By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that a small Catholic college must include coverage for artificial contraceptives in its employee health insurance plan, raising new concerns about the need for conscience protections and religious exemptions in America’s health care policies.
According to a report appearing in the Gaston Gazette, the EEOC determined that Belmont Abbey College, a Roman Catholic institution, discriminated against women based on gender by denying contraceptive benefits in the college’s health care plan. The EEOC also alleges that the college retaliated against faculty members who filed charges of employment discrimination.
Belmont Abbey College president Bill Thierfelder said contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization coverage came off the college’s faculty health care plan in December 2007 when a faculty member discovered the coverage.
“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 Belmont Abbey President William Thierfelder. “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.”
The action prompted eight faculty members to file complaints with the EEOC.
“By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent (the college) is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives,” wrote Reuben Daniels Jr., the EEOC Charlotte District Office Director in the determination. “By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.”
Because the college published the names of the persons who filed the complaints in a letter to faculty and staff, the EEOC is further charging the college with retaliation.
“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,” Daniels wrote. “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.”
The episode is causing a shockwave of alarm to spread through the ranks of those who value conscience rights.
“No Catholic college or other institution should be required by government to violate the Catholic Church’s clear moral teachings,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). “The apparently increasing insensitivity to religious beliefs should frighten all employers and employees. We urge religious leaders to stand in defense of Belmont Abbey College.”
CNS sent a letter to EEOC acting chairman Stuart Ishimaru, noting that “it is ironic that the federal agency responsible for protecting against discrimination has so blatantly engaged in an inexcusable violation of religious liberty in its Belmont Abbey ruling.”
CNS is also sending a letter to all Catholic bishops in the United States, informing them of the EEOC action against Belmont Abbey College and highlighting the dangerous precedent this ruling sets to force Catholic employers to include contraceptive coverage in employee health plans.
Belmont Abbey College has been directed by the EEOC to reach an agreeable resolution with faculty. If this does not happen, Daniels will advise the parties of available enforceable court alternatives.
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com