I took part this afternoon in a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Dr. Yuri Mantilla, chairman of the Justice Initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The press conference was to promote an open letter to all Americans signed by leaders of many different faith traditions. You can read the letter, “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” here.
You can watch the press conference at C-SPAN.org, here.
My prepared remarks are below:
My name is Dr. Anne Hendershott. I am a sociologist and have spent the past twenty years working as a professor on religious college campuses. As a Catholic, I have chosen to teach in an environment where my religious rights are respected. As a pro-life Catholic I was happy to be able to teach in an environment where I would not be asked to compromise my conscience rights by having to supervise student internships at Planned Parenthood or at other abortion providers. I have been happy to teach in schools where I would not be asked to contribute to causes that are contrary to what my Church teaches. I have always known that my conscience rights would be protected.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate on “preventive service” now threatens those very protections. The HHS mandate requires that all organizations—including religious institutions like the Catholic colleges and universities I teach in—provide insurance coverage that includes abortion inducing drugs like Ella and Plan B, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures. This mandate will require me—as a faithful Catholic—to purchase insurance that my Church teaches is seriously immoral. The HHS mandate forces me and my religious employer to pay for or facilitate access to products and services that are in opposition to our deeply held moral and religious beliefs.
The HHS mandate also allows the minor children of employees of “accommodated” religious institutions, like my college, to avail themselves of contraceptives, sterilization, or abortifacient drugs without their parents’ knowledge because such information will not appear on parents’ claims statements at the end of each month.
Last year, my current employer, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, became the first university in the country to drop its requirement for student health insurance due to moral and economic concerns connected to the HHS mandate. Fr. Terence Henry, TOR, then-president of Franciscan University submitted a public statement protesting the new guidelines from HHS that force Catholic institutions to choose between following their faith or providing health coverage in their employee and student health plans. In his statement, Fr. Henry wrote that “By making this insurance coverage mandatory, our government has violated the consciences of people of faith and infringed on our rights to practice our religious beliefs.”
In May of 2012, Franciscan University sued the federal government saying that the HHS mandate constituted a grave threat to Franciscan University’s ability to continue to teach from the heart of the Church.
The Franciscan University lawsuit was one of 12 lawsuits filed on May 21, 2012, by 43 Catholic organizations, including the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges and universities. There are now over 60 total lawsuits against the mandate, about half brought by family-owned businesses and half brought by non-profit religious institutions. Fortunately, of those cases on behalf of family businesses that have received early rulings on the religious freedom issue, the vast majority—almost 80%–of plaintiffs have been awarded temporary halts to the mandate. Unfortunately, on the non-profit side, many of the cases—including Franciscan University’s lawsuit—have been dismissed without prejudice because the courts have claimed that the religious institutions have not yet been “injured” by the HHS mandate.
Those of us who work on Catholic campuses—or other Christian institutions—disagree. We have already been injured by this unjust mandate because our constitutional right to religious freedom has already been compromised. The refusal by the Obama administration to classify religious institutions like Franciscan or Notre Dame as religious employers has already compromised our religious rights. There is every indication that this will escalate.
Refusing to count Franciscan University and Notre Dame and other Catholic and Christian colleges as religious employers, the state can target us as they have done to Catholic adoption agencies that won’t place children with gay and lesbian couples.
Unless Catholic colleges and universities are given some assurance that their religious liberty will be protected, the threats will continue. Rejecting our claims of religious liberty, it is likely that in a misguided attempt to protect women’s rights, we will be forced to facilitate our students’ participation in student internships at the clinics of abortion providers. Similarly, Catholic colleges and universities may be forced to accept as leaders those who openly disavow the Catholic faith. Analogous situations have arisen at state universities and private colleges. (See CLS v Martinez, involving Hastings Law School in California, and Vanderbilt University.) But, if we protest on religious liberty grounds, we will be told yet again that we have no right to protest because we are not religious institutions.
A current Obama appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Chai Feldblum) recently wrote that when it came to gay rights or women’s rights, she was “having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”
We are already at a place where the establishment clause has shifted from a legitimate desire to keep the government from entangling itself in the internal affairs of religious organizations to a justification of anti-religious secularism—a pushing of religion out of the public square. This threatens all people of faith.
Dr. Anne Hendershott is a professor in the Psychology, Sociology, and Social Work Department at Franciscan University of Steubenville and is one of the nation’s leading Catholic sociologists. Author of numerous books including The Politics of Abortion (2006), Hendershott currently serves as the Pope John Paul II Fellow in Student Development at the Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education. She regularly writes about Catholic issues for The Wall Street Journal, Catholic World Report, and other secular and religious outlets. She is frequently interviewed by The Washington Times, National Review Online, EWTN Radio Network, and other news outlets.