Commentary

Porn-in-the-Dorms Mandate at Christian Schools: Not So Far-Fetched Possibility

By Alison Howard | March 23, 2016 | 4:27pm EDT
Nuns with the Little Sisters of the Poor rally outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday as the court hears arguments on birth control in health-care plans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Imagine this: The government decides that pornography is an essential element for improving sexual health among young people. So it passes a law mandating that all colleges pay for students to have cable television packages that include pornography. Naturally, you would expect some Christian colleges to object.

Suppose the government, purporting to respect the religious beliefs of the college, creates an “accommodation.” The college that didn’t want to provide porn directly would sign a government document saying that it doesn’t want the porn included in their television plans. That document, though, would direct the same cable provider to deliver the same porn to the same students into the same dorm rooms anyway. Do you think the Christian colleges would accept this as making a moral difference? Not a chance.

This scenario is essentially the same decision five Christian colleges who are at the Supreme Court face. Except the issue isn’t pornography. It is drugs that can cause early abortions.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 23 on the merits of Obamacare’s abortion pill mandate and whether the administration’s sham “accommodation” violates the conscience of religious non-profits like five Christian universities (represented by Alliance Defending Freedom), Priests for Life, and Little Sisters of the Poor.

This imaginary “accommodation” requires an organization to submit a form to its insurer, third-party plan administrator, or the government. The form authorizes the government to hijack the religious organizations’ own health plan by requiring it to direct the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the objectionable coverage. In a free society premised on the idea of religious freedom, no one should have to agree when the government tells him his conscience is satisfied, while the government is still forcing him to be involved in objectionable activity. The administration’s alternative compliance mechanism imposes an unconstitutional choice: obey and abandon your religious freedom, or resist and be punished.

The Court has a unique responsibility to protect the rights of conscience from government intrusion. Christian universities and Catholic nuns shouldn’t be forced against their will to help provide abortion-inducing birth control just like kosher delis shouldn’t be forced to serve foods that violate Jewish law.

Freedom of conscience is at the core of the American experiment. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the “spirit of association” and the proclivity of Americans to form community and civic organizations to do good for their neighbors.

Christian universities represent the best of faith-based education and activism. Geneva College, one of the colleges filing suit, fought the American slave trade in the nineteenth century and helped smuggle slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. Geneva’s then-president even hid slaves on his property to help them escape. The school was also one of the first colleges to admit women to a full degree program, because of its commitment to the dignity and freedom of all people. 

Likewise, the Little Sisters of the Poor embody the best of American associations – a group of self-sacrificing nuns who serve over 13,000 elderly poor.

Should the Court rule against these ministries, not only would it inflict serious damage to religious conscience in America, it would also hit the organizations with potentially crippling fines. The Little Sisters of the Poor estimate they would face $70 million in fines if they refuse to provide the morally objectionable drug coverage.

The $70 million in fines seems even more outrageous when you consider that Health and Human Services has already exempted large corporations like Exxon and VISA and other public entities like the city of New York Exempt plans cover roughly 100 million Americans.

If secular for-profit multi-billion-dollar corporations, entire cities, and military plans are exempt, how can the government justify forcing religious non-profits to conform to its demands? Religious non-profits should have been the first to receive an exemption along with churches and integrated auxiliaries, not the last.

The government has many other ways to make sure women can obtain these drugs, like making them available through Medicare or healthcare exchanges, but it has chosen the unjust, unlawful, and unnecessary path of forcing people of faith to participate in acts that violate their deepest convictions. These Christian colleges and organizations are seeking reasonable treatment alongside already-exempt entities like giant corporations. If the Court ignores them and sides with the government it will clearly be siding with Big Brother over the Little Sisters. That would be a serious blow to religious freedom in America and would debilitate some of the best charities, schools, and community-based institutions in America.

Alison Howard is Director of Alliance Relations at Alliance Defending Freedom. Alliance Defending Freedom represents five Christian colleges - Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, and Geneva College – in their challenge to the Obamacare abortion-drug mandate at the United States Supreme Court.

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