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Catholic University says it wasn't aware student health plan covered abortion

The Catholic University of America, June 1, 2018. / BumbleDee/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic University of America has acknowledged that its student health care plan has included coverage for certain abortion services for the past three years, a provision the school says it will discontinue after the policy was brought to light by a recent news report.

The College Fix, a new site that features the work of student journalists, reported Nov. 9 that the university's student health care plan provided by Aetna covers abortion “when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or if it places the woman’s life in serious danger.”

The news outlet has written a series of stories about student health care plans at a number of Catholic higher-education institutions that cover abortion services, sterilization surgeries, contraception, and even sex change surgeries, all in contradiction to the explicit teachings of the Catholic Church.

In response to The College Fix’s latest report, Karna Lozoya, spokesperson for The Catholic University of America, issued the following statement to CNA:

“The Catholic University of America is committed to defending life at every stage, and we work hard to live out that commitment in all aspects of University operations. For our student and staff health plans, we have always excluded abortion from coverage.

 “A few years ago our health insurance provider for our student health plan (Aetna) made a blanket change to their plans to add limited exceptions to the abortion exclusion —in the case of rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is in danger. Unfortunately, we failed to catch the modification. The change was not intentional on our part. Our health insurance plan for staff never included these exceptions.

“As a result of our direct communications with Aetna, they have removed all exceptions to the comprehensive exclusion of abortion coverage from our student health plan, and we have removed the plan from our website. An amended plan will be available soon, and it will be explicit that abortion is excluded from coverage. The Catholic University of America apologizes for the error.”

Lozoya added that Aetna reported that there were no abortion claims paid under the plan.

The Catholic University of America was founded in 1889 by the U.S. Catholic bishops, with a charter from Pope Leo XIII, to be the national university of the Catholic Church in America.

This story was updated on Nov. 22 with additional information.

Pray for and promote peace, Milwaukee archbishop says after Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

Kyle Rittenhouse waits for the jury to enter the room to continue testifying during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three demonstrators, killing two of them, during a night of unrest that erupted in Kenosha after a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while being arrested in August 2020. Rittenhouse, from Antioch, Illinois, was 17 at the time of the shooting and armed with an assault rifle. He faces counts of felony homicide and felony attempted homicide. / Photo by Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee is encouraging people to pray for and promote peace following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday, Nov. 19.

“During times like these with severe division among people and the potential for social unrest, it is important for us to remember Jesus’ commandment to Love One Another,” said Listecki, in a statement provided to CNA on Friday. 

“As Americans, we rely upon the rule of law and our justice system, which ensures the rights of all our citizens,” he said. “We need to remember that every individual is made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore we need to follow the two great commandments -- love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Doing this, said Listecki, serves to “recognize the human dignity in every person” and promotes respect and love for one another. 

Rittenhouse, 18, was found “not guilty” on five charges, including two counts of first-degree reckless homicide and one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

A sixth charge, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, was dismissed on Monday, Nov. 15, after his attorneys argued that his rifle was not short-barrelled and therefore did not fall under the law. 

On Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and injured a third during the riots and unrest in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, was in Kenosha purportedly to protect a business and to provide medical aid. He lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, although his father and other members of his family lived in Kenosha. 

Rittenhouse’s lawyers claimed that their client was acting in self defense. During the trial, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot and injured by Rittenhouse, admitted that he was shot after he had pointed his own firearm at him. 

Additional video footage from that evening bolstered Rittenhouse’s claims of self defense. 

The unrest in late August 2020 was sparked by the Aug. 23, 2020 police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake. Blake was left partially paralyzed and the officer was not charged. 

The protests lasted for four days, causing an estimated $52 million in property damage. 


English and Welsh bishops urge Catholics to renew commitment to Sunday Mass

A post-plenary press conference at the London headquarters of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Nov. 19, 2021. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

London, England, Nov 19, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

But they acknowledged that the pandemic still posed obstacles to regular church attendance.

House passes Build Back Better; bishops raise religious liberty, abortion objections

null / lazyllama/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 12:08 pm (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, voting 220-213 to approve nearly $2 trillion in domestic spending for a host of ambitious new social programs, including universal pre-kindergarten, increased child care subsidies, and initiatives aimed at shifting the country away from fossil fuels.

The morning vote was almost entirely along party lines. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) was the lone Democrat to break with his party and vote “no” on the bill. The legislation still needs to be passed in the U.S. Senate.

In a statement released by the White House, President Joe Biden (D) hailed the bill as transformative legislation that would "create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance.”

Further, Biden said the bill would get “Americans back to work by providing child care and care for seniors,” and would cut taxes on the middle class. 

