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Important Religious Liberty Update from CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra

March 23, 2016
WASHINGTON – On March 23, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities President Shirley V. Hoogstra sent the following letter to CCCU constituents:

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments from five of our members and 32 other religious organizations in their challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive and abortifacient mandate for their employee and student healthcare plans. The mandate requires group health plans to provide coverage for all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including some abortifacients. The case, known as Zubik v. Burwell, marks a significant moment for those who have continued to stand for religious liberty in response to this mandate prohibiting the free exercise of the tenets of their religious faith. 

The first iteration of the mandate in 2011 created an onerous burden for institutions that conscientiously object to providing contraceptives and/or abortifacients for religious reasons, as it contained only a very narrow exemption that applied to a small number of churches. All other faith-based institutions were subjected to the mandate with no regard for their religious beliefs. After months of negotiation with a resistant HHS, the first lawsuit was filed. Since then, 19 CCCU institutions and 96 other institutions filed suit in federal court against HHS. It is only because of this intense pressure that HHS started to cooperate. It made an attempt to protect religious beliefs by offering an accommodation for religious nonprofits while expanding the scope of the exemption for churches.

After several revisions and a 2014 victory by Wheaton College at the Supreme Court, HHS expanded the religious accommodation yet further and issued the final mandate in 2015. It allows organizations to notify insurers that they object to the mandated contraceptive services and thus have insurers pay for these services to the employees. Some institutions still argue the final version continues to interfere with their right to have their conscience unencumbered by federal law because it does not relieve them from the burden of providing these services altogether. For more historical background, visit HHS Central, powered by our friends at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

A bedrock principle of democracy is the ability to speak to a powerful government through an established mechanism – the federal courts. It is this principle we support today. Throughout this process, the CCCU has joined its members in advocating for their religious freedom and actively promoting the religious rights of our institutions:

HHS Advocacy Infographic
 

Today, East Texas Baptist University, Geneva College, Houston Baptist University, Oklahoma Baptist University and Southern Nazarene University had the opportunity to state their case to the Supreme Court, and our staff members in Washington, D.C. were there to support them. You can see photos of the crowd, including students and staff from some of these institutions, outside the Supreme Court building on our Facebook page. We also filed an amicus brief in support of their claims, which you can read in full here.

The arguments have been heard; now comes the waiting for the Court’s decision. I ask you join me in praying for our judicial leaders between now and when the decision is released in June. We will provide you an update when they reach a decision.

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The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 180 Christian institutions around the world. The 117 member campuses in North America are all regionally accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences and whose missions are Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith. In addition, 63 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The CCCU’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.

The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 10 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.), Contemporary Music Center (Nashville) and Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre, China Studies Program, Latin American Studies Program, Middle East Studies Program, Oxford Summer Programme, Scholars’ Semester in Oxford and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.