WASHINGTON -- Yesterday, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities President Edward O. Blews, Jr., submitted official comments to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius objecting to the lack of protection for the religious liberty of the CCCU’s Christian colleges and universities in the current proposed revision of the Obama Administration's so called "contraceptive mandate."
In response to the February 6, 2013, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Blews wrote, “Let us be clear here that the principle at issue is the very constitutional religious liberty of faith-based entities … such as Christian colleges and universities.” Blews continued by emphasizing, “When one group’s constitutional religious liberty is jeopardized, the religious liberty of all people and the entire nation is ultimately at risk. This is why we are compelled to object to the HHS mandate …on behalf of Christian higher education and for the sake of the nation.”
The contraceptive mandate requires all employers, including religious institutions, to cover contraceptive services in their health care plans, including covering the contraceptives Plan-B and ella, which are widely considered to be abortion-causing drugs. Though the final regulations published on February 15, 2012, exempt churches from this mandate, the regulations do not offer exemption for other faith-based organizations, including CCCU institutions. In 2012, the administration responded to widespread concern about the narrowly defined exemption by proposing an “accommodation” for religious groups. In his comments, Blews urged Secretary Sebelius to “treat religious institutions equally by expanding the parameters of the exemption to include all faith-based institutions.”
Blews reminded HHS of the deeply held religious beliefs of CCCU institutions and the important role that their faith orientation plays in their contribution to society: “[O]ur CCCU Christian colleges and universities perform a critical and irreplaceable role and provide invaluable service for our nation and society, precisely because they are faith-based. This is why the federal government has historically respected their character and protected their religious liberties. Specifically, CCCU Christian colleges and universities provide exceptional higher education service, integrating academic excellence with faith, to more than 400,000 students a year in this nation alone, most of them from families of modest means.”
The CCCU has from the beginning forcefully argued that the exemption should be expanded to include all religious organizations, including CCCU institutions. Blews writes, “[W]hen constitutional concerns for religious liberty are at stake, it is best to cast the widest net, and to include the broadest protections possible for the largest number of groups, instead of trying to develop the option that threads the thinnest constitutional needle.”
In his comments, Blews also addressed specific ramifications of the accommodation approach if HHS ignores the broader constitutional principle calling for complete exemption. In that event, he recommends, “If, however, the Department disregards the constitutional concerns above and insists upon an accommodation approach, the CCCU urges the Department to further remove the provision of objectionable services from the Christian college or university or other faith-based entity (ie. the religious employer).”
The CCCU’s submitted comments also addressed specific proposals in the Department’s NPRM, noting that HHS’s proposal for faith-based institutions to self-certify in order to qualify for the accommodation “mitigate[s] the excessive intrusion and entanglement that would occur if institutions were required to report directly to and be certified by the government itself.” The CCCU’s comments also urge HHS to respect “critical constitutional principles and protections” as it determines how to address those institutions which self-insure.
Blews’ comments are the latest CCCU response to the mandate, originally promulgated on August 3, 2011. Previously the CCCU signed an inter-faith letter dated August 26, 2011, to Joshua DuBois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; submitted comments on September 30, 2011, to the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the Internal Revenue Service; wrote a December 23, 2011, letter to President Obama opposing the limited religious protection contained in the mandate; delivered a March 9, 2012, letter to the White House expressing continued concern about the contraceptive mandate; joined nearly 150 other faith groups in a June 11, 2012, letter of protest to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and most recently submitted comments to Secretary Sebelius on June 19, 2012, in response to the “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for ‘Certain Preventative Services Under the Affordable Care Act’” that preceded this NPRM.
Ten CCCU institutions have filed suit against HHS on this issue, asserting that these regulations infringe upon their religious freedoms: Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.; College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.; Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo.; East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas; Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio; Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.; Grace College & Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind.; Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas; Louisiana College in Pineville, La.; and Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. The CCCU has expressed its strong support for these ten CCCU colleges which filed lawsuits to vindicate the religious liberties of Christian colleges. The CCCU has signed onto amicus briefs in support of these lawsuits.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 172 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 118 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 54 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.