NRL News

Obama Mandate awakens appreciation of the importance of religious liberty

by | Jul 24, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Wheaton College President Philip Ryken

When it comes to public policy issues, sometimes still waters run deep. Or, put another way, an issue can burn red-hot–in the sense of getting enormous attention–and then seem to retreat. But, in fact, if people are seriously upset, public visibility has little to do with whether resistance is more quietly mounting.

That’s by way of preface to an issue we’ve talked about many times at NRL News Today: the Obama mandate that religious institutions pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and consciences. Most recently we discussed a much under-rated decision by Wheaton College, a very prominent evangelical institution of higher learning, to file a lawsuit of its own, challenging the mandate.

When he sent an email to Wheaton College faculty and staff, President Philip Ryken announced that “the Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C. District Court opposing the mandate, which, if enacted, would force the College to violate its religious beliefs or pay severe fines.” He explained, “We are joining with Catholic University of America in order to demonstrate that a deep concern for the sanctity of human life and a strong belief in the importance of religious freedom are areas of commonality that transcend our theological differences.”

Yesterday Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online and a graduate of the Catholic University of America, published an interview with President Ryken–“The HHS Mandate: Not an Academic Debate

Evangelicals and Catholics are suing the government together for their religious liberty”


Going forward the importance of this joint venture between Evangelicals and Catholics—“co-belligerents”—would be hard to exaggerate.

Ryken tells Lopez that this problem “was on Wheaton’s radar screen” since last August. You see voiced two of the same objections for this Chicago-area college that so many opponents of the mandate have articulated.

First, that Obama’s HHS carved out an exception for churches, which “created two classes of religious institutions in America: those that have full protection for their religious freedom and those that don’t.”

And second

“The most disturbing thing to me,” explains Ryken, who was a Presbyterian pastor in Philadelphia before he became president of Wheaton, “was the government’s provision of a ‘safe harbor’ that would defer for one year the implementation of the mandate — and presenting that as somehow being a reasonable accommodation of religious liberty. I found that offensive — the hope that we would change our religious convictions over the course of the intervening year, or that religious convictions had somehow been honored if you violated them later rather than sooner.” Ryken was echoing the immediate and consistent reaction of Timothy Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to the January ruling. “It was clear to me,” Ryken adds, “that there was no understanding of the true nature of religious liberty in the administration.”

The interview should be read in its entirety, if possible. Absent that, there are at least two other very important points Ryken raises that should be at least briefly addressed.


“that ‘even if the HHS mandate had no effect on evangelical institutions, it would still be important to me to be supportive of Roman Catholic institutions if there were invitations and opportunities to be supportive.’ He points out that his own religious tradition has ‘clear statements on freedom of conscience, as inviolable,’ underscoring the deep nature of his call to defend it.”

As pro-life Mitt Romney said recently, with regard to this mandate, “We’re all Catholics today.”

Second, that the assault by the Obama administration has been a wake-up call to the importance of religious liberty.

“’I am only moderately engaged in political issues,’ Wheaton’s president adds, ‘and so it has been interesting to observe how precious liberties appear to me when they are in danger of being taken away. This has sort of awakened for me a latent passion for religious liberty. And I think plenty of our board members would say the same thing.’”

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Categories: Religious