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Washington Officials behind Decision to Charge Catholic College with Discrimination

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer  The president of a Catholic college being sued for denying abortion, contraception and sterilization coverage to its staff says the case was originally dismissed by the local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) but later reversed when it was referred to the nation’s capital. In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Dr. William Thierfelder of Belmont Abbey College said after the original suit was dismissed by the North Carolina Department of Insurance because the College qualified for the religious employer exemption, the complainants filed a gender discrimination complaint with the local office of the EEOC. In March of this year, the EEOC sent a letter to the College informing them that it had closed the issue. However, two months later, the decision was reversed.   "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. When asked what he thought caused the reversal, Dr. Theirfelder said, "My understanding is it went to Washington, and that it was in Washington where this was decided, not the Charlotte office."  This information was gathered "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," he said. The Obama administration appointed Stuart J. Ishimaru  Ishimaru, as Acting Chairman of the EEOC in January, 2009. Ishimaru, who was first appointed EEOC Commissioner in November 2003, is known for having played an instrumental role in the EEOC's adoption of groundbreaking rules on gender discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities. Christine M. Griffin, who was appointed as Acting Vice Chair, is a strong advocate for women’s rights. The EEOC is also accusing Belmont Abbey College of causing a "chilling effect" by publishing the names of the eight faculty members in an internal memo even though Dr. Thierfelder said the eight faculy members 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. "To try to make us change [our beliefs], there's something very wrong with that. 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." Dr. Thierfelder said the college has received a lot of public support, even from people who are not Catholic and do not share the Church’s believes 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," Dr. Thierfelder said.    Thierfelder said the case could go to court and emphasized that Belmont Abbey College 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 © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®