Sunday, February 7, 2016

Can a Christian College Serve God First and Country Second?

A Christian College near Pittsburgh has the motto "pro Cristo et Patria," which translates to "for Christ and Country." While this is Geneva College's motto, individuals at the university claim it is their responsibility and mission to serve God first, and country second. The College recently filed a lawsuit against Obamcare for the mandate that they must provide all legal forms of birth control to employees under their health care plan. While the college agrees to provide 16 out of 20  birth control methods, they are "not willing" to offer what they refer to as "abortion-inducing drugs." The college claims that the Obamacare mandate threatens their right to free exercise. In a video produced by a Christian legal group, members of the college cite their involvement in the underground railroad and early women's education as proof of their commitment to freedom and justice even when they were disobeying the law. Obamacare allows religious employers the ability to opt out of paying for abortion inducing birth control methods which would then have to be paid for by a third party administrator.  Legal fellow Elizabeth Slattery claims that “You don’t have to share Geneva College’s opposition to abortion to recognize that the government should not be able to force Americans to give up their deeply held beliefs simply because they step outside the four walls of a church to educate the next generation.” In a case summary written by Alliance Protecting Freedom, the group cites the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled that a "for-profit family business can operate it's business in a manner consistent with it's belief" and hopes that this ruling will be extended to nonprofit organizations like Geneva College. In March, the Supreme Court will hear this case in addition to several others that contend the birth control mandate due to freedom of religion infringement.

The author of the article and Geneva College both strongly believe that forcing the school to provide abortion inducing contraceptives to employees violates their right to religious freedom. The case is no doubt sticky. The fact that the supreme court has recently ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby suggests that this case has a real shot at success for the college. The difference between Hobby Lobby and the Geneva College case is only that Geneva College is not a family business that is for-profit and instead is an educational institution. The College argues that the Hobby Lobby ruling should simply be extended to include them and their religious beliefs that abortion inducing drugs are the end to a child's life. This case has large implications when it comes to religious freedom- a win for Geneva College would mean that universities, anti-abortion groups and ministries could legally opt out of providing certain kinds of health care to individuals who they employ, potentially making it much more difficult for access to contraceptives like Plan B and certain IUDs to thousands of individuals. While Geneva is a fairly small school, this ruling could allow any religious organization to do the same. While Geneva only opposes 4 of the 20 birth control methods, who is to say that other organization would not try to remove others from the list? If a religious organization can keep birth control from its female employees, what other health care can they restrict?

While Geneva and the legal group they are working with believe their freedom of religion is being called in to question, I disagree. Before making my argument though, it is important to note that  the use repeated us of phrases like "abortion inducing" and "ending a child's life" are scientifically unsound when referring to IUDs and Plan B-like drugs. Even putting aside these scientifically incorrect statements and for a moment assuming that these contraceptive methods are in fact "abortion inducing," no one is asking the individual employees at the College to take these "abortion inducing drugs." If, as the college claims, the college as a whole and as follows, their employees are against the use to these "abortion inducing" drugs, the college doesn't need to cut them out of their health care plan in order to prevent their use. If employees will not make use of these drugs due to their own religious beliefs, why is it necessary to remove them from insurance coverage? No one is being coerced into taking Plan B or any other drug simply because it is covered by their insurance plan.

Additionally, I would argue that the school making these decisions about which totally legal contraceptives their employees choose to use is a violation of the employee's own right to free exercise which may include the ability to use these birth control methods.  The school claims that it is "serving God First" by not allowing for innocent unborn children to be killed, but blatantly disregards the danger they may be putting their employees in without these contraceptive methods. I believe that right to free exercise for individuals, not the school, should win out in this legal battle.

The case won't be heard by the Supreme Court until March, so for now, we can only speculate whether the Hobby Lobby ruling will be extended to this case. Do you think Geneva College should be exempt from the Obamacare mandates because of their religious beliefs? Do you think that a school as an establishment is entitled to a right to free exercise?


Rebecca J said...

I do not think that Geneva College should be exempt from these ObamaCare guidelines because of their religious affiliation and motto. I think Sarah makes an important point that serves as the basis of this viewpoint. By exempting Geneva College from having to provide all forms of birth control to its employees, the individual liberties of the college's employees could be put at risk. The employees rely on this institution for their healthcare plan and accessibility to birth control products. By limiting the types of birth control their employees can access, the college is limiting the free choices that their employees can make. Additionally, the employees of the institution may not necessarily have the same religion or live by the same motto of "serving God First" as the institution does. If this is the case, then the institution could be coercing its employees into certain religious beliefs, which could violate an employee's individual right to free exercise of religion. As an institution with employees relying on it for benefits like health care, the college has the responsibility to supply its employees with all the birth control options they need and cannot coerce the employees to follow certain religious practices that they do not wish to follow.

Alex Puleo said...

I do not believe Geneva College should be exempt from the requests made by ObamaCare. ObamaCare is a national set of guidelines pertaining to all forms of medical care, regardless of religious or political preferences and affiliations. Thus, this single academic institution should not be exempt from providing specific medications, including abortificants. In addition, the purpose of an academic institution is to educate it's students, and allow for a "liberal arts" education; creating an atmosphere which inhibits this is not the job of an institution such as Geneva College. Additionally, most colleges and universities in the United States were founded by religious groups, and a majority of these institutions are not asking for an exemption from the law.

Kaily G said...

I believe that the same law that governs the Hobby Lobby case should be applied to the employees of all Christian establishments. The exception of abortion inducing birth control methods from Obamacare pertains to the employees not the students- an important distinction. Both in the case of Hobby Lobby and Geneva College the employees know before applying for the job that they would be working for Christian establishments and what that entails. Thus, if they do not agree with the religious principles of the establishments then they should take jobs elsewhere where the full coverage is provided. I believe forcing Christian establishments to agree to parts of Obamacare that go against their religion would be to restrict their right to free practice.

Lucy Fishell said...

I do not believe that Geneva College should be exempt from giving their employees certain contraceptives on the basis that it goes against their free exercise. Geneva Colleges cites the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case as the main argument as to why they shouldn't have to comply. However the differences between these two cases are very important. Hobby Lobby is a for-profit business, that runs off money given to it by them by people's private incomes. However Geneva College regardless of whether it is private or public institute runs off government funds given in the form of government scholarships; this was the reason that all colleges have to comply to Title IV. If a institution is receiving federal funds, I believe that it should be in full compliance with the law and let religious liberty fall to the background, due to the separation of church and state.