Obama and Conscience
A great post here by Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, demonstrating how any statements made by Obama as to respecting conscience clauses allowing institutions and individuals to opt out of involvement in abortion and contraception are simply rubbish. He cites the Becket Fund’s recent press release here regarding the Belmont Abbey College case where the college is being sued by eight employees before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
“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 college hopes to settle amicably, but if no agreement is reached, the next step could be for the EEOC to file a federal discrimination lawsuit. So far, the EEOC refuses to comment on the case, citing confidentiality provisions in the Civil Rights Act.
A precedent to this is the 2004 case against Catholic Charities in California, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that the organization had to cover contraception as part of its employee health-insurance plan. Though Belmont Abbey College is located in North Carolina, a state that requires this coverage but provides exemption for religious institutions, the EEOC’s letter states that the discrimination charges are based on gender, not religion, and involve only the change in contraception coverage, not coverage for abortion or sterilization. (Of course, only women get abortions, as well as use oral contraception.)
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.)
The Becket Fund blames the “new administration in Washington” for the reversal. Kevin Hasson, president of the Fund, issued a press release saying, “When he went to Notre Dame and the Vatican, President Obama talked a good game about protecting conscience. But when his administration went to Belmont Abbey, where the rubber meets the road, it was a very different story.” Hasson added, “The EEOC’s action is a direct assault on the principle of conscientious objection itself, and we will resist it vigorously.””
To be very blunt, only an idiot could ever have put any credence in Obama’s protestations in favor of a conscience clause. This adminstration came into office seeking to rescind a conscience clause protection regulation granted to health care workers by the Bush administration, and there is zero evidence that Obama’s comments about a conscience clause regarding abortion is anything other than the type of meaningless blather that only a Doug Kmiec could take seriously.