Christian leaders are considering their legal options after the Obama administration announced that many religious-affiliated institutions will have to provide free birth control for employees.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered a single concession – saying that nonprofit institutions like church-affiliated hospitals and colleges will have an additional year to comply with the requirement.
“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.
However, the decision has infuriated Christians who called the decision an outright attack on religious liberty.
“Generally, Christian colleges and organizations find the ruling to be outrageous,” said David Dockery, president of Union University, a school affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. “It puts us in a position of having to support something that we fundamentally oppose.”
Dockery said Obama’s decision poses “a real question about the administration’s commitment to religious freedom.”
Mark Foley, the president of the University of Mobile, said he had “a great deal of concern about it.”
“It’s another illustration of the intent of this administration to ignore the rights of the citizens,” Foley told Fox News & Commentary. “It will mean that when our health care plan provider approaches us with the adjustments that are now mandated, the university will be forced to cover employees with provisions that are contrary to our purpose and our underlying philosophical and theological position.”
Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) told Fox News & Commentary that it is time for Christians to speak out.
“People of faith are going to have to stand up,” he said. “People are frightened and they are angry because they feel their freedoms are being taken away.”
The Obama administration reached out to New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan and personally informed him of the decision. It did not go over well.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” Dolan told the Associated Press. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
Forbes accused Obama of hitting the “fundamental core of the Bill of Rights.”
“At best you could characterize it as an aloofness and a non-caring factor to people of faith,” Forbes said. “At worst, I think there is some evidence out there that the administration is social engineering. People of faith are realizing that this is an aggressive approach – to take away religious freedom and religious liberty and we are seeing it in so many facets now that it can’t be accidental.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Obama’s decision to delay implementation for a year is a political calculation.
“He understands the potency of this issue and how deeply this touches a very fundamental understanding of our freedom in this country,” Perkins said. “I think the president knows this could be his undoing if he has to stand and give an account for this.”
So what should Christians do?
“This is the time to draw a line and take a stand,” Perkins said. “This is about the ability to live out your faith in public according to the teachings of your faith.”
The decision also sparked outrage among Christian college students.
“The fact that this administration wants to “force” my school to do anything is troublesome,” said Curtis Johnson, a student at Clearwater Christian College. “In no way is President Obama our dictator. If a Christian institution requires its students to abstain from sex, then the government should not interfere with that decision. Since my school has strictly enforced a “no sex before marriage policy”, requiring my school to give us the option of a birth control pill in our healthcare care coverage doesn’t even make sense.”
“It’s a personal choice,” said Emily Baxter, a freshman at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. “Obama shouldn’t be interfering with private Christian colleges.”
Should the time come for Christians to stand up and defy the government in an act of civil disobedience, Baxter said she would consider her options.
“I would probably protest because it’s just another example of Obama forcing his agenda down our throats,” she told Fox News & Commentary. “It is not right and should be condemned. It is a personal choice – and being Christians, we shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage anyways.”
Foley said the best course of action is through the courts.
“For now, the greatest opportunity is through the courts – to find remedy and to exercise my vote and to urge other to exercise their vote,” he said. “Civil disobedience takes you to a plain of action for which I am not yet ready personally – but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Dockery, too, said the ruling would give Christians cause for contemplation.
“I’m sure it would be a time for us to think very carefully – to realize that our Christian convictions have come in conflict with the ruling of the country – which would cause a huge issue for us and many others as well,” Dockery said.
“It’s overwhelming to think about this,” he said.
With reporting from the Associated Press