By Katie Kieffer
Leave it to the Fighting Irish to vanquish the sheepish, the snobbish and the priggish. This month, the University of Notre Dame (UND) re-filed its lawsuit “for relief against” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which is set to take effect January 1, 2014.
Forget the Audacity of Hope. There’s nothing audacious or courageous about a president who flits about, attacking religious freedom, while he poses for selfies during funeral ceremonies. Let’s come together under the Courage of Catholics at the University of Notre Dame.
Certainly, the Catholic Church and some of her leaders have stumbled. Notre Dame made the blunder of bestowing pro-abortion President Obama with an honorary degree and inviting him to deliver the May, 2009 commencement keynote address. Recently, the Pope tried to play economist and made statements that seemed to bless anti-Catholic and anti-logic economics. (In truth, capitalism glorifies God.) Nevertheless, Catholics are learning from their mistakes, especially at the University of Notre Dame, and reassuming a role of public leadership.
You and your friends should know the full story of how we found ourselves in a position where a pre-eminent Catholic institution is compelled to sue the federal government in order to defend its First Amendment rights to free speech and free expression of faith.
You may recall my column from last year (Catholics! Fight! Fight! Fight!) where I told you about UND’s first lawsuit against the federal government. On May 21, 2012, UND filed suit over the HHS mandate requiring religious organizations to offer contraceptives, sterilization methods and abortion-generating prescriptions in their private insurance plans.
On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2012, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. dismissed UND’s first lawsuit on grounds that the plaintiff’s complaint was “unripe.” Judge Miller said that the “present regulatory requirement isn’t sufficiently final for review to be ripe” since the federal government had “announced [the mandate] will be modified.” (If you ever receive an invitation to a New Year’s party at Judge Miller’s house, don’t go. He probably won’t let you celebrate the New Year because it’s “unripe,” and instead you’ll be entertained by his rulings against freedom.)
The Catholic Church has an extensive history of providing quality healthcare to all Americans, including the poor. It is mind-blowing to think that the Obama administration is preaching to the Church on how to “improve” its care, while the same administration encourages Americans to risk identity theft by signing up for healthcare plans on a website that security experts warn is still glutted with vulnerabilities; an administration whose signature law is so onerous, costly and anti-health that it is compelling many existing doctors to shutter their practices early—leaving fewer doctors to care for more patients.
UND and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have negotiated for over a year with the administration to protect their freedom of faith in a peaceable manner. Obama simply refuses to negotiate. Period. Obama likes to say he won’t negotiate with “a gun at my head.” But no one, especially a bishop, has ever held Barack at gunpoint.
The administration has proffered an “accommodation” on the HHS mandate for religious organizations that amounts to a false accommodation whereby religious institutions may pretend to wash their hands of questionable practices. Under the so-called accommodation, religious employers like Notre Dame still have to provide their employees with access to insurance contracts that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees—but the insurance company, not Notre Dame, has the duty of “notifying” Notre Dame’s employees that they are entitled to this coverage through an additional contraception-only plan at no cost to the employee.
So, nothing changes. Catholic employers must condone and play a role in providing their employees with alternative services that violate their faith and mission. Additionally, Catholics who work for or hold stock in insurance companies must compromise their First Amendment rights, and this “…compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all,” point out the U.S. Bishops.
University of Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins makes a strong case for why this second lawsuit has implications for all Americans that extend: “well beyond any debate about contraceptive services. …For if one Presidential Administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another Administration will do the same for another very different set of policies, each time invoking some concept of popular will or the public good, with the result that these religious organizations become mere tools for the exercise of government power, morally subservient to the state, and not free from its infringements. If that happens, it will be the end of genuinely religious organizations in all but name.”
All of us—Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Protestant, Hindu and atheist alike—have an interest in Notre Dame’s lawsuit. Let’s come together in supporting their efforts to protect our natural right to free speech and free expression.