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Philip Ryken (Handout photo)

Damage control

Religion | Wheaton College sues federal government over contraceptive mandate

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

Wheaton College, the most prominent evangelical college in the country, joined a chorus of Catholic and Protestant institutions suing the federal government over the contraceptive mandate. The lawsuit, filed July 18 in D.C. District Court, says the federal government's requirement that the college provide insurance coverage for abortifacients and related counseling violates Wheaton's religious freedom and free speech. Under the mandate, the college would have to provide full insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, which include Plan B, the "morning-after" pill, and Ella, the "week-after" pill. The Obama administration now faces 24 lawsuits over the mandate.

Wheaton President Philip Ryken wrote letters to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius beginning in September 2011 registering the college's objection to the mandate. He said the college's board made the decision to file a lawsuit in May, but wanted to wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its healthcare decision in case that would resolve their complaint.

"Most of the discussion and deliberation hasn't been, 'Should we file a lawsuit?' Our convictions around this have been pretty clear," said Ryken. "We believe at this point we don't have any other options. ... The only other options are ones that are damaging to our institution." Paying the penalties would cost the college an estimated $1.4 million. And paying for insurance that covers abortifacients, he explained, would compromise the college's integrity: "That shows that the federal government has put us in an untenable position."

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Asked about the Chicago-area college's lawsuit, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he hadn't heard about it, but repeated that President Obama "was committed to finding a balance between religious liberty ... and the need to ensure that women had access to important preventive services, including contraception."

Ryken said he's been in conversations about the mandate over the last year with other Christian college presidents, and he expects more lawsuits by the end of the summer. He couldn't recall any time in Wheaton's recent history when it had filed a lawsuit against the federal government. "That in itself is a sign," he said. "We've never felt the need to defend our religious liberties to this extent."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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