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A Small College Fights a Big Federal Rule

Geneva College vs. Health and Human Services.

5:55 PM, Jun 20, 2012 • By JOSHUA CARBACK
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While many Catholic organizations are suing Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius over the Obama administration’s new contraception rules, unhappiness with the supposed HHS mandate “compromise” runs even deeper. Many Protestant institutions are also trying to overturn the compromise that coerces private religious institutions to fund health insurers who can provide beneficiaries with abortion-inducing drugs.

Among these Protestant institutions is Geneva College, a small Christian liberal arts institution of about 1,800 students founded by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), located just north of Pittsburgh.

Geneva is certainly no stranger to the task of feuding with the federal government on matters of constitutionality and religious freedom. The school first became notable for its fierce resistance toward the federal government after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, occurring shortly after the college was founded.

Geneva has joined hands with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) – a coalition of Christian lawyers who litigate on matters regarding religious freedom – in pressing suit. ADF estimates that it would cost Geneva $500,000 annually in fines (about a $2,000 fine per employee) should the college choose to violate the mandate out of conscience.

“It’s not a compromise,” says Dr. Thomas Copeland, professor of political science at the college. “Fundamentally, religious institutions still have to pay for it; it just puts a layer of paperwork between the insurance company and the employee.”

“The best word to describe how he has treated Christians is ‘trampling,’” says Leah Achor, a senior studying political science at Geneva. “I think there’s a backlash across the county, and people who know about this mandate will not be okay with the way that Obama has put this in place.”

But not everyone at Geneva supports the college’s stance on this matter. Dr. David Guthrie, professor of higher education and sociology, expressed reservations about the lawsuit, complaining of the incivility he believes may accompany discussions of abortion, including on Christian college campuses.

As Republicans hope Mitt Romney will dismantle what they believe to be one of the most harmful presidencies in this nation’s history, one thing is clear: religious conservatives, and even many religious social moderates, are very upset. Obama’s actions have brought together various religious groups with theological differences that might otherwise have kept them apart.

President Obama’s 2008 campaign coalition was, at least in part, built around his ability to win over moderate Catholics and Protestants. With Protestants and Catholics coming together to oppose the president’s HHS, Obama has made prospects of rebuilding his successful 2008 coalition more unlikely.

Solidarity between organizations such as the Catholic church and the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and others on this issue, clearly indicates that the contraceptive rule has a cost .

With multiple religious factions fighting the HHS mandate, it is possible the rule will be overturned in court, or simply by pressure from religious groups. But relief might take another form: the election of Mitt Romney as president of the United States in November.

Joshua Carback is an editor at the student newspaper at Geneva College. 

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