By Kathleen Gilbert
BELMONT, North Carolina, August 10, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has accused Belmont Abbey College of discriminating against its female employees by not covering contraceptives in its health insurance plan.
The EEOC stepped in after eight teachers filed a complaint over what they considered a discriminatory health insurance policy, and what Belmont Abbey says is simply faithfulness to basic Church teaching.
In December 2007 Belmont Abbey, a conservative Catholic campus in North Carolina, stopped offering abortion, contraception, and sterilization coverage that had been accidentally included as part of its employee health insurance packages.
"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."
After faculty members filed complaints with the EEOC and the North Carolina Department of Insurance, Belmont Abbey says the EEOC told the school in March 2009 that it would close the file on the discrimination charge, as it had not found the school's decision in violation of its statutes. But the agency later reversed itself, and issued a determination letter to the school on August 5 affirming that the ban amounted to gender discrimination, because it pertains only to women.
"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."
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.
BAC president Dr. William K. Thierfelder said he was surprised at hte EEOC's reversal, and called their decision "disappointing."
"We are disappointed that this matter has taken this very unusual twist, but we remain committed to ensuring that all of the College's policies and practices follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which includes valuing all life and treating individuals with dignity and respect, and providing equal opportunities for all," said Thierfelder in a statement on behalf of the school.
"The College is confident that its actions ultimately will be found to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and with the U.S. Constitution," said the statement. "Accordingly, the College will be asking the EEOC to reconsider each of the current determinations it has made in connection with the charges filed against the College."
The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), who has included Belmont Abbey in its list of top conservative Catholic campuses in the U.S., told EEOC acting chairman Stuart Ishimaru in a letter today 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 also is 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.
"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. "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."
To respectfully express concerns:
Reuben Daniels, Jr.,
EEOC Charlotte District Office Director
129 West Trade Street
Charlotte, North Carolina 28202
Chairman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
131 M Street, NE
Washington, DC 20507
Phone: (202) 663-4900
TTY: (202) 663-4494