First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected story out of Illinois, where a notable evangelical college was faced with a fairly simple choice regarding health care, but where school officials nevertheless made an inexplicable decision.
Taking a firm stand against Obamacare's controversial contraception mandate, Wheaton College on Friday will stop providing any health insurance for students.
The decision, announced to students July 10, will halt health care coverage for about a quarter of the college's 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, forcing them to shop for other plans just weeks before their coverage ends.
Now, it's easy to get the basics of this story wrong. This is not, for example, a controversy in which Wheaton College had to choose between offering health benefits and providing contraception, or perhaps being forced to offer coverage that includes access to birth control, which the religious institution didn't want to subsidize. Stories like these have come up, but that dynamic doesn't apply here.
Wheaton faced a very different kind of choice. Under the Affordable Care Act, the evangelical college could claim a religious exemption to the contraception policy, at which point a private insurer would create a separate policy to cover contraception, directly for the consumer. Wheaton wouldn't have to subsidize this separate plan at all.
The college said this accommodation isn't good enough -- even claiming a religious exemption, it said, is a burden. It's preferable, Wheaton administrators concluded, to simply impose a last-minute change that scraps student health plans altogether.
Paul Chelsen, Wheaton's vice president of student development, said the move to cut off students' health security "breaks my heart," but he's doing it anyway. The controversy, he said, is "bigger than student health insurance." Chelsen added, "I acknowledge that students have been hurt by this decision and I regret that."
Wheaton is currently litigating the issue in federal courts. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied the school's request for a preliminary injunction against the ACA policy while its case proceeds. Doing some simple, two-page paperwork to claim a religious exemption, the court concluded, "is hardly a burdensome requirement."
One student told the Chicago Tribune, "I fear the administration is putting petty politics above caring for students."
Also from the God Machine this week: