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Posted by on Oct 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

What Would George Truett Do? Texas Baptist Universities Challenge ObamaCare

I’m back and with a blog post on the recent lawsuits from two Baptist universities in Texas challenging the “contraception mandate” of the Affordable Care Act.  This  post was originally published at the Associated Baptist Press blog with the title Church-state relationships in a pluralistic society.

It is posted below in full:

By Aaron Weaver

Recently, two Baptist-affiliated universities filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration.  Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University are challenging the constitutionality of the controversial “contraception mandate” of the Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) requiring most health care plans to cover—with no co-pay—Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods.  In a press release, the presidents of these Texas schools explained that their “religious convictions prevent them from providing their employees with access to abortion-causing drugs” and that the lawsuit “aims to preserve their religious liberty and the right to carry out their missions free from coercion.”

These Baptist universities are not the first to file a lawsuit.  Rather, their suit marks the 32nd challenge to the mandate.  Nor are they the first Baptist-affiliated institution to do so.  Back in February, Louisiana College filed one of the first lawsuits challenging the mandate on religious freedom grounds.  However, Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist are the first to appeal extensively to the Baptist tradition when making their case against the mandate.

Eric Rassabach of The Becket Fund, the group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the universities, pointed out in the press release: “Baptists in America, by virtue of their history, are particularly sensitive to coercive government actions that infringe on religious liberty.”  Citing Roger Williams’ persecution at the hands of the Puritans, Rassabach added, “We shouldn’t have to fight for that same right today.”

East Texas Baptist president Samuel Oliver also appealed to Baptist history and particularly the legacy of George W. Truett.  He stated, “Baptists have always advocated religious liberty, and religious liberty is what is at stake in this situation.”  As he did during his congressional testimony earlier this year, Oliver quoted Truett who famously remarked “A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbor, and for his Jewish neighbor, and for everybody else.”

Truett made this statement during a now historic sermon delivered on the steps of the United States capitol on May 16, 1920.  Immediately prior to making this statement, Truett preached: “the Baptist will whole-heartedly contend that his Catholic neighbor shall have his candles and incense and sanctus bell and rosary, and whatever else he wishes in the expression of his worship.”  Oliver’s repeated reference to Truett and the historical context of this quote begs the fun question: What Would Truett Do?

Clearly the presidents of East Texas Baptist and Houston Baptist believe they have a definitive answer to that question.  I’m far from convinced.  Why?  Because we do know what George Truett did not do.  While Truett was in Europe preaching to the troops during World War I, he did not voice his support for pacifists from peace churches who refused to pay federal taxes.  These pacifists rightly recognized that their tax dollars would be used to fund the war.

Federal courts have repeatedly rejected the religious liberty claims of war tax resisters.  Just two years ago, an Arizona federal court dismissed the claim of a Quaker who argued that the use of his income taxes toward military spending substantially burdened his religious freedom in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  These Texas Baptist schools are also making RFRA claims.

How is this contraception issue distinguishable from that settled war tax issue?  Moreover, how is health care coverage distinguishable from salary and other employee benefits?  Are the consciences of these Baptist institutions violated when an employee uses his or her paycheck to make a morally objectionable purchase or decision?  Is religious liberty really endangered when the government requires a Baptist university to contribute to a health care plan where religious convictions are onlyoffended if an employee makes an independent decision to use a health plan to cover a medical treatment deemed morally objectionable?

These are not black and white issues.  Church-state relationships are indeed severely complex in our increasingly pluralistic society.  Together, we have to grapple with these tough issues and proceed carefully with an awareness of attempts to politicize these complex and developing issues for partisan purposes.  And, if we are going to trot out powerful quotes from beloved Baptists like George Truett, we ought to be willing to take seriously the entire witness of these prophets or religious liberty.  After all, Truett stood adamantly opposed to tax dollars—directly and indirectly—used to support religiously-affiliated schools.  He called his fellow Baptists clamoring for Caesar’s coin to “speedily repent of such inconsistent course, and go and sin no more!”


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  1. The first difference is that these are institutions being told to change their internal affairs – nature of insurance benefits they provide for employees – rather than individual taxpayers trying to direct how their taxes are used. Legally, that’s a big difference.

    ETBU’s president Oliver testified to Congress that ETBU was joining Catholic institutions in making religious liberty objections. That makes Truett’s quote particularly apt. Oliver did say that ETBU differs from the Catholic suits in that ETBU’s insurance plan already covers contraception; it’s objection is to providing Plan B and Ella, on grounds that these drugs may interfere with human embryos.

