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.
What happens when your employer tries to impose its religious views on you? When Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina removes birth control from its employee health care plan, eight professors protest and the federal government gets involved.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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