Cover Story

Abbey's road

"Abbey's road" Continued...

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

Thierfelder says he's waiting to hear from the district office for the next steps in the case. In the meantime, he's adamant that the school won't provide birth control and has said he'd close the school first. He's also worried about the precedent such a case could set for requiring employers to cover abortion. Becket Fund attorney Eric Kniffin agrees: "The logic of the July 30 letter [from the EEOC] applies equally to abortion as contraception." Since only women obtain abortions, the same logic of gender discrimination could be applied to that practice in the future.

Kniffin also emphasizes that the case isn't an argument over Catholic doctrine or forcing others to abide by it: "This is not about telling the faculty what they can or can't do. This is about whether the school can be compelled to facilitate what it believes to be immoral activity."

Thierfelder agrees: "In this case we're not telling anybody else what they have to do. But it's ironic that people are trying to tell us what to do."

Gary McCaleb of the Alliance Defense Fund-an Arizona-based religious liberty law fund-says the Belmont Abbey case highlights the precarious relationship between religious freedom and perceived discrimination. McCaleb says the notion that religious liberty must yield to secular nondiscrimination interests is "a terrifying thought because religious liberty is the cornerstone of our country."

McCaleb says it's also a frightening thought to consider what certain versions of healthcare reform could mean for religious institutions like Belmont Abbey. If a public option snuffed out private insurers, religious groups could be left with healthcare options that are incompatible with their moral convictions: "If they go with a public option, you will see a continual slide."

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