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MANASSAS, Va., Sept. 29, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- Eighteen Catholic colleges and universities, all marked by their commitment to Catholic identity and fidelity to Catholic teaching, joined today with The Cardinal Newman Society in an appeal to the Obama administration to exempt all religious objectors from a mandate requiring health insurance plans to cover sterilization and contraceptives, including some that cause abortion.
The appeal was organized by The Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), and authored by attorneys Kevin Theriot and Matthew Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund. Joining the Center and 18 colleges in the letter were the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop Curry, who signed in his individual capacity, is chairman of the Committee for Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"This health insurance mandate is potentially very damaging to Catholic higher education, both in its immediate impact on the moral climate of colleges and universities and its broader implications for the Constitutional rights of religious employers," said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education and Vice President for Mission at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md.
"The lack of respect for the beliefs of Catholic persons and institutions (and other men and women of good will) is startling and unprecedented in modern federal regulations," Swetland continued. "This animus towards sincerely held moral beliefs and practices comes just at a time when ethically based education is so needed in our society. Catholic institutions will not compromise on the question of the immorality of contraception and sterilization or the grave injustice of abortion. The administration seems to be telling Catholic institutions that the only way we can operate in their America is to abandon our core ethical beliefs. This law and its outrageously narrow religious exemption cannot stand."
On September 14, The Cardinal Newman Society urged more than 230,000 e-mail recipients to send comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opposing the mandate (press release here.) In a September 22 article in Crisis Magazine, CNS President Patrick J. Reilly also encouraged Catholics to participate in the U.S. bishops' campaign against the mandate.
Today's comment on behalf of Catholic colleges describes the HHS exemption for religious employers as "potentially so narrow as to be not only nearly inconsequential but insulting to religious entities, in particular to Catholic Colleges and Universities," which may not be exempt depending on the discretion of HHS.
"No federal rule has defined being 'religious' as narrowly and discriminatorily as the Mandate appears to do, and no regulation has ever so directly proposed to violate plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms," the letter argues. Whether considering religious institutions, other employers or individuals, "federal law simply prohibits the federal government from violating the religious and moral beliefs of any of these stakeholders."
"For this reason we urge HHS (and the Departments of Labor and of the Treasury that jointly issued the interim final rule) to exempt all stakeholders with a religious or moral objection to 'contraceptives' (including abortifacients as well as non-abortifacient mechanisms of action), sterilization, and related education and counseling, from having to provide, offer, pay for or in any way participate in health insurance that includes such coverage. The right to religious freedom requires no less."
The letter cites the official summary of the mandate, in which HHS acknowledges "that one reason it was rushed to finalization prior to the notice and comment period was precisely to ensure that collegiate women would have access to 'contraception,' abortifacients, sterilization and the like as quickly and as freely as possible." The mandate will likely force Catholic colleges to include such coverage in student health plans.
The comment also suggests the frightening possibility that the mandate could be used to require insurance coverage for future abortion drugs as long as the Food and Drug Administration declares them to be "contraceptive." The mandate already includes drugs that may cause early abortions, in violation of various federal laws, including ulipristal ("Ella").
Together the Catholic colleges, Catholic higher education groups and Bishop Curry call on HHS to issue "a blanket, non-discretionary exemption from the Mandate for any employer, issuer, payer, individual, or entity who in his or its own determination has any religious or moral objection to providing, issuing, enrolling in, participating in, paying for or otherwise facilitating or cooperating in coverage of any required practice or of any required provision of information."
The Catholic colleges and universities that signed the Center's comment are: Aquinas College (Tenn.), Ave Maria University (Fla.), Benedictine College (Kans.), Catholic Distance University, Christendom College (Va.), College of Saint Mary Magdalen (N.H.), College of Saint Thomas More (Tex.), DeSales University (Pa.), Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), Holy Apostles College & Seminary (Conn.), John Paul the Great Catholic University (Cal.), Mount St. Mary's University (Md.), Saint Gregory's University (Okla.), Thomas Aquinas College (Cal.), Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (N.H.), University of Mary (N.D.), University of Saint Thomas (Tex.) and Wyoming Catholic College (Wyo.).
In 2009, The Cardinal Newman Society led a national protest of the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Barack Obama, gathering more than 367,000 signatures to an online petition against the honors. President Obama used the occasion to reiterate his support for abortion rights, then pledged to seek "common ground" with pro-life Catholics on health care reform.
"Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause," President Obama said.