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Alumna Regent: “This is Fundamentally a Case about Religious Liberty”

Posted: March 23, 2016

Remarks by Elizabeth (McPherson ’99) Claeys
Chairman, Washington, D.C., Board of Regents
Thomas Aquinas College
Prepared text from rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court
March 23, 2016


My name is Elizabeth Claeys. I am the Chair of the Washington, D.C. Board of Regents at Thomas Aquinas College, and a graduate of its Class of 1999.

It is an honor to be here today to offer support for my alma mater, for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and for all the plaintiffs.

This is the first time in our nation’s history that the religious exemption has been drawn so narrowly. While churches have been exempted from the Mandate, religious ministries such as Catholic colleges, hospitals, and nursing homes for the sick and aged are not. But the First Amendment guarantees our freedom not simply to worship but to exercise our religion. And the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 reinforces this right of religious liberty. This is the issue at the core of the arguments today.

This case is fundamentally a case about religious liberty. We are not trying to prevent the government from providing “preventive care” to women. We are simply asking that we not be made part of its delivery system. And we do so from a deeply held religious belief that the First Amendment guarantees.

The government has already exempted scores of healthcare plans from the contraceptive mandate — private companies, large cities, and even the U.S. military. None of these are religious in nature. There are, therefore, tens of millions of Americans with health plans that do not include contraceptive coverage. Why, then, is the government insisting that we religious institutions provide it? There are numerous alternative methods for delivering “preventive care” to women. The government need not force religious institutions to do so.

Thomas Aquinas College is a small school of only 375 students. Should the Court uphold the Mandate, we would be fined close to $3 million annually. For a school that already must provide over $4 million a year to students in its financial aid program, this would be a crushing penalty.

Thomas Aquinas College is a community of students, faculty, and staff who are unanimously committed to the formation of the human person in accordance with our Catholic faith. These beliefs shape the way we treat each other on the campus, and the way that the College transacts business with its employees and associates. If the College complied with the Mandate, it would be forced to violate the Catholic beliefs that are the core of our mission. We are fighting against the loss of our Catholic identity.

We believe that a Catholic college is a place where truth is not only taught in the classroom but lived outside the classroom. We believe that the truth matters. It matters to us because it is the very reason for our existence as a Catholic institution. And it matters to our students, their parents, our alumni, and our benefactors, all of whom depend on the College to live up to its Catholic identity.

I ask all who love our country and cherish religious liberty to join with us to pray not only for us and the other plaintiffs but for the Justices hearing our case today.

Liz Claeys at SCOTUS 2016

Elizabeth (McPherson ’99) Claeys, chairman of the Washington, D.C., Board of Regents, speaks at the March 23 rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: Dana Rene Bowler)