Knights of Columbus funds help step on women's rights

by Nicole Sotelo

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In a narrow ruling last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision that essentially endowed corporations, like Hobby Lobby, with the capacity for religious beliefs. In turn, those beliefs are now permitted to trump a woman's comprehensive health care coverage. You can thank the plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, for that. You can also thank, in part, the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, has financially backed The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm that represented Hobby Lobby. Egregiously, the money that the Knights funneled to this conservative law firm originated from funds earmarked for charity.

The firm not only represented Hobby Lobby; it also represented Wheaton College in the Supreme Court order issued July 3 that sided with religiously affiliated nonprofits that don't want to fully cover women's health care.

The Becket Fund isn't your ordinary law firm. It is a politically driven organization that undertakes both legal and political battles, consistently pushing a conservative agenda.

The Knights of Columbus are not the only donors to the Becket Fund, but what makes the Knights' donations controversial is the fact that most Knights of Columbus members are led to believe the organization's charitable dollars are going to charity, not political causes.

So how much of the Knights' money has been diverted to this conservative law firm? A lot. Between 2006 and 2010, Knights officials diverted over $1.5 million to the Becket Fund under the guise of annual "charitable contributions."

In 2012 alone, Knights officials siphoned off $326,000 from their charitable funding toward the Becket Fund and listed it as one of their "Community Projects."  The contribution to the Becket Fund was the fourth largest contribution out of 22 other contributions made to community projects that year. The money given to the law firm is listed as charity among other contributions to places such as the United Way ($105,000), the Food for Families Program ($40,484), and Japanese earthquake relief ($20,000).

It is not the first time Knights officials have used charitable funds for political causes. There is a long history of officials financially backing political organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee or the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage.

Ironically, most of us know local Knights who are known not for financially backing political agendas, but for being the backbone of our parishes, schools and communities. We know they can be an incredible force for good, logging over 70 million volunteer hours in 2012 alone. We see them serving the hungry, carrying blankets to storm survivors, and marching solemnly at parish events. We don't expect to see them marching over women's access to health care, but it seems the current leadership is leading them -- or at least their dollars -- in that direction.

[Nicole Sotelo is the author of Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace, published by Paulist Press, and coordinates She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.]

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