    I called Baylor to ask their stance on this mandate, and how it would work on campus; e.g., will it affect Baylor-provided student health insurance and if so, will the on-campus student health center dispense free contraception of all kinds, including “morning after'” Plan B and Ella, patches, shots, etc? No one seemed to know at that time, including those overseeing the health clinic. As a parent of two potential Baylor students, I’d like to know. I thInk other Baptist college supporters, including tuition-paying parents as well as alums, would like to know too.

  2. Also, you make a good point: how is health care distinguishable from salary and other benefits? If the federal government can force Baptist institutions to provide free-of-charge health coverage which are morally objectionable, where’s the line? What other against-belief benefits could they be forced to provide? Some cite abortion. How about housing for unmarried couples or same-sex couples on the same basis as for married couples? Private religious colleges which don’t take federal dollars ( there are a few) are not exempted, as far as I know, so this mandate (or “tax choice”) affects many colleges, as shown by the number which have filed suit.

  3. Legally, there might be a difference in this particular instance. However, keep in mind that these same Catholic institutions (and evangelical institutions) have publicly backed and endorsed briefs arguing on behalf of the right of individual employers (such as Catholic layperson & small-business owner O’Brien). The argument there is that those incorporated businesses are “person” deserving of protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    If you look at the full Truett quote, he was literally backing the right of Catholics to worship. A very literal definition of “freedom of worship.” He wasn’t backing access to federal/state money for parochial schools (which was an issue during those days). In my opinion, Truett lays out some good broad principles with his words but what George Truett would do is a very different question than what he would say.

    With regard to Baylor, I think you are conflating a couple of issues. The mandate is that the insurance plan covers cost-free FDA-approved contraception services. The mandate is not that a Catholic institution’s health clinic dispense those services.

    My understanding is that the local Catholic hospital (and clinics) do not dispense/provide certain contraception services. My understanding is also that the leadership of the local hospital was also supportive of ObamaCare.

    Baylor’s health clinic is not what I’d call a full-service clinic. There are services not provided there. If you get very sick, you are sent somewhere else. I’ve only gone there for things like checkups, minor illnesses, etc.

    I don’t know if they provide contraception now. In the past, they did not (and students used services of Planned Parenthood, still do I assume). However, the Blue Cross Blue Shield health plan does cover those services. And students could get those services covered at any number of nearby clinics, emergency care center or the Baptist hospital.

  4. 1. Must agree to disagree on legal points.

    2. What the Catholic hospital does or supports, or what nearby clinics do, is not germane to whether Baylor, ETBU, etc. (which we help support) must cover AND dispense Plan B and ella on campus through Baylor-provided student insurance. But I will call Baylor and the local Catholic hospital and find out.

    Overall Obamacare contains an unprecedented contraception mandate, making all these kinds of contraception free and universally covered by all non-church employers’ insurance regardless of religious objection. I wonder that no Muslim educational institution has objected. Are they exempt? Anyway, if these lawsuits fail then ‘unprecedented’ becomes ‘precedent.’ Where that leads no one knows.

  5. Why do you keep saying that Baylor or ETBU must DISPENSE those drugs?

    You are confusing the issues. The mandate requires that the employer (Baylor, ETBU) contribute to an employee health insurance plan that provides cost-free contraception services.

    There is no requirement that the employer DISPENSE these drugs. There are many Baptist colleges without a pharmacy. So how are they to dispense anything? Smaller colleges often have a very tiny clinic that includes a physician coming in at certain hours to treat patients and prescribe medication.

    My guess is that ETBU’s health clinic is not nearly the size of Baylor’s in terms of the services it provides. Even with Baylor, there are many services that student health insurance covers that Baylor’s clinic does not provide. I’d be surprised to learn that Baylor has x-ray and ultrasound equipment.

    I should also note that Baylor’s on-campus clinic does not serve faculty, staff and their dependents for the exception of things like flu shots and immunizations. When my parents are sick with a cold or whatever, they cannot go to the Baylor Health Clinic. My student insurance plan covers my son. I can go to Baylor Health Clinic but he cannot.

    So, this question of dispensing is not relevant here. The mandate is about insurance coverage only.

    With regard to ETBU, the NYT reported in March about the HHS rulemaking process:

    “The administration on Friday also issued a final rule requiring coverage of contraceptives under student health plans offered by many colleges and universities. The requirement applies to health plans underwritten by private insurers like UnitedHealth and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. It does not apply to student health plans at colleges that serve as their own insurers.”

