Saturday, November 12, 2011

Free Exercise for Catholic College?

Belmont Abbey College, a private Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, North Carolina is suing the government due to their opposition against a new regulation requiring employer health insurance plans to provide coverage for contraceptives and sterilization. As a Catholic school the college feels that this is an infringement on their right to free exercise of religion, as the regulations violate their religious beliefs.

The mandate behind this issue is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which is supposed to come into effect in August of 2012. This act sets up preventative health care coverage for women with no cost and covers mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings. In addition it provides contraception, sterilization and drugs such as “Plan B.”

In order for the school to be exempt from offering these services mandate they must first, have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, second they must primarily employ people who share their religious beliefs, third, they must primarily serves people who share their religious beliefs, and four they must be a nonprofit organization under specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Unfortunately for the college they fail to meet these requirements.

Not only is Belmont Abbey fighting this battle but also along with them are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Catholic universities and schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations and all have a strict opposition to this mandate. This team against the mandate is attempting to avoid the exemption rules making a point that unless the college restricts enrollment to Catholic students and begins to only hire those who believe in the Catholic faith, then and only then will they qualify for the religious exemption. By only allowing Catholics into their school or only hiring employees based on religion would be prejudicial, and will help them prove their point.

A Washington-based nonprofit, public interest law firm, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the school. They filed the lawsuit on November 10th. The senior legal counsel on the case for the Becket Fund, Hannah Smith said, "A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government would force the same monk to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounces." The Becket Fund is trying to illustrate that the schools teachings should agree with their actions.

The lawsuit states, "The government's mandate unconstitutionally coerces Belmont Abbey College to violate its deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties. The mandate also forces Belmont Abbey College to fund government-dictated speech that is directly at odds with its own speech and religious teachings. Having to pay a fine to the taxing authorities for the privilege of practicing one's religion or controlling one's own speech is un-American, unprecedented, and flagrantly unconstitutional."

This issue presented is obviously a matter of free exercise. The question is: Should Belmont Abbey College be exempt from the health care mandate? Although I am sympathetic to the college and their beliefs, I will have to disagree with their opposition. As they admitted they do not just employ employees of the Catholic faith and they do not have only students that consider themselves Catholic, which is why I feel they should not have an exemption. By denying those they provide health care for certain services I feel it is an infringement on those people’s rights. When it comes to health care for Americans there needs to be strict guidelines for all. There should be no exemptions to deny hard working citizens access to health care regardless of the religious affiliation of where they work or whom they work for. Setting strict guidelines will prevent any disturbance in society. In Reynolds v. United States the court ruled against Reynolds because it would be in violation of social duties and order. I think that by allowing the college this exemption it will be denying people things they need and could possibly cause a disturbance in social order.


kanderson said...

This is something that we have discussed before. It is a Catholic school. It has Catholic rules. It is justified in those Catholic rules. The thing about birth control, is that if someone really needs it, they can go to planned parenthood. Is it a bit imposing that they wont offer their employees birth control coverage? Sure. But, are they justified in their rules, just as they choose to require mass of their students, definitely. Because they are legally, and openly a Catholic school

Harry R. said...

I agree with Elena that, based on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the school should not be allowed to deny this health care coverage to any of its employees or students. While they may hold a sincere religious belief, unless their employees and students are one hundred percent Catholic, then they have to provide this service to those who want it. While the rules for exemptions try to accommodate religious beliefs, they do not elevate such beliefs over the rights of individuals.