Sunday, September 22, 2013

Universities as Institutions

Recently, a group of four Christian universities located in Oklahoma were represented by an organization whose attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration. The four universities that are filing the lawsuit are Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mid-America Christian University. The organization is Alliance Defending Freedom and is an American conservative Christian non-profit organization whose attorneys are also participating in 13 other lawsuits against the mandate. All four schools appose the mandate that forces them to supply contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to it’s employees as it goes directly against their beliefs as Christian universities. Other than believing that the universities are being forced to abandon their religious beliefs, the schools believe that they are being treated as “second-class religious organizations, not entitled to the same religious freedom rights as substantially similar entities that qualify for the exemptions.”

The universities believe that the mandate violates the first and fifth amendments along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act breech is believed to be the fines that would follow if the universities did not offer the mandated coverage because the fines would create a major financial situation that could cause the universities to stop proceeding. The first amendment breech presented is believed to be that the universities are privately owned and are religious institutions and the mandate would force them to not practice their religious beliefs by forcing them to offer something they believe against their religion.

One way of looking at this situation is that the universities do not employ only Christian staff members, which would give reason to have the mandate, forced upon them. The universities cannot discriminate in the hiring process and some of the professors may not be Christians who believe that these medical treatments go against his or her religious beliefs. While they are a private university, one may argue that this diversity of employees can be used as the main reason for the universities to need to offer the mandated services. Another reason one may argue this is that the schools, while religiously affiliated, are not religious institutions in themselves, also serving students that may not fall in line with the religious beliefs so to claim that they are strictly a Christian institutions would not be entirely correct but merely an institutions of high education. The next reason a person could give is that Christian beliefs are a vague notion to reference, as there are many Christian groups that do not view these forms of medicine in a negative fashion. The universities could also be under scrutiny for appealing this if they accept money from the government for being an academic institution. Finally, a person may argue that an affiliation with a religious entity does not necessarily constitute being governed by those religious laws.

The other view would be that the universities should be granted the exception to the healthcare mandate. The reasons one could give for this claim is that the universities are all private institutions and that they are religiously affiliated therefore allowing the exemption. A second reason one could give is that the universities clearly identify with the Christian religion and that the people who seek employment there would need to understand that they are working at a religiously affiliated institution. Thirdly, the schools have established themselves as religious institutions and that to view them as less of a religious institution than other academic institutions that have the religious affiliation would be discrimination against the four universities.

I have mixed feelings on the situation, as I can understand that they are a private institution that is explicitly affiliated with their specific Christian religious views. However, I also believe that they are not the church itself and while they would need to offer the medical treatments to all, there is nothing forcing the individual person to partake in the treatments. The religious freedoms are given to the individual person, not an inanimate institution. The people who work at and operate the universities are not being forced to take the treatments, they are only being offered to them. I also do not see the university as being able to deny someone a medical treatment when it does not go against his or her own religious beliefs. With all taken into consideration I would have to say that I do not approve of giving the institution that ability to deny its employees of a medicine.

6 comments:

Cori T said...

This is a difficult situation as Adam suggests. I personally feel that the Universities should be exempt from providing the coverage if it goes against the affiliated religious beliefs of the institution. How can they financially support acts which they view as morally wrong? Unfortunately, it is hard to argue that the universities should be exempt, particularly when employees are not forced to accept/use the contraceptives/drugs.

Maddie C. said...

This case is similar to the issue discussed earlier concerning Barron Industries and their wish to be exempted from the contraception mandate. It had been decided that the exemption was allowed only for religious and non-profit organizations. Even though they define themselves as Christian universities, not all of the hired staff is necessarily Christian as well. These people probably do not share all of the beliefs held by the Christian religion, and therefore may not be opposed to the contraception mandate. I agree with Adam that these universities should not receive the exemption. The staff should be able to have the opportunity to take advantage of the contraception mandate if they so choose. Because they were not hired based on religious affiliation, the staff should have the right to the benefits of the mandate, even if it is against the beliefs of the Christian university.

Mike Spear said...

Maddie makes an insightful notion to look at the Barron Industries to help determine whether or not these Universities deserve the exemption. It is important to preserve religion and the exercise there of, however we must be conscious of the many non-religious (both active and future) employees before blowing the whistle of religious tolerance. It would be unfair for the employees, who do not recognize religion, to have to adhere to the beliefs of the top dogs. These universities will have to abide to the new regulations due to their influence in the public spectra, that should remain secular.

Dan W said...

Though these Universities are religiously affiliated, the line must be drawn between a church and a university. The key for me is that though the university is required to offer the coverage, employees are not required to accept it. Thus if every employee was indeed compelled to follow their religious beliefs they would be able to and no one would have the coverage. While I sympathize with the universities for having to offer the coverage in principle, the potential to avoid its implementation leads me to side against them.

Brantley Gasaway said...

Just a quick note, if this affects anyone's interpretation.

Adam wrote, The universities cannot discriminate in the hiring process...

However, religiously-affiliated schools such as these and other organizations are indeed allowed to "discriminate" in their hiring procedures with respect to anyone in “a role in conveying the church’s message and carrying out its mission”--and that would include many if not all professors. This is known as a "ministerial exemption," allowing institutions or groups to hire only those people who affirm its religious principles.

Nevertheless, such institutions or organizations are not allowed to discriminate in hiring employees who are in "non-ministerial" function.

Dylan Smith said...

I agree with the connection to Barron Industries. I'm afraid I have to go with the flow and argue for the state in this case. The institutions do not meet the necessary qualifications of a solely religious organization. I agree with Dan, lets draw a line between church and secular organization that allows its services for secular reasons. These schools are in a sphere such that it would almost be considered a restriction of free exercise for them not to be required to offer the mandated health coverage for employees.