    I interpret that to mean that while ETBU (which goes the self-insured route) has to cover its faculty/staff, the contraception mandate does not apply to students receiving coverage. I remember seeing no mention of student health plans in the ETBU/HBU lawsuit.

    Unprecedented often becomes precedent. It’s not like religious institutions are completely deregulated. Far from it.

  6. I haven’t ever said that. I asked IF they must cover and dispense, wondered WHETHER they must dispense, and said I would call and find out.

    If Baylor is not self-insured, then its student insurance must cover contraception including Plan B and ella (according to the reg you cite).

    Does Baylor have a pharmacy that students use? If so, who at Baylor will determine which covered drugs will be dispensed to students(antibiotics?) and which won’t?

    These are logical and practical questions which I am pursuing.

  7. But again, the dispensing question is completely unrelated to the contraception mandate.

    The clinic does have a very small pharmacy but its smallness necessarily implies that someone is already making decisions on what drugs to stock or not to stock.

    I have never heard that Baylor’s employer and student plans (both Blue Cross Blue Shield) do not already cover all FDA-approved contraception services.

    I also suspect that if surveyed, most faculty here would not describe Plan B or Ella as “abortion drugs” as the Presidents of HBU and ETBU did in their suit.

    Are you pursuing these questions out of curiosity or another reason? I’m sure that someone bothered by Baylor having an insurance plan that covers all contraception is going to find many other things so to speak to be bothered by at Baylor.

  8. I have children applying to college. We like Baylor and think it is a fine university. I learned that some Baptist schools in Texas belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (ETBU, DBU, HBU) — which sent a letter to HHS on the contraception mandate (a univ. president friend of mine signed it). Baylor does not belong, and seems to have a different stance on the mandate. That led to other differences I noticed. Believe me, parents look into these overall approaches — e.g. religious liberty, or whether the faculty are all professing Christians — and how they play out in campus life. No matter where we send out children, we want to know about that place as well as what our tuition dollars, and tithes and offerings, support. We do our homework!

  9. “I wonder that no Muslim educational institution has objected. Are they exempt?”

    Many Muslims are actually not anti-contraception in the first place.

  10. From what I can tell, Muslims are not exempt.

  11. Mosques are exempt just as churches are exempt.

    An Islamic college or university would not be exempt. I’m not sure how many of those there even are, considering the first Muslim college opened in 2010 in Berkeley.

  12. Hi AARON,
    I read your last comment over on SBCvoices, and I agree with you that an administration that provides the most opportunity for women to get effective birth control is the administration that will see abortion numbers fall.

    I can’t account for the far-right switch of thirty years ago into an anti-abortion stance that defies reality, except to think that the position is simply used to fuel devotion to a political parties, not to cut down on the number of abortions. For me, it all looks like a reverse negative: instead of voting Republican to get abortions banned, I think the extreme far-right ‘Christians’ have fallen into hypocrisy in pursuing Republican victories and using the abortion issue themselves as a ‘control’ thing.

    I have just realized this . . . and it was the rush to support a Mormon candidate by far-right conservative Christians that showed me the truth of what was going on.

    Am I right in thinking this? Or am I over-reacting to what I am seeing happen?

  13. I have called and emailed Baylor and can’t get any response.

  14. Brother Chris,Maybe I am missing smehtoing, but for the life of me, I cannot see where the article reveals he has changed his mind on baptismal regeneration. Could you help me? If however, you are referring to the time he spent a McClean Bible Church I must admit their position is very sound and much like any SBC church you can find. However, you have to look hard to find their statement on Baptism . Shoot, after looking through that document of what they believe I may be charged with plagiarism :) They are resoundingly cessasionist in their doctrine and they are Pre-Mil in their eschatology.Blessings,Tim

  15. Just an update: I have never heard back on my phone calls or email to Baylor on this. My child is now enrolled in Baylor for fall 2013, so I will be supporting Baylor via tuition, as well as through my church.

  16. Thanks Chuck I sure did. I hope that our 18 years of firm belief that God created mankind in His image has taken firm root.

  17. Chuck – Why are you so afraid of evolution? One can believe in evolution and still believe God used evolution in His creation. Evolution deals with How, What, Where and When — issues that can be proven by scientific processes — whereas faith deals with Who (if anyone) and Why. They are not mutually exclusive.

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