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The Government vs. Belmont Abbey College

BY Tim Drake

| Posted 8/18/09 at 12:40 PM

 

For those who haven’t followed it, there’s a battle shaping up over religious liberty at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C.

At issue is the college’s ability to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in its health insurance plan. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Charlotte, N.C., ruled that Belmont Abbey discriminated against female employees by refusing to cover prescription contraceptives.

Originally, eight faculty members filed a complaint against the college in 2007, claiming that the exclusion was discriminatory against women.

“By denying prescription contraceptive drugs, [the college] is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives,” the EEOC wrote in a letter to the North Carolina college. “By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.”

“As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church,” said the college’s president, William Thierfelder, at the time.

In March, the EEOC told the college that the investigation had been closed with no finding of wrongdoing. However, the case appears to have been reopened, and the college is now being charged with violating federal law.

North Carolina law mandates that an institution may be free from the state’s nondiscrimination rules only if “the inculcation of religious values is one of the primary purposes of the entity” and “the entity employs primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the entity.”

Obviously, this might not be the case at many Catholic colleges and universities, where the teaching of faith has fallen by the wayside and the majority of staff are non-Catholic, but Belmont Abbey is an institution that takes its mission seriously.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, writing for The Wall Street Journal, described the EEOC’s action as a threat to religious liberty and a glimpse of things to come under nationalized health care and weak conscience protection.

The college’s president has said that they’ll close the college before being forced to go against the Church’s teaching.

“I hope it would never get this far,” Thierfelder told The Washington Times, “but if it came down to it, we would close the college before we ever provided that.”