The case of a small Benedictine college—and federal attempts to pressure it to pay for employees’ contraception—could foretell the loss of religious freedom after Congress overhauls healthcare
Jamie Dean, Edward Lee Pitts
For the 18 Benedictine monks living in a 142-year-old monastery in the tiny town of Belmont, N.C., life is intentionally simple: They rise early for prayer in a Gothic-style Basilica with wooden pews and hand-painted windows; they take care of the two-story monastery built with hand-hewn bricks; and they vow fidelity to Roman Catholic doctrine and teaching.
These days, that simplicity has grown complicated by a thorny combination: healthcare and the federal government.
The trouble stems from a conflict brewing at Belmont Abbey College, the 1,600-student, Catholic college connected to the monastery. Earlier this year, eight Belmont Abbey faculty members filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over a school policy rooted in Catholic doctrine: The college refuses to include birth control in its healthcare coverage for employees, citing Catholic teaching against contraceptives. The school also refuses to cover abortion or sterilization.
The EEOC district office in nearby Charlotte, N.C., initially dismissed the complaint in March but suddenly reversed course: A July 30 letter from District Office Director Reuben Daniels claimed the college is discriminating against women by refusing to pay for birth control, despite the school’s religious objection to the practice. The implication was clear: In this case, an accusation of gender discrimination trumps religious freedom.