The bill, along with the infrastructure law, is “the most significant investment in our fight against the climate crisis,” Biden added.

Earlier this week, on Nov. 15, Biden a signed a more than $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan into law. Approximately half of that new funding is earmarked for transportation, broadband Internet, and utility upgrades.

Getting the Build Back Better Act through Congress has been a far more difficult challenge for his administration, however. Catholic and pro-life organizations have warned that the contents of the bill could undermine protections for religious freedom and the unborn.

“[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her allies are sneakily working to force Americans to be complicit in abortion on demand up to birth every which way they can,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement following the passage of the bill. 

“Today [Pelosi] even touted the fact that the popular bipartisan Hyde and Helms amendments, which stop taxpayer funding of abortion both at home and overseas, are simply ‘not in the bill,’” she said.

The Hyde and Helms amendments restrict the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions in the U.S. and abroad, respectively. They have been included as riders in budgetary bills since the 1970s. 

Prior to Friday’s vote, in a Nov. 3 letter to members of Congress, six bishop chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed support for the legislation's broad goal of fostering the "common good," especially those elements of the bill that seek to “support the poor and vulnerable and strengthen the social safety net.”

Specifically, the bishops pointed to “an extension to the recent expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit; provisions to support families such as a permanent refundable Child Tax Credit, childcare resources, in-home care for family members, and a strengthening of child nutrition programs; an expansion of SSI to residents of U.S. territories; affordable housing provisions; and important environmental provisions, especially climate and energy programs critical to achieving emissions reductions targets." 

At the same time, the bishops' letter expressed grave concerns about other key provisions of the Build Back Better Act.

“Specifically, while expanded access to early child care and pre-k would be beneficial for many working families, we are concerned that the current provisions to do so — in a departure from the approach in existing federal programs — explicitly make providers recipients of federal financial assistance and attach new and troubling compliance obligations,” the letter said.

“This will effectively exclude many faith-based providers from participation (or in some already existing state-based programs, continued participation), thereby severely limiting options for families, and suppressing a mixed delivery system," the letter stated.

The letter also called the provisions for direct government funding of abortion in the bill “completely unacceptable,” and urged Congress to restore those long standing restrictions.

“We have been consistent in our position and reiterate that it would be a calamity if the important and life-affirming provisions in this bill were accompanied by provisions facilitating and funding the destruction of unborn human life,” the bishops’ letter stated.

“No proposal to support individuals needing affordable health care coverage should compel Americans to pay for the destruction of human life through their tax dollars.”

In an interview with EWTN's Raymond Arroyo Thursday, pro-life leader U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who voted against the bill, called it "the most pro-abortion piece of legislation that I've seen in years."

"It is overwhelmingly filled with money for abortion," Smith said. "There is spigot after spigot after spigot that will fund abortion on demand."

Smith drew fire from his party and former president Donald Trump for being one of 13 House Republicans to vote for the infrastructure bill on Nov. 6. You can watch his full interview in the video below.

In a statement Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health care and religious freedom advocacy organization, echoed the bishops' objections to the restrictions on religious child care providers, and said the bill’s failure to include the Hyde Amendment “gravely harms babies in the womb.”

“Congress should seek changes in the social safety net without harming life and without undermining the ability of religious institutions to participate in the human service needs of our nation,” Brown said. 

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is evenly split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. In a late September interview with National Review, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a moderate Democrat, predicted the bill would be “dead on arrival” if the Hyde Amendment was not included.

Influential German Catholic lay group elects new leader

Irme Stetter-Karp, the new president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. / zdk.de.

Berlin, Germany, Nov 19, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Irme Stetter-Karp succeeds the high-profile Thomas Sternberg.

Denver archbishop, writing in Washington Post, decries vandalism of Catholic property

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver this week decried the recent substantial and well-documented rise in vandalism and arson against Catholic property in the United States, calling the targeted destruction “horrifying.”

Writing Nov. 18 in the Washington Post, Aquila noted that the U.S. bishops have logged at least 100 instances of vandalism, arson and destruction of Catholic property nationwide since May 2020.

Incidents include graffiti sprayed on church walls, Catholic statues beheaded or smashed, gravestones desecrated with swastikas, and arson. Many more incidents have likely not been widely reported, he said. 

Aquila highlighted, in particular, a graffiti incident at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception last month, which saw a lone woman— a supporter of abortion rights— spray-paint slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL” on the historic building’s exterior. 

