religious liberty.
Also this week, 61 Christian and Orthodox Jewish leaders joined in a letter to President Barack Obama protesting the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and its narrow religious exemption. The signers represent colleges, schools, churches, associations and other entities, including prominent organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Both of these actions have something in common: They did not involve Catholics. And that was intentional.
"We write not in opposition to Catholic leaders and organizations; rather, we write in solidarity, but separately—to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption," wrote the religious leaders in their letter to President Obama.
Until now, it has often appeared that the fight against the HHS mandate has been dominated by Catholics. Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic institution in North Carolina, was the first to file suit against HHS last month with help from the Becket Fund. Many Catholic organizations submitted protest letters to HHS in September, such as The Cardinal Newman Society's comment joined by 18 Catholic colleges and universities and the chairman of the Catholic bishops' education committee and prepared by the Alliance Defense Fund. Last month the U.S. bishops announced a special committee on religious liberty, and several bishops led by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan have been outspoken against the HHS mandate.
But the backlash against Catholics has been strong, with reporters at left-leaning media outlets such as the Huffington Post and National Public Radio taking shots at the bishops for imposing Catholic views on employees of Catholic organizations. Abortion-rights groups and other critics have waged a media campaign highlighting the sad truth that a large portion of Catholics dissent from Catholic teaching on contraception, and that many Catholic colleges and charities have secularized to the point that they already voluntarily cover contraception and sterilization in employee health plans.
Yesterday everything changed-enter the Protestant, Jewish and nondenominational Christian leaders. Their strong stand puts the momentum back on the side of the mandate's opponents.
To be fair, non-Catholic religious leaders have actively opposed the mandate since it was announced in August, even if the media has failed to take notice. They submitted comments to HHS against the regulations and have been working with the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance to send joint letters to White House officials like the one sent on Wednesday.
But this week's actions help make a point that has been lost in the skirmishes over the Catholic Church and contraception—that even religious groups without strong teachings against contraception have serious problems with the HHS mandate. Its narrow religious exemption, which may apply only to churches and church-affiliated groups that hire and serve primarily members of their own church, is a very dangerous precedent that could severely restrict religious liberty.
"It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy broadly providing help that goes beyond worship and prayer," the Christian and Jewish leaders told President Obama yesterday.
Moreover, most Christian, orthodox Jewish and Catholic leaders agree on the immorality of abortion. And the HHS mandate requires insurance coverage of some abortifacients—contraceptives that can cause abortion.
"The question is—may a government agency compel support of abortions by those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so?" said CCU President Bill Armstrong when announcing his lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Colorado. "The law does not permit such compulsion, in our opinion, nor will the conscience of our fellow citizens, whether abortion proponents or opponents."
Patrick J. Reilly is president of The Cardinal Newman Society, which helps renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education.
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