Becket Fund Defends Belmont Abbey
Special Report - October 12, 2009
Belmont Abbey College has retained The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to aid in its appeal of an U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling that the school’s health insurance policy constitutes gender discrimination. We reported the ruling change in August, when the national EEOC reversed a local EEOC decision to dismiss the claims of gender discrimination. Six male and two female faculty members at Belmont Abbey filed a complaint with the EEOC, claiming that the school’s employee health insurance plan violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The plan had changed in December 2007 after it was discovered that the previous plan potentially covered artificial contraception, abortion, and voluntary sterilization.
North Carolina exempts religious institutions from a state law that requires employers to cover contraception in health insurance plans. “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 Dr. William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey, in a statement. The Benedictine monks founded the Catholic college, which is located just outside of Charlotte, in 1876. Today, the school employs 120 faculty members and enrolls 1,200 students.
In March 2009, the Charlotte EEOC bureau dismissed the faculty members’ claims of discrimination. However, the federal EEOC reversed that ruling in July, saying a lack of coverage for contraceptives constitutes gender discrimination against female employees “because only females take oral prescription contraceptives.” The new ruling also added charges that Belmont Abbey had retaliated against the eight complainants by including their names in a response sent to the College’s faculty and staff.
The 15-year-old Becket Fund, based in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “a nonpartisan, interfaith, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.” According to The Becket Fund president and founder Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, Belmont Abbey’s appeal is a “very important part of a much larger battle” to protect “the good name of conscientious objection in America.” In a press release, Hasson cites the gentle stubbornness of the Quakers’ opposition to swearing oaths or serving in the military against conscientious objections, and notes that America has long recognized “that principled people are an asset to a society, not a liability.” The Becket Fund and Belmont Abbey intend to vigorously resist “the EEOC’s action [as] a direct assault on the principle of conscientious objection itself.” Thierfelder has said the school is “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 …”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.