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Belmont Abbey Head: Washington Instructed Officials Pursue Discrimination Charges

'It is absolute, unequivocal... impossible for us to go against the teachings of the Catholic Church in any way.' (Dr. William Thierfelder)

(Pictured: Dr. William Thierfelder, the President of Belmont Abbey College)'My understanding is it went to Washington, and that it was in Washington where this was decided, not the Charlotte office.'

(Pictured: Dr. William Thierfelder, the President of Belmont Abbey College)'My understanding is it went to Washington, and that it was in Washington where this was decided, not the Charlotte office.'

BELMONT, North Carolina ( - In an exclusive interview with (LSN) , Belmont Abbey College president Dr. William Thierfelder said officials at the Charlotte division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) told him that a decision to close a discrimination complaint against the school for failing to offer contraception coverage was reversed after the matter went to the nation's capital.

Eight BAC faculty members filed a complaint against the college for removing coverage for abortion, sterilization, and contraception from their employee health insurance, supplied by Wellpath. The faculty first complained to the North Carolina Department of Insurance that BAC was required to cover contraception under state law because it did not qualify for the religious employer exemption. Both the state department and Wellpath, however, disagreed with the complainants.

"If you ever came on this campus, the first thing you see is the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians," said Thierfelder. "That basilica is connected to a monastery. That monastery is connected to the main administration building."

The group of complainants, who joined forces with the National Women's Law Center, then made a gender discrimination complaint to the EEOC, which in March informed the Abbey that it had closed the issue. Two months later, the EEOC reversed its decision.

"By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent [the college] is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives," wrote Reuben Daniels Jr., the EEOC Charlotte District Office Director in the determination. "By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women."

"You can imagine we were very surprised when, after having received the first letter, then later received another letter saying: 'Disregard the first letter. We're going to reconsider this now,'" said Thierfelder.

Asked what he thought caused the reversal, Theirfelder said, "My understanding is it went to Washington, and that it was in Washington where this was decided, not the Charlotte office." He says he gathered this information "from conversations we had with people at EEOC here in Charlotte who told us that's where this had gone to, and that's where it was being discussed and decided upon."

Thierfelder said he did not know if it was the EEOC's initiative that brought the affair to a higher level, or the complaining parties. Multiple calls made by LSN to the EEOC Charlotte District Office were unanswered at press time.

The EEOC response also accused the college of causing a "chilling effect" by publishing the names of the eight faculty members in an internal memo. Thierfelder pointed out that the eight had already broadcast the affair to local newspapers and the Internet of their own accord.

Thierfelder said he believed the decision marked a dangerous precedent.

"From a religious freedom standpoint, you don't have religious freedom," he said. Thierfelder stressed, however, that the college has "gotten a lot of support from people who are not Catholic, and who may not share our beliefs on abortion, sterilization, contraception…they see the principle and what they're saying is, 'Belmont Abbey College is not trying to tell anybody what they have to do, it's just saying what Belmont Abbey College will do.' And I think that's an important distinction."

"To try to make us change [our beliefs], there's something very wrong with that," he continued. "And I think that's why this has garnered so much attention, and especially with the health care debates that are going on right now, and with all the things that are going on with Catholic hospitals ... what they are basically saying is, if you're Catholic, or if you are of any faith, it doesn't mean anything. You're going to do what the government tells you to do."

Thierfelder acknowledged that the fight could go to the courts, and emphasized that BAC officials were united in maintaining fidelity to Catholic Church teaching against pressure from the government.

"All of us need to have moral courage in today's world," he said. "We are so resolute in our commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church that there is no possible way we would ever deviate from it, and if it came down to it ... we would close the school rather than give in.

"So it is absolute, unequivocal, impossible for us to go against the teachings of the Catholic Church in any way. There is no form of compromise that is possible."

To contact the EEOC:

Stuart Ishimaru
Chairman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
131 M Street, NE
Washington, DC 20507
Phone: (202) 663-4900
TTY: (202) 663-4494

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1 - 10 of 18 Comments

  1. Alan
    4 years ago

    Besides closing the school might another possibliy be ....
    raise peoples salaries the amount the college pays for the healthcare plan and then stop offering any plan. Let each person obtain their own insurance.

  2. Eddie Fong
    4 years ago

    This is just the begining, a test in a far away college tucked in a remote corner of North Carolina. If they succeed on this effort, watch out! If any scholl don not sell out like Notre Dame, they are doomed!

    God bless you, Dr. Thierfelder!

  3. Jennifer Dietzman
    4 years ago

    Most insurance companies do not cover contraceptives and if they do it is only at about a 20% discount to the individual. However, there is a solution for these women, tell them you are no longer offering insurance, period. And that the government will be happy to meet their insurance needs. Or, tell them to purchase the extra coverage for the contraceptives themselves. But, by no means should we compromise our beliefs for the sake of a few. How Jesus must feel today with the way we in this society twist his words to meet our own needs and the way we disregard human life after he gave his so we could choose......

  4. Laurence
    4 years ago

    Don't give in, but don't close the school either. Closing the school is the greatest victory for those that despise our Catholic Church and her teachings. Keep the school open without obeying the immoral demands of any institution - including the government itself...

    May God bless you and help you, Dr. Thierfelder, and all those that seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Fred
    4 years ago

    What these eight faculty members don't seem to get is that if they get the state to interfere in this religious matter then the Church will just shut down the college and they will be unemployed.

  6. Marie
    4 years ago

    What did you expect from the anti-life Presidency and his administration? They were given the green light for such acts when they were not removed from Notre Dame this spring. The battles have just begun.

  7. Thien
    4 years ago

    The recent Gallop poll has suggested that our nation is more conservatives (Christian and traditional values) in 50 states than it seems. So let us not give up. We Catholics must reach out to other Christians to maintain the "in God we trust" vision, and civically fight back the "hopen-n-change" crowd.

  8. Marie
    4 years ago

    How can these exclusions be discrimination? MEN are the ones that more often get sterilized with a vascectomy. I can't believe this never came up in argument. Case closed.

  9. Pam
    4 years ago

    In addition...: If people don't want to follow the rules of Belmont College, then don't go to Belmont College, whether for work or study. This is the right to freedom of (not "from") religion that is fundamental to our existenece as the USA. STAND FIRM!

  10. Pam
    4 years ago

    We are entering a phase of outright persecution for our Catholic faith in our own country--like we have never seen before. Jesus tells us how we are to act when we stand before our "judges"--whether within or outside the courtroom. Mt 5:10-12,43-44; Mt24:6ff; Lk 21:10ff and Jesus warns us of the danger of falling away from Him under persecution (e.g., Mk 4:11-44) Let us pray for one another, to give witness to Jesus and our Catholic/Christian faith and when all is said and done, to STAND FIRM in front of an "evil and adulterous generation!"

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