By Kim Walter
Front Royal-based Christendom College has joined 15 other Catholic universities in signing on to a legal brief which supports lawsuits filed against the Obama administration over a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate.
The mandate, a regulation under the Affordable Care Act, requires religious colleges to insure both employees and students for sterilization and contraception. The brief supports two schools, Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College, that are demanding immediate exemption from the mandate.
"Christendom College is proud to stand with Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College against the imposition of the anti-life agenda of the Federal government," said Donna Bethell, the college's Chairman of the Board, in a release sent out this week. "We and all the other institutions and individuals who are in this fight to recognize that our liberties are threatened, indeed they have already been denied by President Obama. This is not an accident, an witting error ... and indicates that if he gets away with suppressing religious liberty ... he will feel free to attack the rest of the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights."
The brief was authored and filed in October by attorneys of the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization.
Earlier this year, lawsuits filed by Belmont Abbey and Wheaton colleges were dismissed by two U.S. District Court judges. The judges didn't rule on the merits of the cases, but instead said that the colleges hadn't suffered any harm because of the mandate.
In August, the "safe harbor" provision was granted by the Obama administration, which has delayed federal enforcement of the "contraceptive mandate" until August 2013.
However, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty called the safe harbor "illusory" in a consolidated appeal filed Oct. 5.
"Even though the government won't make religious colleges pay crippling fines this year, private lawsuits can still be brought, schools are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring and retaining faculty, and employees face the specter of battling chronic conditions without access to affordable care. This mandate puts these religious schools in an impossible position," it says.
The brief argues that mandatory contraceptive coverage will not have a significant impact in reducing unwanted pregnancies.
"There are options for reducing unwanted pregnancy and making contraception widely available that are far less restrictive than forcing religious employers to include it in their insurance plans," Christendom's release states.
The Belmont Abbey/Wheaton College case has attracted numerous amicus -- friend of the court -- briefs from numerous Catholic institutions, including the Catholic University of America, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
"Anyone who cherishes freedom of speech and of the press and the right of assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, all guaranteed by the First Amendment, must join this fight to protect religious liberty," Bethell says.
The schools' case will be heard Dec. 14 in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org