On the heels of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision, Wheaton College of Illinois, a leading evangelical liberal arts institution, filed a lawsuit today alongside The Catholic University of America in the D.C. District Court opposing the Health and Human Services “Preventative Services” mandate, which forces both institutions to violate their deeply held religious beliefs or pay severe fines, according to a statement from The Becket Fund.
This alliance, according to The Becket Fund, marks the first-ever partnership between Catholic and evangelical institutions to oppose the same regulation in the same court. (Now, that’s ecumenism!)
“As the president of the national university of the Catholic Church, I am happy to express solidarity with our evangelical brothers and sisters from Wheaton College as they challenge the HHS mandate,” said CUA President John Garvey in a statement on Wheaton’s website. “Wheaton’s lawsuit is another sign of how troubling many people of faith find the government’s efforts to chip away at our first freedom.”
“Wheaton College and other distinctively Christian institutions are faced with a clear and present threat to our religious liberty,” said Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. “Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom. In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again.”
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The lawsuit, available at The Becket Fund’s website, states:
Wheaton’s religious beliefs forbid it from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion. Wheaton is among the many American religious organizations that hold these beliefs.
With full knowledge of these beliefs, the government issued an administrative rule (“the Mandate”) that runs roughshod over Wheaton’s religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing it to provide health insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling.
The government’s Mandate unconstitutionally coerces Wheaton to violate its deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties. The Mandate also forces Wheaton to facilitate government-dictated speech that is incompatible with its own speech and religious teachings. Having to pay a penalty to the taxing authorities for the privilege of practicing one’s religion or controlling one’s own speech is un-American, unprecedented, and flagrantly unconstitutional.
Dr. Ryken said the alliance “ought to be a sign to all Americans that something really significant in terms of religious liberty is at stake.”
“Some observers will find it somewhat surprising that we’re filing this suit alongside the Catholic University of America,” said Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, President of Wheaton College, in a conference call with the media which The Cardinal Newman Society took part in. “We have a respect for Roman Catholic institutions and in this case we recognize we have common cause with the Catholic University of America and other Catholic institutions in defending religious liberty. We’re in effect co-belligerents in this fight against government action.”
John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America, has long been a leader in the fight for religious liberty. He said this alliance shows “this is not a fight over contraception.”
“We are both concerned about religious freedom,” he said.
“This mandate is not just a Catholic issue—it threatens people of all faiths,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Wheaton’s historic decision to join the fight alongside a Catholic institution shows the broad consensus that the mandate endangers everyone’s religious liberty.”
Ryken pointed out that Wheaton,a Protestant institution, does not have an issue with contraceptives but does take a “clear pro-life position” and said that providing coverage of abortifacients would go against their religious beliefs. “We’re very clear on the sanctity of life,” he said.
He said that the federal government’s providing an exemption for churches but not other religious institutions “creates two classes of religious institutions -those who have full protection for their religious freedom and those who don’t.”
If the evangelical college simply refused to provide coverage for abortifacients it would cost them $1.4 million in fines per annually for faculty and staff alone, according to Ryken.
CUA originally filed their lawsuit in May. Ryken said Wheaton was waiting until the Supreme Court made their decision on the Affordable Care Act because that decision could have negated the need for a lawsuit. Garvey added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see other evangelical institutions file suit in the near future.
Ryken and Garvey wrote a joint editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, pointing out that the Catholic and evangelical institutions “do not agree on all points about HHS’s mandated services.” But “the list of required services includes ‘morning after’ and ‘week after’ pills that claim the life of an unborn child within days of its conception.”
Wheaton and many other evangelical colleges and universities strongly believe in the sanctity of human life.
“We must cherish life, not destroy it. This belief is shared by both campus communities,” write Garvey and Ryken. “The Catholic Church’s unqualified defense of the unborn is too well known to need restatement. Wheaton’s commitment is equally firm.”
The two argue that no matter what others might believe about the morality or immorality of abortion, religious people and institutions should be allowed the freedom to act on their religious principles.
Many Americans disagree with our shared belief in the immorality of abortion. That is their right. But there should be no dispute about a second point we hold in common: Religious schools like Wheaton College and Catholic University should have the freedom—guaranteed by the United States Constitution—to carry out our mission in a way that is consistent with our religious principles.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), “it is that no official . . . can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” It is not just churches that have these religious rights, but all Americans who gather in voluntary association for distinctively religious purposes, such as Christian education.
The danger in ignoring Justice Jackson’s principle is not limited to institutions like Wheaton College and Catholic University. The real danger is to our republic.
The two college presidents repeatedly point to a document signed twenty years ago by Charles Colson, the evangelical founder of Prison Fellowship, and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic editor of First Things, entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”
They quote the document which states, “we 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.”
Recent efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Affordable Care Act have brought evangelicals and Catholics together to defend that freedom, they say.
In conclusion, they say, “A government that fails to heed the cries of its religious institutions undermines the supports of civil virtue and puts in jeopardy our constitutional order.”
The pair point out that Wheaton’s first president, Jonathan Blanchard the abolitionist, was so horrified by slavery that he felt a religious imperative to act in defense of freedom. “A command against my conscience,” said Blanchard, “I would not obey.”
You can read the entire piece at the Wall Street Journal.