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Catholic college works to cut ties with ‘intrusive’ federal aid with major fundraising effort

Belmont Abbey College plans to eventually end reliance on federal aid as part of a new campaign called “Made True.”

Leaders of the small Catholic college located in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, in February launched a $100 million capital campaign toward building up the school’s endowment and reducing federal aid, with the goal of one day eliminating the latter once and for all.

“First and foremost, the federal government has historically used the funding to mandate policies inimical to Catholic education. These policies have often risen to the level of serious moral violations to the freedom of conscience of our community,” said Philip Brach, vice president of college relations at Belmont Abbey, in a March 20 email to The College Fix.

The fundraising website argues that “Without the ability to remain financially independent and secure, we place our faith-based practices at risk from a federal government both increasingly intrusive to private institutions and increasingly hostile to faith.”

Brach told The Fix that the “first governmental intrusion on Belmont Abbey College resulted from an EEOC complaint by eight faculty members that the college’s healthcare plan did not cover contraceptives or abortion.”

The case was eventually decided in favor of the college’s policy, but only after the Obama Administration prolonged the case for several years by reversing an initial favorable judgment by the Charlotte EEOC office.

Brach said another intrusion occurred with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision, which would have forced Belmont Abbey “to provide healthcare coverage for abortion and contraception or face bankruptcy as a consequence of punishing fines.”

“While the contraceptive mandate exempted houses of worship, other religious institutions such as hospitals, schools and charities, which serve clients outside their own faith tradition, were not considered exempt,” Brach said.

Brach noted that Belmont Abbey was the first college or university to file suit against the government in federal court on the matter, resulting in a permanent injunction against the contraceptive mandate.

Belmont Abbey also obtained an exemption from a third intrusion—the requirement for schools to use gender identity rather than biological sex as the basis for student access to bathrooms, locker rooms, residence hall accommodations and athletic competitions.

“Presently, anti-religious liberty advocates are pushing multiple administrative, legislative and judicial initiatives,” said Brach, naming the Department of Education’s effort to override Title IX exemptions regarding transgender identity as one example.

Brach also cited practical problems with federal funding for higher institutions as a reason for the capital campaign, saying the current federal student loan system is essentially bankrupt.

He said “concerns about federal intervention are active, unhypothetical realities,” citing several examples from the college’s history.

“Knowledgeable public policy experts have informed Belmont Abbey leadership that the public policy agenda includes long-term plans to make public higher education tuition-free, at which point federal aid to private colleges will likely terminate,” Brach said.

Brach outlined how Belmont Abbey plans to spend $55 million toward positioning the college to reduce and eventually eliminate federal assistance.

“First is growing the college’s endowment, the second is funding alternative private loans to compete and eventually replace the government loan program, and the third is over the long term position the college’s financial stability so that students eventually can graduate without any debt,” he said.

When asked about whether other colleges should consider following Belmont Abbey’s movement to financial independence, Brach said that “Any college serious about protecting their freedom of conscience to practice their faith should at least consider such a move.”

MORE: Tiny Catholic college that spurns government money ranks near the top of best ‘values’

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About the Author
Margaret Peppiatt - Franciscan University of Steubenville