Student Voices: The Obama’s Administration’s Attack on Religious Colleges

With election season well under way, the Obama administration now finds itself up against lawsuits brought by several of the nation’s most prominent religious universities. Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame have already filed suit in opposition to the now-infamous federal requirement that insurance companies provide no-fee coverage of a slew of contraceptive pills. And now, as CNN’s Belief Blog reports, they have been joined by Wheaton College, an evangelical institution. Wheaton’s lawyers claim that the mandate is an insult to Wheaton’s institutional beliefs, because it forces the school to both cover and provide guidance for the use of abortifacients.

The
new regulation has caused plenty of controversy since its adoption last summer,
especially among religious colleges, which have had more trouble than churches
obtaining exemptions. Schools whose faculty, staff and students largely oppose
the use of birth control pills now must make difficult decisions about how to
balance their institutionalized religious teachings with their commitment to
provide healthcare to their students.

One
of the most controversial provisions of the mandate–and perhaps the reason for
evangelical Wheaton’s joining Catholic universities in its opposition–is its
inclusion of “emergency contraceptives” such as the Plan B pill and Ella. Because these pills are taken after conception, many of those who do
not oppose birth control pills outright still object to their use.

If
these lawsuits are heard they will set a significant precedent for the relationship
between the federal government and religious institutions of higher education.
These are, after all, private institutions to which people only belong
voluntarily; those who do enroll chose to do so at least partly out of
religious conviction. Thus, if the law effectively prevents these schools from
honoring their religious traditions it deprives staff and students of the
option to join institutions that act in accordance with their beliefs. Consequently,
the mandate could reasonably be seen as a derogation of their First Amendment
rights. Its enforcement could mean purging the country’s higher-ed landscape of
schools that are committed to religious principles in practice, and not merely
in name.

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Lucia
Rafanelli is a rising senior at Cornell University. 

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Lucia Rafanelli

Lucia Rafanelli is an alumna of Cornell University.

3 thoughts on “Student Voices: The Obama’s Administration’s Attack on Religious Colleges

  1. Sally’s comments makes a good point. What if a student chooses to attend a religious school for a non-religious reason? Shouldn’t that person’s requirements be fulfilled by the institution? Shouldn’t every business, every school, every civic group with a hall be required to meet the needs of each individual?
    Of course not. And the Constitution guarantees that the government may not restrict the inherent human rights of free association, among other things. It’s time to take back the right of free association.
    The federal government demands that any institution taking money abide by federal rules. So the schools should only accept/take funds without strings, build a smaller school and provide an education free of state interference, and tell whiners that they have the choice to go elsewhere.

  2. First off, this is only about adjunct and contingent faculty: under law having nothing to do with religious matters, full time faculty at private colleges and universities are considered “managers,” and not eligible to organize.
    Again, we are talking about part time faculty who usually receive no more thaN 1/3 the wage per class as full-timers, who have semester contracts, or otherwise temporary contracts, caps on the hours they may teach, and few if any benefits as far as pension or health–most often none.
    At colleges and universities throughout the country–religious or not–“adcon” faculty are the majority now. Good, full time positions in academia have been disappearing, as in other sectors, for decades.
    More generally, ask yourself, what is a “religious” institution? One with a small number of top administrators only, or mainly, self-described as “religious,” with almost all of the work and mission carried out in a purely “secular” way by almost all of the institution’s other employees?
    Because that is the best way to describe the Catholic colleges and universities engaged currently in a struggle over NLRB jurisdiction.
    NLRB jurisdiction in these cases does not force Catholic Colleges and Universities to compromise or capitulate in regard to religious convictions. At CCU’s now, religious and secular functions– and there there’s a lot more of the latter– are usually, though not always, carried out by quite separate groups. I follow in my thinking an idea developed by AFL-CIO in an amicus filed on behalf of the Manhattan College adjunct union.
    http://www.manhattan.edu/sites/default/files/ManhattanCollege_v_ManhattanCollegeAdjunctFaculty.pdf
    It seems to me the most sensible. It’s an interpretation of the Supreme Court decision in Catholic Bishop, from which thinking much else seems to flow. It has led to an unfortunate and not well-reasoned emphasis on determining whether or not a whole institution is “religious.” When, as in the case of many if not all CCU’s it is obvious that most faculty, by far, are not performing functions that most citizens would regard as “religious,” why, then, require a uniform label to be pasted on the entire assemblage? The better path, according to the AFL-CIO brief, is to make a reasonable and good-faith effort to determine “whether faculty members in the petitioned-for unit “perform a religious function.” That does not give the NLRB the right to decide whether or not the place is “not Catholic enough” in an unexamined and I agree glib manner, and indeed some NLRB procedures and approaches should probably change. But, we are simply not talking, here, about “religious” institutions, and it seems a big stretch to claim that religious conviction is under pressure. We’ll see, as these cases proceed.

  3. Maybe I don’t understand the situation well enough, but there may be a flaw in your argument. The institution is only required to offer the birth control or Plan B. Are they forcing the students to use it? No. One must also consider the other side of the coin. What happens if a student voluntarily attends a religious institution, not for the religious aspect, but because the school offers the program she wanted or for a number of other factors. If, in fact, the entire student population was 100% dedicated to the religion, there would be no demand for such birth control methods, therefore the university would not have an issue with it. The thing is, this is only true in theory. People falter, make mistakes, change their minds. It’s not a perfect world.

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