Politics & Policy

Baptists vs. Sebelius

Louisiana College president Joe Aguillard
The continuing story of ecumenical outrage

Last week, the Obama administration did it again. In a new bulletin, the Department of Health and Human Services implied that there are more faith-based entities who can apply for a “safe harbor” from its controversial “contraception” mandate. 

“Every time the administration opens its mouth it changes its rules to attack religious freedom in a different way,” Matt Bowman, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom says of the bulletin. “Washington bureaucrats have no business continually picking and choosing what faith is and who is allowed to practice faith,” he continues. 

The revised safe harbor does nothing for businesses — such as the Hercules HVAC company in Denver, which won an injunction in late July, or the Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company in Pennsylvania – with regard to conscience objections to the mandate.

#ad#The one-year delay may be the most insulting part of the mandate. All it does, as both Catholic Timothy Cardinal Dolan and Presbyterian Philip Ryken, the president of the evangelical Wheaton College, have noted, is to tell faith-based entities — many of them providers of social services — that they have a year to figure out how to violate their consciences. (Expect more on the Wheaton College case shortly — there is a D.C. federal court hearing on Thursday.) 

The new bulletin came days after yet another school, Louisiana College, a Baptist school in Pineville, La., filed a lawsuit over the mandate. “Our choice to exclude abortion pills from our coverage doesn’t prevent anyone from making the choice to use those drugs,” the school’s president, Joe Aguillard, tells National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

 

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why, and when, did you decide to sue the federal government?

JOE AGUILLARD: We knew it was time to stand up and resist the moment we realized that the Obama administration meant to usurp our God-given religious freedoms and our time-honored Baptist heritage .

LOPEZ: How do you face “imminent hardship”?

AGUILLARD: Washington politicians and bureaucrats cannot force Americans to surrender their freedom. Louisiana College has been given a choice that is not really a choice at all — to give up our belief that every child’s life deserves to be protected or to face punishments that could very well force us to close our doors. With that kind of threat so close on the horizon, we needed to act immediately to make sure the government’s attack on freedom is stopped in its tracks — not only for Louisiana College, but for every American.

LOPEZ: Surely members of the board had misgivings about a high-profile lawsuit against the federal government in an election year?

AGUILLARD: The board at Louisiana College is as dedicated as I am to protecting the fundamental freedoms that every American is promised. Preserving freedom requires vigilance in every season, and in this season, the Obama administration has chosen to attack our most cherished freedoms. It was really an easy decision to team up with Alliance Defending Freedom to wipe this totalitarian mandate off the books.

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LOPEZ: The president contended last week that there is a compromise. So why would you sue?

AGUILLARD: Any repeated claim that the government has compromised is recycled nonsense. The HHS mandate will force us to cover abortion pills in our health plans at no cost to employees. The facts are as simple as that. The only compromise the administration has made is with the truth.

LOPEZ: How is it any of your business, as the president of a university, if your employee uses an abortion drug? That is their legal right, isn’t it, under Roe v. Wade?

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AGUILLARD: It’s none of the government’s business what Louisiana College offers in our health plans. It is also not the government’s business to impose its religious practice of condoning murder in exchange for our religious practice of protecting innocent lives. Our choice to exclude abortion pills from our coverage doesn’t prevent anyone from making the choice to use those drugs. Arguing that a refusal to pay for abortion drugs is the same as blocking access to them is like saying that I stopped you from going to the movies because I didn’t buy you a ticket. It’s absurd. However, forcing a Christian college to pay for or facilitate life-ending drugs is a gross violation of freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

LOPEZ: Has this been a learning experience for you? Constitutionally? Politically? Religiously?

AGUILLARD: I’ve certainly learned what it’s like to see out-of-control politicians and bureaucrats abuse their offices to attack fundamental freedoms. It’s made me cherish the freedoms our Founders passed on to us that much more.

LOPEZ: If the administration were somehow to further tweak the mandate and remove abortifacients, would it make a difference? Theoretically they could propose this, since there is still a not-final proposal out there.

AGUILLARD: The administration has shown no substantial interest in moving an inch to protect religious freedom. The next time Americans can trust the Obama administration on the issue of religious freedom will be the first. They are well aware that the adminstration is attacking freedom, so if it hasn’t backed off yet, it won’t until it’s forced to do so. That’s why Louisiana College filed this suit with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom.

LOPEZ: Are you uncomfortable at this point with a health-care law that doesn’t protect conscience in the way we have been protecting it since the beginning of the republic?

AGUILLARD: The concept of a government’s mandating a Christian college to choose between its deeply held beliefs and continuing to operate is an alien concept in the history of this republic. To describe Louisiana College’s position on this mandate as “uncomfortable” is insufficient. We are outraged. Every American should share this outrage that the conscience protections that have existed since our founding are being dismantled before our eyes.

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LOPEZ: If you could speak to the president about this, what would you say?

AGUILLARD: “Mr. President, you swore an oath to protect and defend the freedoms guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Instead, your administration has launched an unprecedented war against those very freedoms. While you may support abortion, Louisiana College worships at the feet of God, who condemns it. We serve Him, not you and your government.”

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LOPEZ: Does this all get in the way of running a college?

AGUILLARD: No. In fact, it is part of my job to uphold and defend the Christian values upon which Louisiana College was founded and those truths by which we continue to operate.

LOPEZ: Do you worry you’re doing a disservice to the women on your campus? Does this “war on women” talk worry you?

AGUILLARD: That rhetoric coming from pro-abortion groups is absurd. This is a stand for life and for our religious freedom to not be forced to participate in murder. As Christians, we believe first of all that all life is sacred and that abortion is murder. Almighty God has not given the right to murder (to take an innocent life) to any government. Further, we honor every individual woman on our campus in accordance with their status as God’s image bearers. Unlike our opposition, we don’t reduce women to nothing more than past, present, and future abortion customers.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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