Wheaton College today joined other religious institutions in filing lawsuits over the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate. President Philip Ryken spoke with Christianity Today about the college’s decision.
How did you decide to pursue the lawsuit?
The Wheaton College Board of Trustees has been concerned about the Health and Human Services mandate from the very time that it was first delivered to us, back in September. The Wheaton College board has been keeping abreast of developments throughout the year. I have written on several occasions both to the secretary of Health and Human Services and to the President expressing our concerns on issues of religious liberty as it relates to the mandate. We’ve also been working in concert with other evangelical institutions here at the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities throughout the year on these issues. By May, the Wheaton College Board of Trustees decided that no remedy was yet forthcoming and therefore it was important for us to file a lawsuit. However, we decided we wanted to wait until the Supreme Court made its decision on the health insurance mandate generally, at the end of June, in case there would be some remedy forthcoming through the Supreme Court decision. When that proved not to be the case, we were ready to file a lawsuit.
Is there any danger in at least appearing political with this lawsuit?
Wheaton College is not a partisan institution and the effect of our filing on any political process has played no part at all in any of our board discussions on the issue. The timing of things is driven primarily by the mandate itself. Wheaton College stands to face punitive fines already on January 1, 2013, and I am welcoming incoming freshmen in two weeks. It’s already an issue for us in terms of our health insurance and what we provide for this coming academic year. Although we wanted to wait for the Supreme Court decision out of respect for the legal system, we do not believe that we can wait any longer.
Is there a particular angle you’re taking in this lawsuit that other Christian colleges aren’t taking?
The circumstances of each college or university will be unique, depending on the structure of the health insurance they provide or on specific ethical standards within their community. I probably can’t comment on any specific differences between Wheaton and Geneva, say, or Colorado Christian University. I see a strong similarity in that the issue for us is abortion-inducing drugs, as it is for them. But more broadly, because of our Christian convictions on that issue, we believe there’s a very important religious liberty issue at stake in all of this. I think the other institutions that have filed are also doing it primarily because of their concern to protect the freedom of religion in the United States.
You did a press conference this morning with the leader of a Catholic institution. Is there any danger of watering down theological differences between evangelicals and Catholics, or is it advantageous to work together on this issue?
Our board felt strongly that if the possibility presented itself, we had a strong interest in filing alongside a Roman Catholic institution. This is fully in keeping with Wheaton’s convictions. We’re clear on our Protestant identity and there are many areas of theological disagreement that we have with Roman Catholic colleges and universities. This filing is not a way of suggesting that those differences have in any way been erased. But here’s an issue where we have strong agreement, and that is the value of religious freedom for all people everywhere. We also believe that we have a stake in the success of Catholic institutions winning their religious freedom arguments. Even if [contraception] is not a universal point of conviction for Protestants the way that it is for Roman Catholics, we believe that Catholic institutions should have the freedom to carry out their mission without government coercion. That struggle for liberty is a struggle for our own liberty and, we would argue, a struggle for the liberty of all Americans.