STEUBENVILLE - Franciscan University of Steubenville took another step in its opposition to the federal health care mandate and will not require full-time undergraduate students to carry health insurance starting this fall.
According to Michael Hernon, vice president of advancement at the university, the decision to not require student health care and to not offer a student health insurance plan is based on "moral and economic reasons."
"We feel the health care mandate from the Obama administration violates our religious conscience because it includes coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We also are concerned for our students and their families because the plan dramatically increases the cost of the health insurance for students. We don't feel it's fair to pass that cost on to our students," Hernon stated today.
The university first signaled its public opposition to the Obama administration health care mandate in February when university President the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, said he was prepared to not comply with a federal mandate requiring employers to provide birth control measures as part of employee health care coverage.
"We will not comply with this new law and will face whatever we have to face. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. But we are drawing a line in the sand that we will not cross. And if we are forced into a compromise there would be no sense for Franciscan University to exist," Henry said in the February interview.
"This is not just a Catholic issue. It is an issue for all people. It attacks our basic religious freedom. Some say we should lobby for an amendment. But that would be acknowledging the federal government has the power to decide our religious freedoms. This is a do or die issue for Americans," said Henry.
"The Catholic Church has always been strongest when she is being persecuted. We must remain strong during this attack on the First Amendment and our religious freedom. We can't compromise on life issues. It is important to know this is not affecting just our religion. It harms all religions in our country where religious freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution," Henry said.
University spokesman Tom Sofio said today fewer than 200 students are enrolled in the health insurance plan provided by the school.
"Most of our 2,500 students are covered by their parents' health insurance plan," he added.
Sofio said the university administration sent an e-mail to all employees today with an update on the opposition to the health mandate.
"Please be assured, we are doing everything in our power to protest the ill effects of these federal regulations and we hope and pray they will be reversed. The response to the admissions office from parents to the policy change has been overwhelmingly positive. As has been previously communicated, the employee health insurance plan is not affected by these changes in student health insurance coverage," according to the employee e-mail.
Hernon said the university has not taken action on employee health care, "because we believe cooler heads will eventually prevail. We believe legislative action and other options will allow us to provide health care to our employees in a sound moral environment.
"The federal government is forcing religious institutions to go against their religious beliefs. And we are finding more and more support for our position on this issue," Hernon said.
He noted a letter was sent to all students in mid-April detailing the decision to no longer require health care.
"We encourage you to decide how you are going to provide for accidents or illnesses requiring visits to physicians, health clinics or the hospital emergency room while you are a student here. As always, our health center on campus will be staffed by a certified nurse practitioner Monday though Friday during normal business hours. No insurance is necessary to receive basic health-related services at the health center, and the visits cost only $5 at the time of service. However, if you are referred off campus for further lab testing, physician specialists or X-rays, you will be responsible to pay for those services," the student letter stated.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., questioned a decision by Georgetown University to invite U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to be a featured speaker at an awards ceremony at the school.
"The Archdiocese of Washington reserved public comment to permit Georgetown University and its sponsor, the Society of Jesus, the opportunity to address the controversy. While the explanation of how this unfortunate decision was made is appreciated, it does not address the real issue for concern - the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history and the apparent lack of unity with and disregard for the bishops and so many others across the nation who are committed to the defense of freedom of religion," said Wuerl, the former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
"Given the dramatic impact this mandate will have on Georgetown and all Catholic institutions, it is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university. It is also understandable that Catholics would view this as a challenge to the bishops," said Wuerl in a press release issued Tuesday.
"It is especially distressing to think that the university's Public Policy Institute would be unaware of this national debate since the mandate was published last August. Such a radical redefining of ministry should prompt Georgetown, as a Catholic and Jesuit university, to do more to challenge the mandate and speak up for freedom of religion," Wuerl concluded.