Evangelicals & Catholics Go to Court Together over the HHS Mandate

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

I had the pleasure of meeting Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, yesterday, as he announced the filing of Wheaton v. Sebelius. They have a moral problem with the Affordable Care Act that begins on August 1 when implementation of the HHS contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug mandate hits those institutions that do not qualify for the somewhat arbitrary and wholly insulting one-year waiver. (In a longer interview with me, Ryken calls it  “offensive.”) Wheaton’s conscience clash with the government is over the abortion-drug part of the mandate. He and his trustees thought that joining a Catholic college would be a powerful, clarifying statement — that this is not just a Catholic issue, that this is not about access to birth control, but is a moment where religious liberty is being eroded. And so as they explain in the Wall Street Journal today, he has joined John Garvey and the Catholic University of America in federal court, represented by the Becket Fund, which has long specialized in the ecumenical defense of religious freedom.  

“Religious liberty,” Ryken told me, is “one of the strongest points of affinity between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.” (The sanctity of life, he indicated, is another leading one.)

This moment, while one of deep regret to him — that Wheaton would have to sue the federal government to ensure its religious liberty — is an educational one, a business he knows well. #more#

“Religious liberty,” he continued, “is something generally taken for granted in the United States, possibly because it’s not all that frequently tested in the public square — although increasingly we do see it being tested. I also think that a fair number of religious-liberty issues that have come up have dealt with religious communities that are not at the center of American life, and so many people have dismissed that as not being an issue that it is relevant to them. But given the size of the Evangelical and Catholic communities in the United States, this is obviously of widespread interest and involvement.” 

In the Wall Street Journal, Ryken and Garvey write, in part:

Our institutions do not agree on all points about HHS’s mandated services. The regulations require religious institutions (except churches) to guarantee coverage for all government-approved contraceptives. Wheaton College does not, as Catholics do, view all forms of artificial contraception as immoral.

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. During the period for public comment, Wheaton and many other evangelical colleges and universities objected that this requirement violated their belief in the sanctity of human life.

We must cherish life, not destroy it. This belief is shared by both campus communities. The Catholic Church’s unqualified defense of the unborn is too well known to need restatement. Wheaton’s commitment is equally firm.

As a systemically Christian college, all of Wheaton’s students, faculty and staff undertake to live a distinctive lifestyle. In its Community Covenant, the college affirms “the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death.” Because abortion destroys innocent human life, the college regards the HHS mandate as contrary to its deepest convictions.

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.

Look for more from Ryken on NRO before too long. And do something to educate people a little about this issue. Send someone the WSJ piece. Send someone this Corner post. As I said in this shamelessly headlined item last night – Romney Converts! – Mitt Romney’s “We are all Catholic” timing (and standing ovation) was beautiful for anyone wanting to bring a little more attention to this lawsuit Wheaton filed. Anyone should be every American who values religious liberty. (You might thank the Romney campaign. And you might point out to a neighbor or co-worker or Facebook friend that he said it and why.)

With an understanding of that last point Ryken told me yesterday: “I am glad if the effect of promoting those interests also helps other people. Even if that’s not my primary calling. That would be a happy secondary effect of the leadership I need to provide for Wheaton College.”

It is a mighty outrage though when you think about it: that Wheaton and Catholic University have to do this. As John Garvey put it yesterday:  “I am sorry . . . that we have to protect ourselves against the government.” But thank God that they are. 

The Corner

The one and only.