“You would likely have to go back to the early 20th or late 19th centuries, when an influx of Catholic immigrants challenged a mostly Protestant culture, to find so much public antagonism toward the Catholic Church,” Aquila wrote. 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says Mass for the Transitional Deacon Ordination in 2020. Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says Mass for the Transitional Deacon Ordination in 2020. Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC

“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis. We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

Since February 2020 in the Archdiocese of Denver alone, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

Aquila pointed out that Catholics have not been the only religious group targeted in recent months. African American Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, and temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have all suffered attacks of various kinds in the past year and a half. 

Overall, hate crimes, which include religiously motivated attacks, will likely set a 20-year record in 2021, Aquila noted. 

A desecrated statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. .  Courtesy photo.
A desecrated statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. . Courtesy photo.

“Respectful conversation has given way to spiteful confrontation,” he observed, “Where once people strove for change through the force of intellectual, moral and well-considered arguments, the go-to approach for many is now brute force. It often takes the form of violence or vandalism.”

Aquila wrote that where aggression is a widely accepted reaction to a difference of opinion, “Democracy cannot survive.”

“Everyone has a role in lifting America out of this crisis. Regardless of our individual beliefs, we must regain respect for the dignity of the human person,” Aquila concluded. 


Caritas Poland leader: We’ll help those in need for as long as Belarus border crisis lasts

Fr. Marcin Iżycki, director of Caritas Poland, speaks during a press conference on the Belarus border crisis. / Caritas Poland.

Podlipki, Poland, Nov 19, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Belarus is also aiding migrants at the border.

Washington florist who declined to serve same-sex wedding will pay settlement, retire

Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian and florist from Washington state who was sued after declining to create flower arrangements for a same-sex marriage. / Alliance Defending Freedom

Denver Newsroom, Nov 18, 2021 / 20:05 pm (CNA).

A Christian florist who was sued after declining to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony and subsequently spent eight years in court will pay a small settlement and retire, rather than seek another U.S. Supreme Court hearing.

“I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire,” Barronelle Stutzman, who owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, said Nov. 18. 

“I’ve never had to compromise my conscience or go against my faith. I’ve met so many, many kind and wonderful people, who’ve generously offered me their prayers and encouragement and support.”

In 2013, the florist declined to make flower arrangements for the same-sex wedding of long-time customer and friend Rob Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed. She said that as a Christian, she believed such a union would violate her faith, and she could not make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Stutzman referred Ingersoll to several nearby florists.

“I’d always been happy to sell him bouquets of flowers,” Stutzman said in her Nov. 18 letter. Celebrating his marriage to another man, she said, “was a line I could not cross, even for friendship.”

“I am a Christian, and I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. That Word makes it clear that God loves all people so much that He sent His Son to die in their place,” she said. “And it also teaches that He designed marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman. I could not take the artistic talents God Himself gave me and use them to contradict and dishonor His Word.”

Although Ingersoll did not file a complaint with the state, he and Freed later sued Stutzman through the American Civil Liberties Union. The attorney general of Washington state brought a discrimination complaint against her.

Stutzman, represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, fought the legal complaints. Her attorneys feared that the ACLU lawsuit could force her to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees.

Under the settlement, she will withdraw the pending petition for a rehearing at the U.S. Supreme Court. She will pay $5,000 to Ingersoll and Freed.

“This settlement is an end to a lengthy court case, not a change in or surrender of Barronelle’s beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said Nov. 18. 

“Over the last eight years, Barronelle stood for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her about a deeply personal and important issue like marriage. And in so doing, she’s inspired millions of others in their own public and personal battles to live their faith without government interference.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit issued their own statement.

“We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else,” Ingersoll and Reed said, according to CNN. “It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

They said they would donate the $5,000 to a local LGBT advocacy and support group.

In 2017, the Washington Supreme Court had upheld a lower court's ruling against Stutzman. In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling and sent the case back to the state supreme court, ruling that Stutzman's case should be reconsidered in light of the Court's Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

In that decision, the court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed a constitutionally unacceptable hostility toward religion in ruling that Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips violated anti-discrimination law for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding on the basis of his Christian beliefs.

In June of 2019, the Washington Supreme Court again ruled against Stutzman saying the lower courts had not acted with impermissible hostility towards her religious beliefs. In the view of her attorneys, the state supreme court issued largely the same decision that it had previously, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's order to reconsider the case in light of a new decision.

In September 2019, Stutzman’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case a second time. They argued that the state court effectively excused religious hostility by a state executive official. The attorneys said the Supreme Court “should reaffirm that the Free Exercise Clause binds all state actors, not only adjudicators.”

In July 2021, the Supreme Court declined to hear her case, over the objections of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Her attorneys had filed a petition to rehear the case, which is to be withdrawn under the settlement.

