Anne Forsyth is Director of College Relations and Assistant to the President of Thomas Aquinas College. The College, considered one of the nation's finest private Catholic colleges, today faces one of the gravest challenges in its history.
The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments by the Obama administration to force the College to provide information on their insurer — so that the insurer in turn will be forced to offer morally-objectionable services to TAC's employees.
Most Americans are unaware of the precise nature of all of this — and unclear about why any of this would affect them. Now, Mrs. Forsyth explains, in this exclusive REGINA interview.
REGINA: What is this lawsuit all about?
ANNE FORSYTH: Zubik v. Burwell is a lawsuit that challenges the HHS contraceptive mandate requiring religious institutions to provide medical coverage to their employees for contraceptives, abortifacients, and related services.
REGINA: But isn't there a religious ‘exemption'?
ANNE FORSYTH: While houses of worship have been exempted from the mandate, Catholic colleges, hospitals, and a whole host of Catholic charitable organizations have not been — as though the First Amendment guaranteed us only a right to worship in a church, not — as it indeed does — a right to freely exercise our religion in our public lives. We have seen this tendency to restrict the First Amendment in recent years, and it is quite troubling.
REGINA: Wow, so the Obama administration believes that Americans' freedom of religion extends only to an actual church?
ANNE FORSYTH: Because hundreds of these religious organizations expressed their deeply held religious objections to the HHS mandate, the administration put forth an “accommodation” that it claimed would relieve us from complicity in delivering the objectionable coverage, but it is illusory at best. The administration claims that it is only asking us to sign a piece of paper indicating our objection, but this is not the whole story.
REGINA: What is missing?
ANNE FORSYTH: Not only does this mandate require that we notify HHS of our objection to the Mandate, but we must also transmit to HHS key information about our insurer — information the government doesn’t have now but must have in order to force our insurer to provide the objectionable coverage to our employees. And that is the key: Because the government requires us to take an action in order to provide the objectionable coverage with our own health plan, it is forcing us to be a facilitator of that coverage. Yet that is the very thing we cannot do.
REGINA:Why is this going to the Supreme Court along with other cases consolidated with those of the Little Sisters of the Poor, etc?
ANNE FORSYTH: Well, we joined a lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America, and others to challenge the HHS mandate in court. Over the past few years, numerous religious groups who similarly object to the HHS mandate have filed lawsuits against it across the country, most with multiple plaintiffs. By last fall, seven of these cases had made their way through the lower courts and, having been denied relief from the Mandate, their plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court to take up their cases. The high court did so, consolidating our cases into one, Zubick v. Burwell, named for the Bishop of Eerie and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Among the 35 plaintiffs in this consolidated case are the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.
REGINA: What is at risk for TAC?
ANNE FORSYTH: There are two kinds of risk for Thomas Aquinas College. The first is financial: Were we to continue providing the health care coverage we have in place now — without coverage for contraceptives, etc., — we would face penalties of close to $3 million annually, which would be simply crushing for us. It is already an enormous challenge to provide over $4 million a year to our students in need of financial aid.
REGINA: $3 million in penalties would cripple a small college like yours, with under 500 students!
ANNE FORSYTH: But the other risk is this — and its more important: We are a Catholic college, and we take our Catholic identity seriously. We object to the HHS mandate because we believe the truth of the Catholic Church’s teaching that the use of contraceptives and abortifacients is gravely immoral. And we believe that the truth matters. It matters to us as a Catholic institution because we think integrity is important. And it matters to our students, their parents, our alumni, and our benefactors, all of whom depend on the college to live up to its Catholic identity.
REGINA: Many Americans — Catholic or not — have no idea that this case will fundamentally affect their rights. If it goes the wrong way, years from now people will look back and say, ‘this is where it really started to fall apart.' What is at risk for Americans' civil liberties?
ANNE FORSYTH: At risk for all Americans is the right of religious liberty as it has always been understood in our country. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a movement in recent years to restrict the First Amendment, treating it as though it simply protects our right to worship at a church.
REGINA: But the Founders did not say that we only had the right to worship freely in a church.
ANNE FORSYTH: Yes, the founders of our country, so familiar with religious persecution in the countries from which they had come, were very clear about the extent of this right. They specified that government could not abridge “the free exercise” of religion. They wanted to ensure that Americans could live out their faith in their daily lives, in the public square, and in their business transactions. All of this is at stake now, for if the Supreme Court upholds the HHS mandate in our case, it will set a precedent for the curtailment of religious freedom for any and all religions.
REGINA: A dangerous precedent, and an attack on our liberties.
ANNE FORSYTH: So the stakes are high indeed. We ask, therefore, that all who love our country and cherish religious liberty join in prayer with us for the ultimate success of our case against the HHS mandate. The court will likely issue its decision in June, before it goes on recess for the summer. In the meantime, updates about the case will be posted on our website.