.- Students at Catholic universities, citing religious freedom concerns, have voiced their opposition to a federal ruling that Belmont Abbey College engaged in unlawful discrimination by refusing to fund contraceptives in its health care plan.
After a faculty member discovered that contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization were covered by the North Carolina college’s health care policy, the drugs and procedures were removed from the plan in December 2007.
Some faculty opposed the move and appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Though the EEOC ruled in the college administration’s favor in March, it reversed its decision on August 5.
On that day Reuben Daniels Jr., Director of the EEOC Charlotte District Office, ruled that the health care policy change was discriminatory because only women take oral contraceptives.
Last week Belmont Abbey College president Dr. William Thierfelder told LifeSiteNews.com that he understood that the reversal came after the case had gone to Washington, D.C. However, he did not know whether complainants themselves brought the case to that higher level or the EEOC had revisited the issue on its own initiative.
Thierfelder has stated that Belmont Abbey College would close rather than provide contraceptive coverage.
Ann Visintainer, a senior at the college, said the debate was part of “an ongoing political struggle” between the faculty and the administration, adding that it “entirely excludes” the students and the monks of the Abbey.
“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.”
Larry Meo, president of De Sales University Students for Life, characterized the EEOC decision as “an incursion into private religious belief.”
“The EEOC is attempting to impose a set of values on a certain group of colleges, and this is the very thing the president [Obama] spoke against during his campaign," he continued.
The president of the American Life League, Judy Brown, wrote to EEOC chairman Stuart Ishimaru noting Catholic belief that contraceptive use is an evil. It is “certainly not the sort of 'treatment' one would expect to find in a health insurance plan designed for staff at a Catholic facility.”
She charged that the Commission’s actions against the college were themselves “discriminatory” and “unfounded and unconstitutional.”
“People need to wake up!” said Michael Barnett, American Life League's director of leadership development and its LiveCampus college outreach program. He charged that under President Obama the federal government is forcing a religious institution to act in a way 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."
Katie Prejean, a member of the pro-life group Crusaders for Life at the University Dallas, also linked the dispute to the Obama presidency.
"True Catholic academies are no longer safe from the Obama administration's desire to manipulate every citizen's health care, regardless of religious freedom," she said.