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Federal Government (EEOC) goes after Belmont Abbey College for Being Catholic

By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 12th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pray for Belmont Abbey College and stand with them for Life. They are showing the courage all Catholics must demonstrate.

BELMONT, NC (Catholic Online) – The Congress of the United States is in recess. This is the time when elected officials normally meet in Town Hall sessions with their constituents and take a vacation. However, it has become a long, hot summer as record numbers turn out in Town Hall meetings across the country expressing serious reservations over the proposed Health care Reform legislation being advanced by the Obama administration.

The most serious concern raised is how this reform would affect our first neighbors, children in the womb. Catholics, other Christians, other people of faith and all people of good will who insist that Abortion is not Health Care are sending a loud message. We are insisting upon explicit Pro-Life protections in any Health Care Legislation. The proponents of the legislation have been dismissive of our concerns and accuse us of scare tactics. The danger of the current plan, without explicit statutory protection of unborn human persons, becomes even more obvious in the wake of what just happened in Belmont, North Carolina. Let me explain.

Belmont Abbey College is nestled in the plush green rolling hills of Belmont, North Carolina. The campus could provide the backdrop for a film depicting the idyllic Catholic College. Founded by and still served by Benedictine Monks, it provides a visual witness to the beauty of the Benedictine mission of “work and prayer” and the Order’s significant role in helping to birth the great European Universities out of the Monasteries of the Middle Ages. The Monastery on campus is a symbol of the dynamic Catholic faith, life and culture which characterizes this Catholic College.

What is more appealing than even its beauty is Belmont Abbey’s dedication to handing on the fullness of Catholic faith, thought and culture to their student body. It has an overt commitment to teaching the fullness of the Catholic Christian faith and infusing in its graduates a Catholic worldview. The President of the College, Dr. Bill Thierfelder, is right out of Central casting. With a background in athletics and Sports medicine, he has dedicated his academic leadership to promoting a truly Catholic, fully human, virtue centered lifestyle on campus.

When I first met him I was struck by his height and his gregarious manner. He could have just stepped off the basketball court. As I listened to him speak, it became clear that this was a man who understands the fullness of the Catholic vision for the human person, the family and the social order. He also takes seriously the essential role of the Catholic academy in training the new missionaries for the New Evangelization of every segment of the contemporary culture. Finally, he has the courage required of a Catholic leader.

In 2007, a faculty member discovered that under the College’s existing Health Insurance Plan, anti-life and anti-family products and procedures were potentially covered, including abortion, contraception and sterilization. The College, a Catholic institution committed to the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the sanctity of life, removed the provisions. President Thierfelder explained this action in a letter he sent to students, faculty and friends of the College with this refreshingly clear statement:

“The teaching of the Catholic Church on this moral issue is clear. The responsibility of the College as a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey to follow Church teaching is equally clear. There was no other course of action possible if we were to operate in fidelity to our mission and to our identity as a Catholic College.” He was absolutely correct. Belmont Abbey College was just being Catholic!

Properly, the College then amended the health insurance plan to ensure that such anti-life and anti-family procedures and products were not available. Because this is a Catholic institution, the exemptions under both State and Federal law were clear, or so most would have thought, including this constitutional lawyer. However, a complaint was filed by eight faculty members with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) alleging that the exclusion of these “services” constituted discrimination against women in violation of both North Carolina and Federal law. An investigation ensued.

In March of 2009 the College Administration received a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” determination letter from the EEOC indicating that they were closing the file. As a constitutional lawyer of almost thirty years, I know that such letters usually indicate the Commission’s intention to dismiss the claim. The College understandably interpreted it as an indication that the Commission found that the College’s decision to amend the plan did not violate the law.

So, imagine the shock as summer was winding to an end and the Administration received a “determination letter” from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing them of discriminating based upon gender. Reuben Daniels Jr., of the EEOC Charlotte District Office Director wrote that the Commission had determined that Belmont Abbey College discriminated against women: “By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent (the college) is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives… By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.”

The EEOC also alleged that the College “retaliated” against eight faculty members who filed charges with the EEOC by identifying them by name in a letter to faculty and staff. Daniels wrote: “It is the Commission’s position that the identity of an individual who has filed a charge should be protected with confidentiality during the Commission’s investigation…By disclosing Charging Party’s name, a chilling effect was created on Respondent’s campus whereby other faculty and staff members would be reluctant to file a charge of employment discrimination for fear of disclosure.”

In a statement the College responded: “We are disappointed that this matter has taken this very unusual twist, but we remain committed to ensuring that all of the College’s policies and practices follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which includes valuing all life and treating individuals with dignity and respect, and providing equal opportunities for all… The College is confident that its actions ultimately will be found to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and with the U.S. Constitution…Accordingly, the College will be asking the EEOC to reconsider each of the current determinations it has made in connection with the charges filed against the College.”

As I conclude you may ask “What is the connection between what is happening to this Catholic College and the current National Health Care debate?” The legislation being offered by the US Congress to allegedly reform health care in the US will produce the same result on a National Level as the Federal Bureaucracy micromanages the program. In effect, the Federal Government is pursuing this action against Belmont Abbey College for being Catholic. If a private health care insurance plan offered by a Catholic College cannot exclude the taking of innocent life through abortion or refuse to pay for chemicals to kill an embryonic person, or refuse to pay for contraception without being charged with “discrimination” against women by the EEOC, imagine the results on a National level.

Planned Parenthood, the Abortion lobby and the proponents of death on demand certainly know how to use the police power of the State to enforce their new regime. As a constitutional lawyer of many years, I can see their legal strategy even now. We call on all of our readers throughout the world to pray for Belmont Abbey College and stand with them in their struggle against the EEOC and the Culture of death. The implications reach far beyond Belmont, North Carolina.

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