This column originally appeared on Townhall.com on October 29, 2009.
President Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seems determined to go after a small Catholic college in North Carolina. Readers of First Things, the thoughtful journal founded by Rev. Richard Neuhaus, are familiar with the funny ads regularly run by Belmont Abbey. “Got Monks?” reads the white-on-black ad that encourages serious young Catholics to consider a college where the Benedictine monks seek God and where the students seek truth.
But Obama’s EEOC obviously reads that ad as an invitation to “get the monks.” The EEOC’s district office in Charlotte, N.C., is demanding that Belmont Abbey cease and desist violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If you thought that act was about ending racial and sex discrimination, you would be right. If you thought that unelected bureaucrats could not use that law as a sledgehammer to threaten religious schools, you would be naïve.
What the EEOC is complaining of is Belmont Abbey’s practice of not providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to their employees in their health insurance plan.
But Belmont Abbey is a Catholic institution, one that prides itself on its adherence to Catholic teaching. The college maintains that it cannot be guilty of discriminating against female employees since it does not provide any form of contraceptives to its all-male body of monks, or to its lay male employees. How can this be sex discrimination?
Why should all Americans, whether they are Catholic or not, be concerned? Because the legal theory being advanced by the Obama administration would force all employers to provide abortifacient drugs as part of health insurance plans for employees. They are maintaining that not only the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but the 1978 amendment, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, mandate coverage of all “drugs, devices, and preventive care.” The Obamatons love that word “mandate.”
So, we see, laws intended to protect Americans’ basic civil rights are now being used as sledgehammers to destroy the most basic of our civil rights–the right of conscience. President Obama’s radical appointees to the EEOC include Stuart Ishimaru. Named on Inauguration Day, acting chairman Ishimaru pledged to attack “both traditional and emerging forms of workplace discrimination. [emphasis added]” Emerging forms could readily include employers who would prefer not to hire or promote employees who dress as members of the opposite sex. Would you rather not have a receptionist or customer service representative of your company who has tattooed his or her face with fierce Maori markings? You could be forced by the EEOC to make that hire.
The Belmont Abbey case is currently being litigated. President William Thierfelder acted in 2007 to remove abortion and sterilization coverage from the college’s health insurance plan. He rightly noted that such “procedures” are in total violation of the Catholic Church’s well-known opposition to abortion as the taking of innocent human life. It is doubtless because of his fidelity to church teaching that President Thierfelder’s little college has been singled out for persecution.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to see how all religious colleges are endangered by the persecution of Belmont Abbey. President Thierfelder says he will close down the 150-year old college rather than submit to EEOC’s radical demands.
Will Evangelical colleges permit transvestite employees on campus? Will Evangelical or Lutheran colleges give their employees access to abortifacient drugs and devices? Most colleges in America accept students whose tuition is financed by federal student loans. This could well be the “hook” by which these religious schools are pulled into the federal net.
This aggressive EEOC action only promises to get worse. President Obama’s latest appointee to EEOC is Georgetown University Law professor, Chai Feldblum. A longtime activist for radical gay and lesbian causes, Commissioner Feldblum has openly acknowledged that gay liberation trumps religious liberty wherever they collide.
Not since King Henry VIII seized church lands in England has there been such a radical threat to religious freedom. I hope President Thierfeld never has to carry out his firm resolution of closing this wonderful old school rather than submit. I pray that all Americans who cherish religious liberty will awaken to this new militancy being unleashed against them.
President Washington said it best in his 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport. The government of the United States gives to “bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The members of the EEOC should be required to read that letter. More important, they should be required to abide by its enlightened spirit.