Leading pro-life bishops: Catholic Church must be prepared if Roe overturned

null / liseykina/Shutterstock

Baltimore, Md., Nov 18, 2021 / 18:15 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church must be prepared to act if Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned, says the incoming chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’  Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“If Roe is overturned, the issue, as I understand it, goes back to the states and the response will be uneven,” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said Nov. 17, speaking on the issue of abortion. “Regardless, the Church has to be there and it has to continue teaching serenely, firmly, consistently, and lovingly.”

Lori spoke to CNA during the USCCB’s annual fall meeting held in Baltimore. His comments came as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that involves Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. The case challenges two landmark cases: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992.

If Roe were overturned, Lori envisions that some states would respond by doubling down on “protecting so-called abortion rights,” while others would prohibit abortion.

“Should there be an increase of moms bringing their child to term, the Church has to step up to the plate and be there,” he said. “Our health care institutions have to step up to the plate. Our Catholic charities, our parishes have to do this.”

Regardless of what happens, he said, “The duty to cherish and foster human life is always going to be part of who we are.”

Witnessing with actions

Asked about his plans as the pro-life chair, Lori told CNA that the first priority of any of the bishops’ committees has to be evangelization.

“In this case, it’s the gospel of life. Not that there is anything other than a gospel of life, but it's winning the minds and hearts of as many people as possible,” he said.

He stressed that, for Catholics, “the ways of supporting the culture of life are very, very accessible and many.”

“One important thing, vitally important thing, is prayer,” he said, noting the bishops’ discussion on the Eucharist and Eucharist revival during their assembly. “If we all got down on our knees and asked for the grace to create a culture of life and the civilization of love, as St. John Paul II taught us to do, what a difference that would make.” 

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore delivers a homily at the Mass for the bicentennial of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31, 2021. © 2021 Catholic Review Media. Photo: Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore delivers a homily at the Mass for the bicentennial of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31, 2021. © 2021 Catholic Review Media. Photo: Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

He also encouraged Catholics to “look around and see what's in your community.”

“Is there a pro-life pregnancy center? Can you donate?” he asked. “Can you volunteer? Can you serve on your parish pro-life committee? Can you think about going either to the March for Life in Washington or a local march for life in your own locale?”

He added that even something as small as giving a phone call to someone confined at home because of illness or age helps foster a culture of life.

“The little way, as St. Therese has shown us, is really the big way,” he said, referring to St. Therese of Lisieux’s approach to performing small, everyday acts with great love.

Lori shared why he, personally, identifies as pro-life.

“Not only my Catholic upbringing — and I've been very blessed to have a wonderful Catholic upbringing — but there's a couple of reasons,” he said. 

One is his brother with special needs. 

“I watched my mom and dad take care of him into their 90s, until they died,” he said. “If ever I needed a living example of what it means to cherish vulnerable human life and to resist the throwaway culture, my mom and dad gave me that example in spades and for decades.”

He then pointed to the influence of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

“Early in my priesthood I became connected with the Knights of Columbus,” said Lori, who is the supreme chaplain of the fraternal Catholic organization. “If ever there were a staunch pro-life organization, it's the Knights.”

He also encountered the influence of a mentor: the late Cardinal James Hickey.

“I was blessed to serve directly under Cardinal Hickey of Washington for almost 18 years and he taught me a lot about being pro-life and about being consistently pro-life,” he said.

“The humanity of the unborn child, but also loving urban kids that don't have a chance for a good education, helping the poor, the homeless, helping people lacking employment and housing, and then caring for those in the latter stages, he just demonstrated that.”

“He just embraced the Church’s faith and lived it,” he said. “So I saw firsthand what it means to be a pro-life leader in the Church from His Eminence.” 

Walking with moms

Lori applauded the Church’s pro-life work through initiative called Walking with Moms in Need. The project, run by the USCCB, encourages Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in difficult situations. During the bishops’ meeting, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, also commended the initiative.

The program “helps parishes to identify and help provide the full range of needs for mothers and their unborn children, not only during pregnancy, but for years to come,” according to a statement by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., Lori's predecessor as the USCCB's pro-life committee chairman.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and the outgoing chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, presents pro-life initiative Walking with Moms in Need to the U.S. bishops on Nov. 17, 2021 in Baltimore. Screenshot from USCCB video
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and the outgoing chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, presents pro-life initiative Walking with Moms in Need to the U.S. bishops on Nov. 17, 2021 in Baltimore. Screenshot from USCCB video

Naumann delivered a presentation on Walking with Moms in Need during the bishops’ meeting and recognized the importance of Dobbs’ challenge to Roe.

