The Magazine

The Persecution of Belmont Abbey

Obama's EEOC doesn't believe in religious liberty.

Oct 26, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 06 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Even many Catholic colleges seem to have given in (I confirmed this with spokesmen for three of the larger ones: Boston College, DePaul in Chicago, and Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles). Catholic college spokesmen typically cite state coverage mandates, which can be enforced brutally, even in states with conscience clauses. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Catholic Charities could not invoke California's religious exemption clause because most of the beneficiaries of its services weren't Catholic. There's also social pressure from a secular world in which contraception is the norm. The vast majority of Catholics these days practice birth control in the same fashion as their non-Catholic neighbors, and many professors and administrators at Catholic colleges define their institutions as independent from the official church and its dictates.

That leaves Belmont Abbey, which prides itself on its fidelity to traditional Catholic teaching, to fight nearly alone. Thierfelder has said that he will close down the school rather than give in to the EEOC's current mandate. He may well be obliged to do so. Whether under the so-called "public option" of government-run health insurance proposed by the House health care-overhaul bill, or the elaborately regulated coverage mandates contemplated in the Senate Finance Committee's version, it is all but certain that subsidized contraceptives will be part of the package. And so might be subsidized abortion, since congressional Democrats have refused so far to establish guarantees against that eventuality. Add to that an EEOC that seems determined to ignore exemptions for religious liberty, and while Thierfelder might hope for--and deserve--a court ruling that protects his institution's desire to live out its religious commitment, by the time he gets to court, it may be too late.

Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's Minding the Campus website.