Dordt claims religious freedom compromised

Staff Writer-Lee Ver Burg

Dordt College has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over claims that a mandate in the Affordable Care Act violates its religious views.

The case, “Dordt v. Sebelius,” was filed in federal court in Sioux City by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

While various opinions have circulated on why Dordt is becoming involved in this lawsuit, Dordt president Erik Hoekstra said the reason is protection of religious freedom.

“This is about the government’s narrow definition of a religious entity,” Hoekstra said. “We have tried various nonlitigious means over the past months to have the government understand our position, but these have, sadly, been ignored. Thus, the lawsuit is the most appropriate manner, at this point, for us to assert our conviction that the government should respect our freedom to make health-care decisions ourselves, based on our religious convictions.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, does not define Dordt as a religious institution. Churches, but not other religious-oriented institutions, are exempted from the act’s mandates that run counter to their religious views.

Dordt College claims this is wrong.

“We have to know that we can make certain decision based on our religious beliefs,” Hoekstra said.

Specifically, the act mandates health insurance coverage of pills and procedures that some Christians consider abortifacients — Plan B, known as the morning after pill, and Ella, the week after pill.

Dordt College does cover most forms of birth control in its health insurance plan, but it does not want to include certain additional prescriptions, such as Plan B and Ella, that are required by the new health-care regulations.

According to a frequently asked questions document sent to faculty and students, “Dordt College’s argument focuses on religious freedom and in challenging the government’s narrow definition of a ‘religious institution,’ and it does not take a position on birth control.”

Donald Roth, professor of criminal justice and business administration, agrees with Dordt’s decision to file the lawsuit. He said the purpose of the lawsuit is to object to the government not respecting Dordt’s “explicitly religious mission.”

“Basically this law is saying that Dordt is not a religious employer. That is where I have an objection,” Roth said.

Courtney Vruegdenhil, a sophomore nursing major at Dordt, said, “It’s good that they’re doing it, standing firm in what they believe in.”

Not everyone agrees with the lawsuit. Marcus Kroese, a 2011 graduate of Western Christian High School in Hull, had a different perspective.

“I don’t think a Christian school should sue,” Kroese said.

This lawsuit will not cost Dordt anything. The ADF is a probono organization that relies on donations for funding.

Dordt is not alone in the effort.  Cornerstone University of Grand Rapids, Mich., is joining Dordt as a plaintiff in the case. Biola University, Geneva College, Grace, Wheaton College and the University of Notre Dame have filed similar lawsuits.

Other religious-oriented organizations have had rulings in their favor in similar lawsuits, but appeals are still pending in those cases.

Roth said 30 of the 35 cases pending have secured an injunction. The court order prevents enforcement of the health-care law mandate while the case proceeds in court. In that context, Roth said Dordt also has a favorable chance of receiving an injunction.

However, the case is not likely to be over soon and a combination of lawsuits may go before the Supreme Court for consideration, according to ADF.

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