WASHINGTON – Four representatives of Council for Christian Colleges & Universities member institutions testified on Thursday, February 16 before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Prompted by the Obama administration’s controversial Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, the lengthy hearing on “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” addressed basic questions of religious freedom and whether or not protection will be afforded to religious institutions who wish to follow their conscience in refusing to pay for products and services they find morally objectionable.
The committee heard testimony from two panels of witnesses. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, a CCCU member institution located in Jackson, Tenn., testified on the first panel, which also featured witnesses from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Yeshiva University and Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“The policy [requiring the health insurance provided by most religious institutions’, including CCCU institutions, to cover all FDA approved contraceptives] is an unconscionable intrusion by the state into the consciences of American citizens,” Mitchell stated in his testimony. “Contrary to portrayals in some of the popular media, this is not only a Catholic issue. All people of faith—and even those who claim no faith—have a stake in whether or not the government can violate the consciences of its citizenry. Religious liberty and the freedom to obey one’s conscience is also not just a Baptist issue. It is an American issue that is enshrined in our founding documents.”
Three witnesses on the second panel represented CCCU campuses, alongside the presidents of The Catholic University of America and Belmont Abbey College. Dub Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, stated in his testimony, “This issue is not about women’s health, it is about religious liberty. It is about whether the government will force religious people and organizations to do something they believe is wrong. Everyone here wants women to have access to good health care. We are asking that our religious views be respected.”
Dr. Laura Champion, medical director of Calvin College Health Services in Grand Rapid, Mich., stated, “Even when Americans hold vastly different views on the sanctity of life, this mandate raises a point that should be examined by all: do we value religious freedom in our country or not?” She continued, “A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, should not force the people to violate their consciences.”
Allison Garrett, senior vice president of academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, Okla., stated that the President’s announcement on February 10 of an ostensible compromise regarding the contraceptive mandate does not present a workable solution. “The Administration has said that insurance companies rather than the plan sponsors will offer the contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs at no cost. This may provide palliative care for the conscience for a few, but it does not provide any assistance to those institutions with self-funded plans.”
That this hearing went forward in spite of President Obama’s February 10 announcement reflected concerns that the proposed revision does not fully address the religious freedom infringements at stake including ignoring self-insured employer plans and the student insurance plans that academic institutions provide. Since the February 10 announcement has not yet been published as regulations, this hearing focused on the final rules published February 15 that were unchanged from the August 3, 2011, version that mandates coverage of the contraceptive services through the employer plan.
The complete text and video of all testimony is available on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s website.
The Committee also heard testimony in the first panel from The Most Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; The Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod; Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun; and Craig Mitchell, chair of the ethics department and associate director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Witnesses on the second panel included John H. Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, and William K. Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College. Barry W. Lynn, Esq., executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was invited but did not attend.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.