Thierfelder described the months that followed as a “legal chess game” with various lawsuits receiving different initial rulings based on whether they were in favorable or unfavorable court districts, and the varying strength of individual cases.
With re-filings due to legal technicalities, and several cases combining as they worked their way through the courts, the years that followed were filled with waiting and uncertainty.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Thierfelder said, “and I’m very, very happy about what just came out, although it’s not over yet.”
Belmont Abbey’s case, like many others, will now need to be considered by a court with the newly announced possibility for an exemption taken into account.
While the mandate revisions offer strong reason to believe that Belmont Abbey will receive a favorable resolution, Thierfelder said that in his mind, the big-picture battle is not over.
“I still see us at the beginning of this, because this was still a very narrow exemption, the way it was structured. So although this may be good for us, there may be other businesses and individuals who still have issues with this.”
He also noted that the Oct. 6 revision is an “interim rule” rather than a final rule. Additionally, several states and organizations have threatened legal action against the modifications to the mandate, and a future administration could always attempt to change the rules back.
“I think we’ve got to be pretty resolute. I’ve said this from the beginning…I really do believe you’ve got to have the complete resolution that you are willing to die for what you believe,” he said.
“In our country, I don’t think it’s going to come to that,” he said, “but having dealt with this for so long, and having seen the arguments on the other side … it really almost seems all or none. Either you get what you want or they get what they want, and there’s no in-between ground at this point. So it’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are.”
In general, the Belmont Abbey community has been very supportive of the college’s decision to take legal action against the mandate over the last six years, Thierfelder said.
“I think it’s been an education for everybody, in a lot of ways: how our government works, what religious liberty is. I think at the beginning, people thought, ‘Is the HHS mandate an important issue, and what it is really about?’ and I think what people started to see is that this is a detail, but it was really infringing on our religious liberty.”
(Story continues below)
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Thierfelder also hopes that the general public recognizes religious liberty as a right inherent to every human being.
“Because organizations were continually discussed – be it a religious organization like Belmont Abbey College or Hobby Lobby or something else – it could seem like this was more about organizations somehow fighting for religious liberty, when in fact this is a right that every human being has,” he said.
Moving forward, the Belmont Abbey College president said he will continue to pay careful attention to religious freedom issues.
“I’ve really pushed for religious liberty. Not that from a Catholic perspective we can’t very readily defend our beliefs on contraception or abortion or any other important issue related to the human person and relationships. But I think the way to approach this is based on religious liberty, because it is an inalienable right that everybody has been given,” he said.
“We certainly could argue the individual detailed cases or facts that comes to us, but religious liberty is an issue we need to say focused on.”