At Stake: Religious Liberty

InterVarsity president Alec Hill
Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA
February 3, 2012

I’m upset.

Last month, the Federal government mandated that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities must provide – and pay for – contraceptives to their employees and students. The mandate may also – depending upon interpretation – include the provision of sterilization services and the morning-after pill.1

Why should I care? I am not Catholic. Nor do I agree with Catholic teaching on contraception.2 Politically, I am a moderate and hence not prone to condemn every governmental edict.

I care because this matter touches upon the religious freedom of us all. I care because InterVarsity is engaged in a parallel struggle. Over the past 18 months, our status as a recognized student organization has been challenged on 41 campuses.

Reasons for Concern
I’m upset because the mandate compels a religious community to act contrarily to its understanding of Scripture. In doing so, it violates a long-held American social contract that – for the most part – allows such communities to practice beliefs that are outside the cultural mainstream. In my dark moments, I fear that we are entering an era where the majority will increasingly impose its views upon beliefs it regards as backward.

I’m upset because the mandate is an anathema to practicing Catholics worldwide, a direct contradiction of Catholic teaching. Many dioceses are moving towards civil disobedience. Arizona Bishop Thomas Olmsted writes: “Unless the rule is overturned, we will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). We cannot – we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

I’m upset because of a cultural impulse to narrowly limit faith to matters of preaching, communion and baptism. Before drafting this essay, I read numerous writers who support the health care mandate. A common underlying assumption seems to be that religion is tolerable so long as it is segmented, privatized and outside the public realm. As a believer in the lordship of Jesus, I simply cannot accept this point of view.

Reasons for Hope
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously recognized the rights of religious groups to hire people of faith.3 Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important, but so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

In recognizing the dynamic contribution that religious pluralism brings to society as a whole, the court’s opinion serves as a welcome counterpoint to the contraception mandate. In the interface between culture and faith, these two decisions represent wildly divergent trajectories.

Call to Action
As InterVarsity students, faculty, and staff, what role should we play in influencing this trajectory?

Let us stand in solidarity with our Catholic friends on the health care mandate. I urge you to contact your elected representatives and to ask your pastors to speak out.

Let us be winsomely courageous as we face our own religious liberty challenges on multiple campuses. We would do well to emulate our students, faculty and staff at Vanderbilt University. Recently placed on probationary status, our chapters are engaging the administration on a new policy that prohibits the selection of leaders on the basis of faith.

Let us continue to pray, sharpen our minds, share the Gospel, develop mature disciples, love our adversaries, care for the poor and be a voice of grace and truth in the public square. Simply put, our duty is to be faithful followers of Jesus. By doing so, his glory, power and redemption will impact culture in ways we cannot foresee.

1 – There appears to be some disagreement amongst scholars regarding the potential scope of the new Health and Human Service mandate.
2 – Though I do have grave concerns about the morning-after pill.
3 – Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 10-553.


If this situation has proven anything it has proven that President Obama wants to disrupt the constitution as much as possible and has the least respect for it out of anyone in the modern world.
Telling a religious group what they have to do as far as biblical teaching and beliefs completely in terms of the top 100 sites goes against the Constitution and the President has no right to do that.
Unfortunately, Alec Hill's comments fail to even acknowledge the effect that denying health care coverage for contraception can have on the lives of women and their families. This failure comes as a surprise from an organization that claims to value the equality and rights of women. Contraception may be anathema to the church fathers but not to at least 98% of all Catholic women. Women ought to have the right to make their own personal decisions about birth control rather than living by the dictates of their employers. This ruling would apply only to institutions that engage in public sector work and hire thousands of people irregardless of their religious beliefs. The rights of women and the justice of supporting their need to have full access to health benefits that gives them control over their own lives (and could very well save their lives), would be a better and more ethical stance for InterVarsity. Defending the rights and power of religious communities to do as they please regarding the bodies of women does not speak well of your concern for all people. Equating this with the right to determine leadership within a religious organization is a long reach.
Women already have the right to make their own personal decisions about birth control, and it is intentionally manipulative to falsely claim, "women are living by the dictates of their employers." If you want birth control, you buy it for yourself. No body's denying you anything. What about dictating someone else provide you or pay for something just because you want it?
My sense is that the above comment misses Mr. Hill's point. The InterVarsity that I know cares deeply about justice issues for women and strongly supports women in leadership positions. Mr. Hill is not arguing against healthcare coverage for contraception: he is arguing against government forcing everyone to offer it. Women should indeed have the rights mentioned in the "women matter" comment above. And religious institutions also should have protections from doing things against their beliefs. There is room for both sets of rights to be preserved.
Wonderfully put. I have a mother, sisters, daughter, wife. I also agree with and practice contraception--short of abortifacients. One must remember, we are talking about choices in health care insurance, as well as in basic beliefs. When one is looking for a job/career, one evaluates what is offered. Pay? Benefits? The prospective applicant can bypass a potential position which does not meet her/his needs. This is a far cry from a mandate by government which requires one to surrender personal beliefs and liberty. I, for one, will pray fervently that God's will is done, and my privilege to seek God's will is preserved.