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University of Mobile President Rejects Federal Government Attempts to Define Religion, Ministry; Files Objections to Healthcare Mandate ‘Accommodation’

University of Mobile President Dr. Mark Foley said the federal government does not have the authority to define what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry, and its attempts to do so are setting a dangerous precedent.

The Christian college president said the government’s definition of “religious employer” in the federal healthcare mandate is far too narrow. Foley has filed comments to that effect with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“I reject the idea that it is within the jurisdiction of the federal government to define, in place of religious communities, what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry,” Foley wrote.

In addition, Foley has joined with other leaders of faith-based service organizations, college presidents in the national Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance to express “grave concerns” about the precedent of allowing the federal government to define what is and is not a religious organization, as part of the federal healthcare mandate.

HHS is accepting comments about the “accommodation” to the contraceptive mandate that President Obama announced on Feb. 10, 2012. Essentially, the proposed “accommodation” will require the insurance companies of those religious employers with an objection to paying for mandated contraceptive services, including abortifacients such as Plan B (morning after pill) and ella (month after pill), to provide the services to employees for free.

As currently written, the “accommodation” would create two classes of religious organizations, Foley said. Under the federal definition, churches would be exempt from the mandate, while many faith-based service organizations would have a lesser degree of protection.

Foley said it is unprecedented – and outside the scope of the federal government’s authority – to arbitrarily decide what is and is not a “religious employer.”

The federal government’s definition “effectively gives preference to one form of religious expression to the exclusion of all others. In so doing, it violates a fundamental principle of the establishment clause; that the government not pick and choose between different religious groups,” Foley wrote.

Under the federal government’s definition, “Traditional organizational churches, considered sufficiently focused inwardly to merit an exemption, receive full protection from the mandate. Faith-based service organizations, outwardly oriented, are given a lesser degree of protection,” Foley wrote. “Yet both worship-oriented and service-oriented religious organizations are authentically and equally religious organizations.”

He said the effort to define religious groups by arbitrary criteria and limit religious practice, belief and conviction to only what happens within the walls of a church between fellow believers is in direct opposition to the Christian faith which teaches believers to “feed the hungry,” to “care for the sick,” to “visit those in prison” and to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

“In the case of faith-based colleges and universities like the University of Mobile, it is directly contrary to the biblical mandate and institutional mission directing that faith can and should be integrated into all things, and whose goal is to teach its students to expand their faith into all aspects of life,” Foley wrote.

Foley’s comment submission to HHS can be viewed on the University of Mobile website. HHS is accepting comments until June 19 here.

The University of Mobile is a Christian university located in Mobile, Ala., on an 880-acre campus near Gulf Coast beaches. Approximately 1,800 students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Business, School of Christian Studies, School of Education, School of Nursing, Center for Performing Arts and Center for Adult Programs.

For more information about the University of Mobile, visit the website at www.umobile.edu or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251.442.2222.
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