Obama administration breaks promise on conscience exemptions

When Barack Obama went to Notre Dame to speak at their commencement and accept an honorary law degree from the Catholic university, he attempted to quiet the outrage from conservative Catholics and pro-life activists by claiming to respect the religious teachings of Catholics and protect freedom of conscience on abortion.   He insisted that he would do the same during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.  According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Obama administration has written an expiration date on that promise already in North Carolina, where the EEOC has demanded that a private Catholic college offer abortion and contraception coverage as part of its health-insurance benefits (via Gateway Pundit and The Anchoress):

The president of a small Catholic college in North Carolina is in a standoff with the Obama administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over demands that the school must offer contraception coverage in its employee health insurance. Belmont Abbey College President William K. Thierfelder says he will shut down his school before doing so, citing the Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception and First Amendment religious liberty rights.

On September 10, the college retained the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to appeal an August 5 ruling by the EEOC, charging the school with discrimination. In a letter to Thierfelder, the EEOC stated the college “is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives. By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.” Thierfelder objected with a letter posted on the school’s website, saying: “Belmont Abbey College rejects the notion that by following the moral teachings of the Catholic Church we are discriminating against anyone.… We are simply and honestly exercising the freedom of religion that is protected by the Constitution.”

The case started when BEC mistakenly bought insurance coverage that paid for contraception, which violates the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  After realizing their mistake, they had that coverage removed.  Eight employees filed suit with the EEOC as a result, claiming that the motivation for the change was gender discrimination.

How could anyone working at a Catholic college possibly come to that conclusion?  Whether or not one agrees with the church on contraception and abortion, their position on those two issues is both well-known and fundamental to doctrine on the sanctity of human life, reaffirmed constantly and publicly.  Anyone who goes to work for a Catholic institution and expects to get insurance coverage for either is acting out of intellectual dishonesty.  If the church position on contraception and abortion offends them that much, they shouldn’t agree to work for a private Catholic institution.

And initially, the EEOC agreed, as the Becket Fund notes, and also notes that only two of the eight complainants of gender discrimination are women.  The local EEOC tossed the complaint, but it got mysteriously reinstated by the national office over the summer:

The conflict is rooted in changes the school made to its health coverage in December 2007 after a faculty member discovered their plan inadvertently covered abortions, prescription contraception, and elective sterilization. At the time, Thierfelder explained the changes: “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.” Eight employees countered with a complaint filed with the North Carolina EEOC, claiming the college was in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The local EEOC bureau threw out the discrimination charge in March, but the federal EEOC reversed that ruling in July. The new ruling also charges Belmont Abbey College with retaliating against the eight employees by making their names public. (Interestingly, only two are women.)

Will the Obama administration protect freedom of conscience in its health care overhaul, as it has promised?  Or will it use its power to force religious institutions, doctors, and hospitals to provide services which violate their religious beliefs?  This test case indicates that the White House is intent on dismantling such protections despite Obama’s promises to the Pope and at Notre Dame, which surprises us not at all.