Last week, Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, Calif., appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief from the “HHS Mandate” with The Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. But should the Court fail to protect their religious freedom, TAC President Dr. Michael F. McLean told The Cardinal Newman Society that his faithful college is prepared to pay significant fines rather than violate its beliefs.
In an interview with the Newman Society, McLean discussed the pressing need for religious freedom from the sterilization and contraceptive mandate, especially for Catholic colleges that wish to maintain their sincerely held religious beliefs.
On August 25, attorneys for TAC submitted a brief to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to take up the College’s case and refuting the government’s latest arguments against exempting the College from the federal mandate. The College explained why it should be exempted from the HHS mandate and any government requirements that would compel it to go against its Catholic identity and mission by facilitating free contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization coverage for its employees.
The brief is the latest step in a two-year legal battle which began on September 20, 2013, when the College filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. TAC received a permanent injunction from the HHS mandate, but the Obama administration appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which removed the injunction on November 14, 2014. A motion for reconsideration was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but TAC received an emergency stay until the Supreme Court rules on the case.
McLean sees two possibilities for TAC, should the Supreme Court rule against the College or decide not to take up the case. Either the College will no longer offer employees health insurance, or the College will be forced to move to an alternative Christian or Catholic health care arrangement.
“Both of these scenarios will probably result in the College’s having to pay significant fines to the government,” said McLean.
He explained the need for Catholic colleges to be exempt from the contraceptive mandate and maintain their integrity:
Seriously Catholic institutions of higher education have a duty to profess and live by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. This [is] so that they can bear witness to those whom they are educating, and to those who support their work, to the truth of the faith, and to their conviction that living the faith is the way to human happiness and human fulfillment.
In a post-Christian—actually an anti-Christian—culture, where the powers of the government are put in service to teachings and practices that are antithetical to Catholic living, it is increasingly important that Catholic citizens enjoy the freedom to fully practice their faith as that freedom is explicitly guaranteed by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“A favorable ruling, assuming that it completely does away with the HHS mandate, will enable the College to continue providing insurance coverage which is consistent with its Catholic character as it has been doing now for many years,” continued McLean.
Similarly, attorneys for TAC have argued that the HHS mandate would necessarily make the College complicit in providing morally objectionable healthcare services.
The brief filed with the Supreme Court states:
For example, giving a neighbor a ride to the bank may not be morally problematic—unless one knows the neighbor intends to rob that bank. A Jewish school may not object to hiring a vendor to serve lunch to its students—unless the vendor was required to serve non-Kosher food. The same is true here. Petitioners have no inherent objection to hiringan insurance company or TPA [third-party administrator]. But they strongly object to hiring an insurance company or TPA that will provide abortifacient and contraceptive coverage to their plan beneficiaries.
The Supreme Court is expected to consider the petition at its September 28 weekly conference, according to the TAC news release. The temporary stay exempting the college for the mandate will remain in place until the Court determines whether it will review the case.
McLean asked for prayers for the success of TAC’s continued legal efforts and exhorted other conscientious objectors to continue in their fight against the HHS mandate.
“I would encourage objectors not to give up the fight but to persist in their efforts to prevail in this battle,” he said. “This is a time when witnessing to the faith is of the utmost importance.”
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