The pioneer spirit is alive and well in Lander, Wyoming. Founded in 2005, and admitting its first freshmen class in 2007, Wyoming Catholic College is a school of pioneers. According to their website, the school’s “primary educational objective is to offer a traditional liberal arts education that schools the whole person in all three dimensions—mind, body, and spirit.”
To that end, the college has a rigorous Great Books curriculum that feeds the mind, a challenging outdoor leadership program for the body, and a strong, faithful Catholic Christian identity that educates the spirit.
It’s that combination of pioneer spirit and Catholic Christian identity that led Wyoming Catholic College’s board of directors to make a costly financial decision.
The college has been self-financing since it was founded. As a non-accredited school, it could not receive federal money in the form of grants or student loans. Now, however, the college is a candidate for accreditation and the federal government is happy to hand it between seven hundred fifty thousand and a million dollars annually. Except that the school’s board voted unanimously to tell the government “No, thanks.”
In doing so, Wyoming Catholic College joins a small cadre of colleges including Hillsdale, Christendom, Grove City, and New St. Andrews, who also refuse federal funding because of concerns over the strings the government attaches or could attach to federal dollars.
Wyoming Catholic president, Dr. Kevin Roberts, told the New York Times, the decision “allows us to practice our Catholic faith without qualifying it.” That’s necessary, he went on, because “It’s clear that this administration does not care about Catholic teaching.” In other words, what’s at stake is religious liberty.
Wyoming Catholic College is already involved in a religious liberty lawsuit against the so-called “HHS Mandate.” In doing so, it joins the ranks of other colleges like Wheaton College, and private businesses like Hobby Lobby. As you know, as part of the Affordable Care Act, the government requires employee health insurance to provide contraceptives, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization services for free in spite of employers’ sincerely held religious convictions.
The concern—not just at Wyoming Catholic College—is that the government will attempt to violate religious liberty when it comes to sexuality and the redefinition of marriage as well.
David Kellogg, a resident of Lander and college board member told the Times, “We really didn’t want the federal government meddling in our lives here,” noting that, “The federal government hands you money and then threatens to withdraw that money if you don’t do what they want.”
Had the college been founded thirty years ago, President Roberts commented in a videoed statement, “perhaps the decision to participate in federal programs would be easy.” But the political and cultural changes of the past thirty years have been increasingly hostile to faith-based schools and organizations and so the prudent response is to just say, “No.”
This does not mean that Roberts and Wyoming Catholic College are giving up on the culture or the government. Instead, Roberts went on, “We will be working joyfully and charitably to renew the culture in a way that may lead to better political circumstances in the future.”
If that means that the college will have to turn down a million bucks today for a better tomorrow, so be it. It’s a decision that many other faith-based schools, charities, and organizations may need to consider in the very near future.
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Publication date: April 28, 2015