But when the principle at stake appears to be intertwined with politics and religion, and boils down simply to not taking the government's word, the sympathy due Geneva's position is suspect.
The college's cause of action is the Obama administration's compromise on mandated insurance to cover contraception at religiously affiliated institutions under the federal health care law. This is the political football of the hour that Republicans want to use to score in an election year. Geneva is surely sincere, but its actions can't be divorced from the political context.
As we see it, and probably as most Americans see it, the Obama administration's first position was reasonable. It required religious institutions employing people of different faiths and serving the general public to offer medical coverage including free birth control.
The regulation affected most church-run hospitals, universities and charitable groups. At the same time, religious organizations in which the employees and the people served share a common faith were exempt from the regulation. No institution was required to pay for abortions.
After loud opposition from religious groups, the Obama administration went even further: The president proposed shifting responsibility to insurers to provide reproductive care, so that those with religious objections would not be forced to pay for it.
But, to Geneva College, the administration's promise can't be trusted. The school fears it will be made to offer abortion-inducing drugs as part of its employer-provided health benefits. Putting aside the question of whether morning-after pills are such drugs (opinions differ), this might be a point the Obama administration, having displayed the olive branch, could negotiate further in a spirit of good will.
Instead, Geneva has joined other religious groups in refusing to take yes for an answer. And in pressing their theoretical objections, the legal assaults threaten a reform that will insure millions of Americans otherwise deprived. In effect, the plaintiffs seek to beggar their neighbors to make a religious point. Talk about straining at gnats and swallowing a camel.