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Conservative Catholic College Rejects Birth Control

Belmont Abbey College argued in court that it was a secular institution in order to receive state funds, but then removed birth control from its employee health care plan. Their reason? The Catholic Church.
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Despite the fact that Belmont Abbey College argued in court that it was a secular institution in order to receive state funds, it recently removed birth control from its employee health care plan. Their reason? The Catholic Church is opposed to contraception. In that case, why does Belmont Abbey College lease land to a Walmart that sells Plan B (aka "the morning after pill")?

Employees of the college are afraid they'll lose their jobs if they protest the sudden change in health care policy. Yet eight professors appealed to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with a claim of discrimination. And the federal commission agreed that the college had discriminated against women. Now the Catholic school claims it will close its doors before returning birth control to the health care plan. The college is using the controversy as evidence of a liberal conspiracy to restrict religious freedom in America.

One of the eight professors who protested the removal of birth control from the health care plan shares his experience below.

Video report from Belmont NC, by Hunter Stuart and STV Productions

I am one of the faculty members of Belmont Abbey College who filed a charge with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against my employer for removing coverage of birth control from our employee health care plan. I do not see this as a religious issue but rather one of gender discrimination. The college prescription plan covers the health problems that men have, such as prostate trouble and, to be fair, it should also cover those unique to women, among them birth control pills. That is required by the civil rights act which requires that we treat all races, genders, religions, etc. in the same manner. That is what we are trying to promote. We are not in conflict with the anti-abortion movement: good contraception means fewer abortions.

A small minority of Catholics, (by all polls less than 10 %), have a problem with contraception.

The college advertised itself as an equal opportunity employer and freely accepted funding that was not available to religious institutions. In fact, the college actually went to the federal court of appeals arguing that it was not religious in order to obtain state funding. You can read the case yourself in any law library or lawyer's office at 429 F. Supp 871. Does a truly religious institution deny that it is religious to obtain money?

The appropriate committees formed ideas regarding how the benefits could be restored without offending Catholic sensibilities but found that the administration would not discuss the matter with them. In the exact words of the college president: "consultation was not an option." The college's position was basically that they would not ever change their mind but you could come at any time so they could tell you why you were wrong.

Nobody questions the right of the college to promote its religious beliefs, only its practices which affect others. The law makes a distinction between religious beliefs which are absolutely protected and religious practices which are often regulated when they affect others, as the college's practice does here. The regulation of practices is necessary: there are people who believe in human sacrifice or ritual child abuse.

Forcing us to abide by a Catholic approved health plan makes no more sense than prohibiting a Catholic plumber from eating a pork sandwich for lunch if he works at a Jewish hospital. It would be an ugly world if an employer is allowed to impose religious practices on employees who do not share the employer's views. A business owned by a Jehovah's witness might not allow blood transfusions in the health plan. A business owned by a Muslim might require the employees to face Mecca at prayer time. I could go on, but you can see that it is best to let each employee decide for himself or herself, freely and without coercion, how to practice religion. If the law requires that an employer offer contraceptive benefits, that law should apply to all employers. Of course Orthodox Catholics may decline to use the contraception benefit, but that is the true application of religious freedom.

The college's position would be more credible if it were consistent. I note that Belmont Abbey has upon its premises, and collects rent from, two pharmacies which sell contraceptive products including emergency contraception. Why didn't they put a clause in the lease that these activities were forbidden? If one makes money from the event, it's right, but if one has to help pay for the event it's wrong?

If health issues unique to men were not covered and health issue unique to women were not covered the college would not be discriminating and I would have no complaint. The problem is picking and choosing among them.

I have had bosses who are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Wankan Tanka, and even some with the strange name "Presbyterian" in countries ranging from the Baltics, Balkans, Central Europe, Latin America, and Asia as well as several in the USA. Nobody ever tried to force me to accept their practices before Belmont Abbey. Not once. Not in any place. Not any religion. This action is the very face of intolerance. They are saying: "If you won't adopt our religious practices you are not welcome here, period." Being unwelcome I left, the first time in a long career that I did not leave an employer on cordial terms.

President Thierfelder believes that the college's Catholic identity depends on its being allowed to deny the standard of care to women. Apparently a curriculum based on the best that the Catholic intellectual tradition has to offer and a relentless pursuit to "find God in all things" counts for little or nothing in this regard. What a sad commentary that is on the state of Catholic higher education!

By David Neipert, author, attorney, senior Fulbright scholar in law, and former associate professor of international business at Belmont Abbey College.

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