Catholic college sues HHS over contraception mandate

The college is arguing — correctly — that the requirement to give out contraceptives violates its religious beliefs.


Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., said Thursday (Nov. 10) that the mandate, ordered in the health care bill passed last year, is unconstitutional because it violates the school’s freedoms of religion and speech.

Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the suit on behalf of Belmont Abbey, said: “This is much worse than an unfunded mandate; it is a monk-funded mandate.”

The suit comes as some religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, say that the mandate violates the conscience of organizations that oppose contraception on moral or ethical grounds.

The 26-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the legislation does not treat religious groups neutrally and “runs roughshod” over the college’s beliefs, forcing it to either violate them or pay significant penalties.

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28 responses to “Catholic college sues HHS over contraception mandate”

  1. Belmont Abbey’s president, a layman, is a fine, serious Catholic. This is an expensive school, but it’s nevertheless one that I’ll be encouraging my three adolescent kids to investigate seriously toward the conclusion of their high school years.

  2. My daughter is a high school freshman now, so we’ll soon be checking out colleges. Having sent one son to Georgetown, I will never again subsidize a Catholic school where our faith is treated as, at best, a curiosity. But I’m also worried about some of the much-ballyhooed “orthodox” schools that peddle a rigid, fundamentalist variety of Catholicism. Belmont Abbey is not that far from Atlanta, and we definitely plan to pay a visit to see where it falls on the spectrum.

  3. I’m happy to see Belmont Abbey taking this stand.

    (In the mid 1960’s, when I was a grad student at Duke, I visited there briefly to see if I wanted to apply for admission to the monastery. Then I learned that there was a monastery much nearer home, St. Anselm in Manchester, NH. I was at St. A’s for a couple of years before I was discerned out. But the Benedictines still have a place in my heart, and Belmont Abbey is, after St. A’s, special to me.)

  4. Wow; well, between what I know of Georgetown and Belmont Abbey, you’ve certainly cited either end of the Catholicity spectrum, and to call the faith a subject of curiosity at Georgetown I suspect is either euphemistic or far too generous; “contempt” is probably a more apt descriptor. Having been subjected to the same brand of “Catholic” education myself at Boston College, I’d take that “rigid, fundamentalist” flavor any day, if by that what’s meant is the university’s close adherence to every tenet of the faith, not just the popular, touchy-feely ones, but the unpopular ones also; the truth is the truth, after all, and I haven’t heard anyone at Belmont Abbey suggesting that only the Latin Mass counts, or anything of that nature.

  5. Before I send kudos out to this University I would like some information on how it treats its employees in terms of wages and benefits and whether it is family friendly. For example, does it pay all its employees suficient wages so that they can afford large families? Do they have a generous family health care plan for all its employees? Does the university provide generous paid leave benefits to parents of newborns? Does it have onsite child care centers for its employees? Does it allow employees to take off time to care for a sick child? Does it allow time off for parent teacher conferences?

  6. Speaking from my personal experience, I received much more support for my faith at the Newman Center at the state college I attended, than the Catholic college I attended my freshman year. My advice is to consider the public colleges. One can get out of school without so much debt; and unless a student had a particular goal in mind which could only be fulfilled at a specific school, the advantages of private colleges are over rated.

  7. Barbara P —

    Unless you have some information to show that Belmont Abbey College performs poorly in the areas you mention, bringing them up is at best a red herring. And if you did have such information, you should have presented it instead of making what looks like a baseless innuendo.

  8. Im starting to wonder if our government is the whore of Babylon referenced in Revelation. It has its sights on the Church now no question.

  9. Melody — that was my experience (over 40 years ago), also. The Newman Center was truly “home away from home”.

  10. The implication is that if a college isn’t as lavish with benefits as Barbara P would like, the morality of contraception changes. No it doesn’t.

  11. I don’t think it changes the morality of contraception (or lack of it). But having observed for many years the way some employers treat parents with regard to maternity leave and the ability to take care of sick children; I applaud those who have family-friendly policies. And if this is part of the larger picture, it does help deflate claims that not covering contraception is simply anti-women.

  12. Naturgesez – I do not have any information – that is why I am asking the questions. I sincerely would like to know the answers. I disagree that I am making any innuendos by simply asking questions. Respectfully, I think your accusation and attack on me is completely unwarranted.

  13. Since the questions you raise are irrelevant to the rightness or wrongness of Belmont Abbey College’s decision in particular, or contraception coverage in general, I think my “attack” was completely warranted.

    Let me ask you this: do you think that BAC would be doing the right thing to file the suit if they were doing everything you ask about, but wrong to do it if their employee benefits were meager?

  14. Just like different Catholic colleges, you will also see differences in the Newman centers. Some are much more faithful and some are dens of radical dissent.

  15. So in other words Barbara, if a Catholic institution adheres to Catholic teaching on life, it must then assume full responsibility to support a family in every way including salary, beneifits, etc. I missed this in the Cathecism of the Catholic Church. If your thinking is consistent, one would also then say if they do not pay as you would like to see, they should also support abortion so that the poor kids would not have to suffer.

    The married couple have a calling in Church teaching to utilize NFP and to open their lives up to God to create life as He chooses. We are called to place our full trust in God to care for us for after all; Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?

