Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The Elephant in the Room: Christian freedoms at risk

Why would the U.S. government force a Catholic college to pay for birth control?

What do liberal proposals in Congress and state legislatures on marriage, health care, welfare, and employment rights have in common? All will profoundly damage two of our country's most important rights: freedom of conscience and belief.

These freedoms safeguard the foundations of the moral code by which we have successfully governed our country and ourselves. Our society and government's stake in these threshold freedoms was one reason I started a bipartisan Senate working group on religious freedom and, with Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act in 2005.

The left's continuing hostility to Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular is on gaudy display today. It can be seen in Connecticut legislators' attempt to strip Catholic bishops of their authority over local parishes and in New York legislators' retroactive extension of the statute of limitations on sexual abuse allegations.

It can be seen also in the overreaching enforcement of existing laws elsewhere. Massachusetts forced Catholic Charities out of the adoption business after the organization refused to place children in the homes of same-sex "married" couples. Catholic pharmacists have lost their jobs in some states because of laws that would force them to violate their consciences by selling the morning-after pill.

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  • In the current health-care debate, President Obama assures one and all that he favors strong "conscience clause" protections. But a look at what his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has done to a small North Carolina college should raise red flags.

    Two years ago, Belmont Abbey College discovered that its health-insurance company included abortion, sterilization, and contraception coverage in the school's policy. Without consulting the faculty, college president William Thierfelder dropped coverage of these items, because the 130-year-old Benedictine school "is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church."

    A few employees complained to the EEOC. After a 14-month investigation, the commission's district office informed the school in March that it was closing its file on the complaint after finding no evidence that Belmont Abbey was guilty of discrimination, according to Thierfelder. But the Washington EEOC office decided to reconsider that determination, he said, and after an additional four months decided the college was discriminating. Now it must reach an agreement with the complainants or potentially face a federal lawsuit.

    What discrimination did the commission find that outweighs this orthodox Catholic college's core religious convictions? Gender discrimination. You see, only women take oral contraceptives, so it's gender discrimination not to provide them. Since only women get abortions, it's not hard to see what's coming for faith-based groups with moral objections to the Obama-Planned Parenthood agenda.

    "When he went to Notre Dame and the Vatican, President Obama talked a good game about protecting conscience," said Kevin J. "Seamus" Hasson, the founder of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the college. "But when his administration went to Belmont Abbey, it was a very different story."

    Thierfelder has said that if the Obama administration succeeds, his college, where the monastery is attached to the administration building, will close rather than violate the church's moral teaching.

    The EEOC's change of heart is hardly surprising given Obama's two choices to head the agency in January. Stuart Ishimaru and Christine Griffin, Obama's choices for acting chairman and vice chairwoman of the commission, were the two commissioners who had strenuously objected to a Bush administration regulation strengthening conscience protections for health-care workers. Despite Obama's claims to support "robust" conscience-clause protections, he officially proposed rescinding or narrowing those regulations.

    Only 13 percent of Americans want government-subsidized health-care plans to cover abortion, according to a recent poll. The EEOC finding is confined to contraception at this point, but its misguided logic could lead to forcing monks to fund abortions. It would be interesting to see how that possibility polls.

    In the Orwellian world of Obamacare, the president promises conscience protections while his EEOC is forcing faithful, celibate monks to provide insurance to cover birth control pills.

    What's next, forcing Hindu temples to serve beef? Nah, but perhaps it will have to be available at Lenten fish fries.

     


    Rick Santorum can be contacted at rsantorum@phillynews.com.

     

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