On Thursday, February 16, 2012, Calvin College medical director Laura Champion, with support of the Calvin College administration, participated in a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.. The hearing titled: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?," was hosted by the Committee On Oversight & Government Reform. We have provided a link to Champion's testimony before Congress (pdf) and a video of the discussion (begins 00:40:14) that ensued among the participants thereafter. We have also included some rationale for why Calvin College chose to participate in this particular discussion. See below:
Background and Rationale for Calvin's Participation
How did Calvin get on the congressional panel to speak on this religious liberty issue?
Calvin College is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). On February 13, 2012, around noon time, the government relations staff at the CCCU emailed Shirley Hoogstra, Vice President for Student Life, asking whether or not she or Claudia Beversluis, Provost, would be willing to testify on behalf of the religious liberty question and would speak about the fact that Calvin College does not currently cover abortifacient drugs and how this issue would affect our institution. They were looking for women to speak about the issue. Shirley Hoogstra is an active member of the CCCU and the government relations staffer knew that Shirley is a lawyer and that Claudia is the provost of the college. Also the CCCU knows Calvin is committed to and unafraid of being in the public square. A decision needed to be made within hours.
Both Shirley and Claudia believed that Dr. Laura Champion, Medical Director at Calvin’s Health Services, would be the most informed female person on campus who is knowledgeable about the medical aspects of abortifacients and can speak clearly about Calvin’s commitment to contraception while not currently covering abortificiants in our students’ health plan.
Why did Calvin agree to offer Dr. Laura Champion as a potential oversight committee witness?
In consultation with Gaylen Byker, President of Calvin College, Shirley and Claudia believed Dr. Champion would be a helpful, informed witness. Additionally, the fact that we were asked by the CCCU to be of assistance to this organization mattered to Calvin. Thirdly, the CRC has a clear stance against abortion.
It is in Calvin’s interest, as well as other Christian Higher Education Institutions, to stand for religious conscience exceptions and religious liberty. Calvin College is not opposed to contraception or sterilization (and whether or not to use abortifacients is seen as a personal individual choice). Dr. Champion’s testimony was about whether or not government should mandate actions that break the conscience of an institution. This matter represents a watershed issue where government intervention for a competing good (women’s reproductive rights) should overrule matters of conscience without an exception.
Calvin realized that this issue will affect Christian institutions now and in the future. Calvin has the courageous, foundational commitment to be involved in the important issues of the day. We have a long history of being involved with government and political conversations. (For example, just this past week political science professor Doug Koopman appeared on NBC Nightly News talking about the Republican political race in Michigan.) The college recognized there are competing values represented by this particular contraceptive issue and that we were not as clear of a witness because of our support for contraception and sterilization; however, there was no risk to stand in opposition of abortion and the engagement with religious liberty issues which could violate our core belief and commitments.
However, the larger issue of whether or not religious organizations with conscience should be forced to comply when there are reasonable alternatives seemed to be a matter worthy of discussion and involvement. There may be even some disagreement whether this is a “watershed moment” in terms of government intervention and religious expression. Only time will tell whether a compromise can be reached which supports both religious liberty and the insurance needs of women. Regardless of whether one agrees it was watershed, this is the kind of topic for which Christians should become involved. And, given the clarity of our anti-abortion stand as a denomination and institution, it was deemed worthy for engagement. The CCCU wanted a woman to be represented on the panel. Calvin, indeed, did have a woman who is also a physician, to participate at the hearing.
Thank you to Dr. Champion for the time and commitment she has spent preparing for this testimony on behalf of CCCU and Calvin College. These kinds of situations are never easy, and one is often placed in high conflict and intense situations where one has to speak on her feet. The decision to send Laura, on behalf of a CCCU member college, was made in “real time”. As such, principles of clarity on the abortion stance and the belief that this is a watershed religious freedom issue where we needed to stand in the gap with other religious institutions in terms of precedent setting government behavior, was worthy. Dr. Champion has given two very intense days of preparation and presentation. She represented the college well, and we thank her for it today.