“We’re at a great moment in our culture’s efforts to restore protection to the unborn — a great moment of opportunity and promise with the Dobbs case being heard in just a few days,” he said of the case that will be heard on Dec. 1 and is expected to be decided next summer. 

The bishops “need to expect increased calls for help and assistance and the Church needs to be prepared to respond,” Naumann said. “This will be coming to all of our dioceses this June with the Dobbs decision.” 

He highlighted Walking with Moms as a solution that would help dioceses “be prepared for the day, God willing, when abortion is no longer the law of our land,” at another point. 

But regardless of how courts or legislators treat abortion, Naumann stressed that “our pastoral response will always remain the same.”

“If the Dobbs decision does allow for states to be able to protect unborn children more by law, some of our states will benefit from that legal protection but it will increase the number of women that we need to be prepared to serve,” he said. “And in states where that won’t happen because the legislature will not take advantage of this opportunity, the only way we can save the lives of these children and protect their mothers from the aftereffects of abortion is not with the law, but with love.”

Lori heartily agreed. “Walking with Moms in Need is a wonderful expression of the Church’s love not only for the unborn baby, but for the mom who finds herself in difficult and often dire straits,” he said.

He stressed that the Church cares for both the unborn child and his or her mother.

“One of the great untruths is that we simply want children to be born and then we forget about them. We don’t,” he said. “Walking with Moms in Need says we're going to continue the walk. It's accompaniment. It’s a real expression of the Church’s love and the Lord's love.”

Christian college argues against co-ed housing requirement in appellate court

Williams Memorial Chapel at the College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri. / Nan Fry/Flickr

Denver Newsroom, Nov 18, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Attorneys representing a Christian college in Missouri delivered oral arguments Nov. 17 in federal court, seeking to preserve the school’s longstanding religiously held belief that men and women should be housed separately on campus. 

College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college in southern Missouri, sued the Biden administration in April, claiming a new housing rule would violate the school’s faith-based standards prohibiting males and females from living together in the same dormitories. 

Under the rule, which the Biden administration introduced during January 2021, a private school that decides to house only men in male dorms and only women in female dorms could be fined for gender identity discrimination, regardless of their religious beliefs. 

In addition, the new rule could force private colleges to allow a transgender person who identifies as a female to live in a female residence hall. 

Jerry C. Davis, the college’s president, said in a Nov. 18 interview with CNA that he has no intention of backing off in the fight to preserve the college’s 115-year history of honoring the Biblical view that there are inherent biological differences between men and women. 

“We never dreamed our own government would be, in essence, trying to play ‘Dean of students,’ or get involved internally with things like this,” Davis told CNA. 

Jerry C. Davis, president of College of the Ozarks in Missouri. Alliance Defending Freedom
Jerry C. Davis, president of College of the Ozarks in Missouri. Alliance Defending Freedom

The rule in question was formalized in February in a memo issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in which HUD interprets federal prohibitions of sex discrimination in housing to also protect sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“The problem with this directive is that it doesn’t make any room for the college to practice its deeply held religious beliefs,” said Ryan Bangert, senior counsel and vice president of legal strategy for Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the college. 

“When people say this is discrimination, they are really asking the college to change its religious beliefs and its religious views,” Bangert said. “That is quite frankly discriminatory toward the college.” 

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals expedited the college’s appeal in July after a federal court denied the school’s request for a temporary injunction and restraining order. 

During the oral arguments of the appeal yesterday, the attorneys presented evidence that a directive of this nature violates the First Amendment, while also violating the procedural rights of the college under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Fair Housing Act because the college was never given an opportunity to voice concerns, nor to ask the agency to consider religious freedom interests. 

“It's especially egregious to us that such a change or decision was made without even the courtesy of asking religious institutions what would be the impact on them and their sincerely held religious views,” Davis, the school president, said. “We didn’t have a chance to respond.”

The chapel at College of the Ozarks in Missouri. Alliance Defending Freedom
The chapel at College of the Ozarks in Missouri. Alliance Defending Freedom

Bangert, the attorney, said that if the government is allowed to make significant policy changes without involving the public, “that sets us on a very dangerous path toward rule by bureaucrats.”

The Attorneys General of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia have submitted briefs supporting the College of the Ozarks and asking for a reversal of the lower court’s decision not to block the rule.

College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906 by a Presbyterian minister. Davis says the college “admits only students who have financial need, most of whom would not have a chance at an education if it weren’t for us.”

“Why make that job any harder? Why not just leave us alone to do what we have been doing in the public good, in good faith for over a hundred years?” he said.