Bench Memos

Why Biola University Is Suing the Federal Government

Biola University is a private, Christian university located in Southern California. Every undergraduate student takes 30 units of Biblical studies, something they’ve been required to do for many decades. The Board of Trustees has signed the same doctrinal statement of faith for nearly a century — every year, every trustee. Biola expects every student, staff and faculty member to be a professing Christian. We have among our schools a theological seminary. Our “BIOLA” acronym reveals our origin: the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Biola is a university grounded in religious faith. We have been since we began in 1908.

But, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, Biola is not “religious” enough.

Something doesn’t add up.

It’s not often a university files a lawsuit against the federal government. For Biola, this is a first. As an evangelical Christian institution with a 104-year history of deep commitment to biblical convictions such as the sanctity of human life, we believe the recent actions by HHS cannot go unchallenged. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, we are making our stand. What’s at stake? Our fundamental freedom to exercise our faith in the context of a community, and to live out the mission to which we’re convinced God has called us.

The HHS mandate — requiring institutions such as Biola to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs — essentially forces us to act against our own doctrinal statement, a statement that upholds the sanctity of human life. It unjustly intrudes on our religious liberty as protected under the U.S. Constitution and makes a mockery of our attempts to live our lives according to our faith convictions, time-honored and long protected.

The Obama administration’s so-called “accommodation” for religious institutions like ours does little to allay our fears. This “compromise” is said to place the financial burden of covering conscience-threatening drugs and treatments on insurance companies rather than the religious institution. But this doesn’t change the fact that institutions such as Biola would still be required to cover abortifacient drugs and thus violate our convictions. In essence, the “accommodation” is just an accounting gimmick. One way or another, Biola would pay for and facilitate the use of these drugs.

This isn’t just an evangelical issue or a Catholic issue. It isn’t a right-wing political issue.

As one of the nation’s largest Protestant evangelical universities, where Republicans and Democrats exist among staff, faculty and students, Biola recognizes that what’s really at stake here is the unconstitutional trampling of religious freedom. That’s why those within many religious groups — Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox — are raising their hands in protest. Tones of lament can be heard across the land as one of America’s most fundamental freedoms — the freedom to live out one’s faith free of government intrusion — is seriously undermined.

For religious institutions like Biola, the most unsettling thing about the HHS mandate is its frightening, unprecedented narrowing of the category of the organizations whose religious freedom is considered worthy of protection. It’s a narrowing that could impede our very ability to teach, grant degrees, and function as a nationally ranked university in a manner consistent with our beliefs. Biola University is about as faith-driven and religiously oriented as a university can be. So if we don’t fall within the protection of a “religious exemption,” something is fundamentally wrong.

At Biola, Christian faith isn’t just an inscription on a seal or a vestige of a bygone era. It’s the core of who we are. Respect our freedom of religion. Don’t deny us the freedom to live according to our convictions. We take our faith seriously, as we have done for over a century, and we simply ask that the government take us — and, more importantly, the United States Constitution – seriously as well.

— Barry H. Corey is the eighth president of Biola University. On Aug. 23, Biola University became the first religious institution and private Christian university in California to file a lawsuit against the federal government over the HHS health insurance mandate. 

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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