Students at Catholic universities across the nation are banding together with students at Belmont Abbey College (BAC) in a stand for religious liberty and conscience rights, after the college was warned by the Obama administration last month that its refusal to cover contraception amounted to gender discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ignited the First Amendment firestorm earlier this month when it ruled Belmont Abbey College was wrong not to include coverage for contraception in its employee health insurance plan, despite the Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception as intrinsically evil. In addition to the Church’s teachings against contraception as such, it is known that hormonal contraceptives often function as abortifacients.
According to BAC president William Thierfelder, while the local EEOC initially threw out the complaint, the decision was reversed after the affair went to officials in Washington.
Students from the University of Dallas, Franciscan University of Steubenville, De Sales University and Catholic University of America are fighting back, saying the EEOC decision is a troubling indication of the Obama administration’s ideas on "reasonable" conscience protection.
"People need to wake up," said Michael Barnett, American Life League’s director of leadership development and its LiveCampus college outreach program. "Under Obama, the federal government is forcing a religious institution to commit an act that violates its core values. This is religious persecution and a clear signal of what Obamacare would bring. This is the government imposing its will against the people’s will."
In a letter to the Belmont, the EEOC claimed that the school discriminated against women by not covering contraceptives: "By denying prescription contraception drugs, [the college] is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives. By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women."
In a letter subsequently sent to EEOC chairman Stuart Ishimaru, Judie Brown, president of American Life League, pointed out, "The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is an evil and certainly not the sort of ‘treatment’ one would expect to find in a health insurance plan designed for staff at a Catholic facility. Your discriminatory actions against the college are unfounded and unconstitutional."
William K. Thierfelder, Belmont’s president, affirmed that rather than provide contraceptive coverage, "We would close the college."
"This debate is part of an ongoing political struggle between the faculty and the administration of the school, and it entirely excludes the students and the monks of the Abbey," commented Ann Visintainer, a senior at Belmont. "We here at the Abbey pray the conflict may be resolved in a respectful and peaceful way, and in the meantime, we will continue to support and cherish human life in all its forms."
Not only are Catholic schools across the country running to the aid of Belmont, many are gearing up for First Amendment fights of their own in light of the Obama health care "reform" plan.
"This is an incursion into private religious belief," explained Larry Meo, president of De Sales University Students for Life. "The EEOC is attempting to impose a set of values on a certain group of colleges, and this is the very thing the president spoke against during his campaign."
Katie Prejean, a Crusaders for Life member at another Catholic college, the University of Dallas, agrees: "True Catholic academies are no longer safe from the Obama administration’s desire to manipulate every citizen’s health care, regardless of religious freedom."
Martha McAdams, a student at the University of Dallas and president of Texas Students for Life, the statewide student pro-life organization, summed up the issue at the core of the standoff between the Obama administration and Catholic institutions: "At the University of Dallas, as at most Catholic universities, abortion is purposely not included in the university- provided health insurance because it goes against a natural belief that all human life is precious."