WASHINGTON (CNA) – A leading evangelical college in Illinois has joined The Catholic University of America in filing a lawsuit in D.C. District Court against the contraception mandate issued under the health care law.
"I think the fact that evangelicals and Catholics are coming together on this issue ought to be a sign to all Americans that something really significant in terms of religious liberty is at stake," said Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College.
Dr. Ryken explained at a July 18 press call that the college – a Christian liberal arts institution with approximately 2,400 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students – allows its faith to penetrate all aspects of campus life, from hiring decisions to theology to its "community covenant."
The college opposes both drugs and procedures that cause abortion, he said, and "we should not be coerced to provide these services."
The lawsuit marks the most recent legal action taken against a federal mandate that will soon require employers and colleges to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-causing drugs free of charge.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Wheaton College in the case, said that the new suit shows the threat posed by the mandate to people who hold a wide variety of religious beliefs.
He stressed that while most houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, religious institutions such as schools and charitable agencies do not qualify for an exemption because they hire and serve those of other faiths.
Furthermore, he said, the administration’s proposed "accommodation" was never actually put into law and fails to adequately protect religious institutions from involvement in the objectionable coverage.
According to the Becket Fund, Wheaton College’s action marks the first time that a Catholic and evangelical institution have come together in a partnership to oppose the same regulation in court.
John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, also spoke at the press call, saying that he welcomed Wheaton College and was happy to stand in solidarity with his evangelical brothers.
The fact that Protestant colleges are joining in the lawsuits against the mandate shows that the issue is not merely a Catholic one, Dr. Garvey said.
Nor is it an issue of contraception, he added, since evangelicals do not morally object to artificial contraception.
Rather, Dr. Garvey explained, it is a matter of religious freedom, which properly belongs to people of all faiths.
Nearly 60 plaintiffs have filed a total of more than 20 lawsuits against the mandate. While a Nebraska judge dismissed one of these lawsuits on July 17, Mr. Duncan said that this was the result of a mere technicality and did not affect Wheaton’s legal action at all.
Other plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits include numerous colleges, dioceses, Catholic Charities agencies and private business owners throughout the country, along with religious media network EWTN and Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor.
In a statement announcing the new lawsuit, Dr. Ryken said that "distinctively Christian institutions" such as Wheaton College "are faced with a clear and present threat to our religious liberty."
"Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom," he said. "In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again."
Dr. Garvey agreed, explaining that "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."