    It seems some have bought into the fact that unless they can on their own care for their family, they should deny God full and open control of creation of life. It seems that this displays a very poor Catholic understand around our surrender to God with our whole heart, mind, and soul. God provides us with a wonderful way in NFP with our modern understanding to bring God into our marriage and our lives. It calls on the couple to talk, to work together, and to keep God centered in their lives. Too many today show total lack of trust in God and after all, we are a nation that says “in God we Trust”. Placing this on our money should be a reminder to all that worry about money to the exclusion of God that they have something out of kilter in their lives.

  16. The college has every right to file whatever lawsuit it wants – I would like to know how the college supports the families of its employees and whether its policies are family friendly. My questions did not assume an answer – your response assumed that the answer would put the college in a negative light. As a woman who worked full time while raising two children with disabilities – and who was given enormous support from a secular employer – I can tell you that my questions are legitimate and are pro-life. Your self admitted attack on me is not. Let me ask you – Do you think it would be appropriate for a Catholic institution to be meager with employee family benefits? How happy would you be with a Catholic employer who was meager with employee family benefits?

  17. I am sure this will bring on more attacks but I don’t understand how a couple is open to God creating life if they use NFP and only have sex when the woman is not fertile. The couple is still trying to control the process. And yes – I think a Catholic institution has an obligation to implement family friendly policies and in this day and age, family friendly policies involve employer time and money. If my secular employer was not generous with benefits and time off, I would not have been able to work full time and raise two children with disabilities. Both of whom, may I add, are wonderful children who work hard. One is a college graduate with honors from a major university and the other in the third year of college – on the Dean’s List last semester.

  18. Barbara P—

    It was not a “self-admitted attack.” I put the word in quotation marks because I was quoting you.

    And I’ll answer your questions when you answer mine.

  19. On rereading, I see that you did answer my question. You agree that the level of employee benefits is totally irrelevant to the worthiness of filing the lawsuit. This makes it puzzling that you even raised the questions to begin with. Do you ask them every time any college or university is mentioned? If not, why did you raise them with respect to BAC?

    You are indicating that the questions are not merely rhetorical — that you are sincerely seeking the information. Let me suggest that you could get it far more readily from the college itself than from a random group of blog commenter who do not necessarily have the information you are seeking. So why did you ask the questions here rather than somewhere where you could realistically expect an answer?

    To answer your questions, I think that all employers, including Catholic educational institutions, should provide a living wage (in the context of our current economy where both spouses often work). Most unions would scream bloody murder if they tried to make the pay variable according to need, which would really make sense. But since that is impracticable, needs-based benefits for health care, parental leave, etc. should be provided. That said, a college cannot provide what it does not have. Four year private educational institutions without a large endowment, which is what I believe Belmont Abbey College is, are far less able to provide such benefits than heavily endowed universities, state universities, and large corporate employers.

    And BTW, my original answer does not assume that the answers to your original questions would put the college in an unfavorable light. I did assume that you were trying to put the college in an unfavorable light by raising the still unfounded idea that they might be stingy with benefits.

  20. NFP is ordinarily immoral if it is used to prevent pregnancy altogether.

    It’s kind of an apples and oranges situation. Artificial contraception is inherently immoral because it interferes with the total self-giving of the spouses which the marital act represents. Thus it falsifies the meaning of the act. It is also immoral because it is a direct intervention by one spouse or the other to render infertile an act which otherwise could be fertile. In NFP, the spouses do not withhold anything from each other, nor do they do anything directly to make the act infertile. Therefore it is only immoral when it is used with the mindest, “We don’t want children. Period,” or to avoid having children when there is not a serious reason to avoid having children.

  21. Just to be clear – the company I worked for that provided me so much help and support was a family owned business of less than 50 employees.

  22. naturgesetz
    Good comment and 100% correct. I know that many in our parish are using NFP to identify best time for creation of life and to battle infertility. Of course this is the only solution open to Catholics struggling to have children as IVF is also serious sin. Many Catholics today have not attended a full NFP class given by those who know the program and support it fully in the Church and that is a shame. It not only opens married life to God, but really improves the overall marriage. This is one area where I believe married Deacons should really take a strong position and become involved in within the parish with their own lives as personal witness.

  23. Barbara, I am talking Catholic teaching on the topic, not that of the secular world. If one places their complete Trust in God to give them what they need, it seems like the right way to go. Keeping the married life open to God to create new life is also something the Church teaches.

    As to Catholic insitutions providing salaries and benefits, one would hope they would not provide anything that is in direct violations of church teaching and in the USA, the government would not try to demand they violate their religious belief within their own institutions. If you cannot be fully Catholic within a Catholic institution, where have we gone that far astray in the USA. I can imagine if we were imposing on a muslim mosque that they have to do something within the mosque in violation of Islam.

  24. Not sure of your point here Barbara. My wife Greta was founder and CEO of a company that started out a small family business of exactly one person and ended up with well over a thousand and she always tried to provide what was best for the employees but would never have done anything to violate church teaching. She often worked with families in times of trouble well beyond standard benefits. However, she could also well attest to the fact that the major problems she had were with ongoing government created and driven issues that in the end were a negative drain on the business in general and also on her ability to do special things for some in need. In the end, you also hae to keep the company viable and frankly that is something that many on the left do not seem to understand. If a company is not viable, everyone loses as the company is no longer around. Unions in the private sector did a lot to drive jobs out of this country with ongoing demands for ever more benefits and salary increases. Care to guess how many unions jobs are left in the private sector? Many of the jobs you now see in other countries ended up there because of unrealistic demands by unions. Now they are doing the same to the public sector making jobs so expensive that cities are drowning in debt to prop them up.

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