The waiting is the hardest part.
Few people in the country followed the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act more closely than Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder.
As you probably remember, Belmont Abbey College filed the initial lawsuit against the Obama administration's HHS contraceptive mandate that would require religious institutions, in violation of their conscience, to pay for contraceptive drugs—including those that could cause an abortion.
Thierfelder said that the initial idea wasn't some part of a large legal strategy. It came from a conversation between him and the Abbot of the monastery on campus, Placid Solari, who also acts as Chancellor of the college. They were speaking to each other about the contraceptive mandate and they could hardly believe it was happening in America. Abbot Solari said almost offhandedly that they should sue the government.
That's right. It wasn't a brilliant lawyer but a monk with a doctorate in theology and patristic sciences who came up with the idea to sue the government over the constitutionality of the contraceptive mandate. Far from dismissing it as a pipe dream for the small Catholic college, Thierfelder thought it was a great idea. And instead of waiting to see if a bigger college or a larger Catholic institution with more resources would stand up, Thierfelder said that, "within a week I'd spoken to the trustees and we were moving ahead."
"Sometimes God chooses the most inadequate instruments to do His will," he said. "He takes the most ineffectual and causes them to be the David. That's why we remember David and Goliath, because it's a story of providence and the grace of God."
Belmont Abbey College filed the suit with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and said in the press conference announcing it that he would sooner close down the college than submit to the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate.
Thierfelder said he believes that the small college's decision to take on the administration has had a far bigger impact than he had originally imagined. "I would tell you that Belmont Abbey College filing this lawsuit first got a lot of people going," he said. "I don't know if we'd have gotten to this level of fervor without it. It was a little Catholic college filing a suit against the federal government. It got attention and I think that those who had more resources started to look and say how can we stand on the sidelines and watch them do this and claim to be what we are."
Belmont Abbey's lawsuit was filed by the Becket Fund along with Colorado Christian University
, an evangelical college located outside of Denver. That was followed by lawsuits filed on behalf of the Eternal Word Television Network
(EWTN), Ave Maria University
, and finally the state of Alabama. Several other Christian colleges have also filed suit.
“We're not trying to be heroic or trying to make a big to-do,” said Thierfelder. “We are called to emulate the early Christians. We must be willing to die for what we believe. There is no compromise and we're willing to do what needs to be done. We must have that absolute resolve and do it to the end. That's how we face what we're faced with now."
What we're faced with first, however, is the Supreme Court's expected ruling in June on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
“I’ve been following it very closely and I'm waiting with bated breath to see what happens,” Thierfelder said.
Why? He said that even though the court isn’t currently hearing Belmont Abbey’s lawsuit against the mandate, the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act could directly impact the fate of the college’s lawsuit.
According to an article by Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which filed the lawsuit, the decision of the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act, which focused on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the expanded Medicaid entitlement, could have three possible outcomes with varying effects on the lawsuits against the HHS mandate.
If the Court sides with the government, then its decision will likely have no effect on the religious-liberty cases, according to Rienzi. “The HHS mandate is a separate rule, and it is being challenged on grounds entirely different from those the Court considered this week,” wrote Rienzi at The Corner. “So even a 9–0 win for the government at the Supreme Court would not derail the religious-liberty cases concerning the HHS mandate.”
If the Court finds that some part of the health-care law is unconstitutional, then the ruling would probably not affect the religious-liberty cases.
But, he wrote, if the Court invalidates the entire law, then the decision would be "an immediate win" for the religious-liberty plaintiffs. "HHS only has authority to issue regulations forcing employers to pay for 'preventative' care because of a particular provision in the health-care statute itself," he wrote. "If the Court invalidates that statute in its entirety, then the regulations HHS has issued under that statute would immediately be invalid too, because HHS would have no authority to issue the rules in the first place."
“My fervent hope and prayer is that there will be some sanity somewhere,” Thierfelder said. “I pray that the courts rule that this is unconstitutional. I think that the best solution would be a complete rescinding of the Affordable Care Act.”
And so he waits and waits along with the entire country to learn the fate of religious liberty.
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