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Wheaton College Joins Lawsuit Against Obama Birth Control Mandate

WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) -- Wheaton College on Wednesday joined Catholic University of America in filing a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's requirement that employers, except for churches, provide insurance that covers birth control services.

As WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken says evangelicals and Catholics coming together should be a sign to all Americans that, "something very significant in terms of religious liberty is at stake" with the Health and Human Services Mandate that outlines the requirements.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports


Ryken says religious colleges and other religious institutions should have the same exemption from the law that churches do. Otherwise, he says it creates, in effect, "two classes of religious institutions" – those who have full protection of religious freedom and those who don't.

In a news release, Ryken compared the quest for religious liberty to the fight to abolish slavery in the 19th century, since the founder of Wheaton College was himself an abolitionist.

"Wheaton College and other distinctively Christian institutions are faced with a clear and present threat to our religious liberty," Ryken said in the release. "Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom. In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again."

Dr. Ryken says it would cost Wheaton College nearly $1.5 million in fines to disobey the law's birth control and abortion coverage just for faculty and staff.

He says that, at Wheaton College, "We're very clear on the sanctity of life".

As for talk the Obama administration may exempt Wheaton College and other religious institutions but require their insurance companies to separately provide birth control and abortion service coverage, Dr. Ryken says, "We think that is a shell game that does not resolve the moral issue that we have".

Dr. Ryken appeared on a telephone news conference with John Garvey, the president of Catholic University of America, and Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Dr. Ryken is not the first major local leader to rally against the mandate. Francis Cardinal George has spoken strongly in opposition to the requirement, and has argued that it could force Catholic hospitals to close.

"In order to do anything publicly, we're going to have to cloak it in some kind of explicit religious circumstance that would not make it possible to run big universities and large hospitals as we've run them before," George said in April.

The cardinal told members of the Union League Club in the April address that the Church may otherwise sell its hospitals, pay penalties, or in a last resort, close them altogether, rather than offer birth control. George says offering birth control would be cooperating with evil.

A proposed federal rule had called for requiring all employers to pay for "all FDA-approved forms of contraception," including faith-based religious-based hospitals, schools and charities that employ people of other faiths. The rule never applied to churches or other explicitly religious-affiliated employers.

After complaints that the rule violated "freedom of religion," the White House in February altered the plan to accommodate religious groups. Women would still get free contraception coverage, but religious organizations that object to coverage, though, won't have to offer or pay for it. The cost will be passed on directly to an employee's insurance company.

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