Jim Towey, former director of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives and current president of Florida’s Catholic Ave Maria University, accused the Obama administration of forcing him to “choose between being a good Catholic or a good citizen” Tuesday.
On a conference call with reporters to announce the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s fourth suit against the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate on behalf of Ave Maria, Towey said that the administration is trampling on religious liberty by imposing a mandate that is antithetical to Catholic teachings.
“It is a sad day when an American citizen or organization has no choice but to sue its own government in order to exercise religious liberty rights guaranteed by our nation’s Constitution,” Towey said expressing his disbelief at the HHS mandate.
According to Towey, neither he nor Ave Maria will accept the “false choice” between good faith or good citizenship. He added that under the federal mandate, contraceptive drugs would end up being paid for by Ave Maria. Towey asserted that this will not happen — instead, the university is prepared to discontinue its health plan and accept the $2,000 per employee annual fine.
“I want to be clear that a woman’s right to contraception is not an issue in this case — not in the lawsuit, not at Ave Maria,” Towey said. “Employees at Ave Maria and elsewhere are free to decide on their own whether to use birth control. But never before has the federal government bullied groups like ours into doctrinal conformance on an issue with such religious and moral gravity.”
The Becket Fund, which has filed three other suits against the HHS mandate (on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University and the Eternal Word Television Network), filed suit on behalf of Ave Maria Tuesday morning.
“The federal mandate puts Ave Maria in a terrible bind,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Either it betrays its faith and covers the drugs, or else it ends employee health benefits and pays hundreds of thousands in annual fines.”
Towey added that when he worked at the White House under President George W. Bush, he saw firsthand the coordination between government and the free exercise of religion.
“It is apparent to me that this administration does not want to strike a balance between its zeal to implement a new social policy and the rights of religiously-affiliated organizations like Ave Maria,” Towey said. “So until the federal government backs down from requiring us to pay to practice our faith, we will fight it with all of our rights under the law. We will not violate the tenets of our faith and cower before our own government’s threat of massive fines.”
According to Towey, Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships “has failed President Obama badly.”
“I’ve been sorely disappointed by the failure of the faith-based office at the White House to be helping organizations like ours to be heard in this policy debate,” Towey said.
“In fact, the faith-based office seems to be leading the stampede to trample religious rights. They’ve been organizing conference calls and they’ve been working in ways that is shocking to me to see how politicized that office is,” he concluded, explaining that when he was director he worked with organizations that were opposed to the goals of the Bush administration.