Notes from Across the Atlantic
FAITH Magazine November-December 2009
DISCRIMINATION AND THE CONSCIENCE CLAUSE
In December 2007, when Belmont Abbey College discovered coverage for abortion, contraception and sterilization tucked away in their employee health-insurance policy, they did what any Catholic college would - well, ought to - do, they had that coverage removed. As William Thierfelder, president of the College, explained, "The teaching of the Catholic Church on this moral issue is clear. The responsibility of the College as a Catholic college sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey to follow Church teaching is equally clear. There was no other course of action possible if we were to operate in fidelity to our mission and to our identity as a Catholic college." Now, after a complaint was filed by eight faculty members, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that BelmontAbbey is discriminating against women: "By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives. By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women." Should the college and the faculty members who filed the complaint not be able to reach an acceptable settlement, the EEOC can file a lawsuit against the college in federal court. In its efforts to eradicate discrimination in employment, the EEOC's ruling tramples North Carolina law. While the state does require that health-insurance plans provide coverage for contraception, there is an exception for religious employers who may request from their insurer a health plan that excludes "coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices that arecontrary to the employer's religious tenets". In fact, before the eight faculty members at Belmont Abbey filed a complaint with the EEOC, they filed a complaint with the North Carolina Department of Insurance and the Department confirmed the college's status as a religious institution exempt from the law. Thierfelder has expressed confidence that the school's "actions ultimately will be found to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and with the U.S. Constitution", but even President Bush's (now rescinded) conscience clause protected only hospitals and healthcare workers. We need, and we need now, a wide-ranging conscience exemption that reaches across the economic spectrum.
A story has been running in Dallas about "Baby Bella", a baby abandoned in an apartment complex hallway moments following her birth. The mother, who had disguised her pregnancy to relatives and to her ex-boyfriend, came forward later to Child Protective Services saying, "I made a mistake." She is facing child-endangerment charges that carry a possible two- to twenty-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. We cannot help but remark that had the woman demanded a late-term abortion, she wouldn't be facing any legal troubles at all - which underscores the nutty convolutions of logic that abortion imposes on society. The only factor here that determines what happens to a pregnant woman is where and under what circumstances her baby is discarded. An abortuary is permissible; the hallway of anapartment complex is not. Of course there is a difference, but perhaps it is not the obvious one. The mother at the abortion clinic never has an opportunity to see her child alive when she realises, "I made a mistake." Baby Bella was placed in the care of her biological father, and we are minded to remember both him and Baby Bella's mother in prayer.
MULTICULTURALISM GONE MAD
"We're supposed to be the most multicultural city in the world and it doesn't seem terribly inclusive," Denny Alexander explained. It, as it turns out, is ten-year-old playground equipment found in two parks in the west end of Toronto. The offending objects depict the biblical story of Noah's Ark, complete with cute pictures of animals in male/female pairings. In the most multicultural city in the world, that just won't do. The equipment won't be removed immediately, but the city had decided that, when it "wears out", it won't be replaced. "Toronto's motto is Diversity our Strength," wrote councilman Adam Giambrone. "City policies across the board look to reflect our multicultural city. One way of doing that is not focusing on any specific cultural or religious tradition." You reallycan't better that line about how awful it is for an inclusive city to, um, include something biblical.
MAKING IT INTO THE PUBLIC SPHERE
The Office of Religious Life at the University of Southern California extends official recognition to some eighty-six campus religious organisations. Sixty of them are Christian, seven Jewish, four interfaith, three each for Buddhists and Muslims, and one group each for nine other organisations with other affiliations. So who should be the next director of Religious Life on a campus that is largely Christian with small but visible minorities of Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim students? The obvious answer: Varun Soni, glowingly described as "the first Hindu primary spiritual leader at any American university". "I feel proud," Soni said. "I feel like I can be a proponent of Hinduism in the public sphere." And why not? Except, of course, imagine the outcry at the school if a Catholic priest,appointed director, had proudly said that the job made him a proponent of Catholicism in the public sphere.
MADE IN MY IMAGE
The headline from a recent Newsweek article by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend reads: "Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the Pope does." An alternative does suggest itself. "Why Barack Obama represents Kathleen Kennedy Townsend better than the Pope does."