Belmont, North Carolina, November 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college located in North Carolina, has launched a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the pending abortifacient contraceptive mandate.
The suit alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has infringed upon Belmont Abbey’s first amendment freedom of religion by requiring employers to offer health insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including the abortion-inducing drugs Plan B and Ella. The directive was issued as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
At the heart of the lawsuit is an exemption to the HHS directive that exempts any organization that “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; or primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”
This exemption, criticized as too “narrow” in statements made by the U.S. bishops, excludes most Catholic agencies and institutions, since they also service members of other faiths.
In a statement Cardinal DiNardo, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities, had slammed the exemption is so narrow “Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as ‘religious enough’.”
Belmont Abbey College has filed suit because it does not believe it will be covered by the religious exemption.
The Becket Fund, which is representing Belmont Abby, argued in a press release that the narrow religious exemption has forced Belmont Abbey into the situation of having to choose between holding to its religious beliefs or providing its employees and students with health insurance.
Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for the Becket fund, pointed out the incongruity of this contraception mandate and the mission of the school. “A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception, and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government forces him to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounced.”
“This is much worse than an un-funded mandate; it is a monk-funded mandate.”
The Becket Fund also pointed out that though exemptions from the Affordable Care Act were given to a number of organizations for commercial reasons, the HHS had decided to severely limit what organizations qualified as religious. “Although the government has already provided thousands of waivers for a variety of special interest groups including McDonald’s and teachers’ unions, it refused to accommodate religious organizations.”
“Freedom of conscience is a ‘first freedom,’” said Smith. “If government can demand that private organizations abandon their conscientious objections as a condition of serving their employees or the public, what can’t government do?”
In September of this year, 18 Catholic Colleges and universities had sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services today objecting to contraception mandate. Shortly thereafter twenty leading Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Relief Services, as well as two top bishops, protested the mandate in a full page ad printed in two Capitol Hill newspapers.
This is not the first time that Belmont Abbey has had a run-in with the Obama administration over the coverage of contraception in its health insurance. In 2009, Belmont Abbey was accused of gender discrimination after eight faculty members filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over Belmont Abbey’s decision to eliminate coverage of contraception in its health insurance.
The complaint had been dismissed by the EEOC in March of that year, but then in August the college suddenly received a letter stating that the refusal to cover contraception was sexual discrimination because “only females take oral prescription contraceptives.” At the time, college president Dr. William K Thierfelder said he was told the decision to dismiss the complaint had been reversed when “it went to Washington, and that it was in Washington where this was decided, not the Charlotte office.”