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Redeemed at the University of Notre Dame? (2868)

On higher education and the HHS mandate: July 29 issue column.

07/28/2012 Comment

I’ve written quite a bit on how Catholics (pro-life Catholics included) have been misled by President Obama, whether campaigning for him, stumping for his “health-care reform,” or worse.

Among the worse, in May 2009, I wrote an article for the Weekly Standard titled “Duped at Notre Dame.” There, I analyzed a rather striking oddity: After Barack Obama had opened his presidency with a series of unprecedented steps advancing abortion, atop a career as a U.S. and state senator promoting radical abortion views, the University of Notre Dame took the perplexing step of inviting him to give its commencement address and honoring him with a degree.

The move was a blatant snub of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which forbids Catholic universities from honoring pro-choice politicians with platforms and honorary degrees.

As Obama addressed Notre Dame graduates and family and faculty — and made promises to protect Catholics’ religious liberty and freedom of conscience on matters pro-life — the audience of Catholics vigorously applauded. It was a breathtaking display, one of the most embarrassing examples of naïveté I have ever witnessed.

The duping of the faithful was thorough. And three years later, with the advent of President Obama’s Health and Human Services mandate compelling Catholic institutions to violate their consciences — including the University of Notre Dame — the duping was fully complete.

Holy Cross Father John Jenkins and those responsible for inviting Obama in May 2009 had been made fools by Barack Obama.

Of course, as the saying goes, if you fool me once, shame on you; if you fool me twice, shame on me.

Well, in a notable turnabout, I’m pleased to acknowledge that Notre Dame seems to have painfully learned a lesson — sort of.

No, it hasn’t revoked President Obama’s honorary degree, but Notre Dame joined 43 Catholic dioceses, archdioceses, organizations, universities, schools and groups in filing 12 federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate on contraception and abortion drugs. That mandate, which in and of itself reveals the extraordinary degree of executive power engendered in Obamacare, has been pushed unrelentingly by President Obama and his uncompromising HHS secretary.

For Notre Dame, the HHS mandate is apparently a major awakening. The university filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a federal regulation that requires religious organizations to provide, pay for and/or facilitate insurance coverage for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the lawsuit names as defendants Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their respective departments.

The federal mandate requires Notre Dame and similar religious organizations to provide in their insurance plans abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are contrary to Catholic teaching. It also authorizes the government to determine which organizations are sufficiently “religious” to warrant an exemption from the requirement.

Notre Dame’s lawsuit charges that these components of the regulation are a violation of the religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal laws.

“This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” Father Jenkins wrote in a message to members of the campus community. “For if we concede that the government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions.”

For his part, Father Jenkins issued a separate statement. To be sure, his statement was not impressive and rather disappointing, coming from the president of what was once America’s signature/premier Catholic college.

It includes a remark blithely stating, “Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.” Father Jenkins did not acknowledge that such a “conscientious” decision is (according to Catholic doctrine) a wrong decision.

That said, Father Jenkins’ statement does at least affirm that the Obama administration forced Notre Dame’s hand. “We have concluded that we have no option but to appeal to the courts regarding the fundamental issue of religious freedom,” said Father Jenkins. “It is for these reasons that we have filed this lawsuit neither lightly nor gladly, but with sober determination.”

Even then, Father Jenkins’ statement is still indicative of the naïveté reigning at Notre Dame during the Obama era. In one spot, Father Jenkins’ statement says:

“After an outcry from across the political spectrum, President Obama announced on Feb. 10 that his administration would attempt to accommodate the concerns of religious organizations. We were encouraged by this announcement and have engaged in conversations with administration officials to find an acceptable resolution.” Not only was Father Jenkins strangely “encouraged,” but he says he remains certain of Obama’s and Sebelius’ good intentions: “I do not question the good intentions and sincerity of all involved in these discussions.”

Really? Why not? Does Father Jenkins truly believe he’s dealing with honest brokers who genuinely want to address the pro-life concerns of Catholics?

Well, either way, the people running Notre Dame must face reality. And they understand that they cannot continue in their tradition of being faithfully Catholic under the edicts of Obamacare. They have thereby chosen to file a lawsuit.

Thus, Notre Dame as an institution, apparently, is not eager to be duped again. The people at the university tasked with dealing with hard facts and real restrictions understand that Notre Dame has been placed in an untenable situation. Such is also the conclusion of faithful Catholic colleges like Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. They realize that the Obama-HHS mandate simply makes it impossible for them to provide insurance and be faithful to their Catholic mission. (And neither Franciscan nor Ave Maria has egg on their faces from doing something foolish like grant Barack Obama an honorary degree.)

A willingness to learn — to be duped no more — is a positive step on the path to redemption. I’m pleased to see that one group of duped Catholics, Notre Dame, perhaps has learned a hard lesson.

Now, about that honorary degree ...


Paul Kengor, Ph.D.,
is professor of political science
at Grove City College.
His books include
Dupes:
How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century

and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand

Filed under ex corde ecclesiae, hhs mandate, notre dame