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May 21, 2012


University of Notre Dame Files Lawsuit Over Obamacare Mandate

Alumni received this email:

May 21, 2012

A Message from Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame

Today the University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana regarding a recent mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  That 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.  The decision to file this lawsuit came after much deliberation, discussion and efforts to find a solution acceptable to the various parties.

Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about:  it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services.  Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.  As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.  And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.  We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings. We have engaged in conversations to find a resolution that respects the consciences of all and we will continue to do so.

This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.  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 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 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. 

The details of the process that led to the mandate are publicly known.  In an Interim Final Ruling issued August 3, 2011, the federal government required employers to provide the objectionable services. A narrow exemption was given to religious institutions that serve and employ primarily members of their own faith, but, departing from a long tradition in federal law, organizations like Notre Dame—schools, universities, hospitals and charitable organizations that serve and employ people of all faiths and none—were granted no exemption, but instead were made subject to the law to the same extent as any secular organization.  On September 28, I submitted a formal comment encouraging the Administration to follow precedent and adopt a broader exemption.

Despite some positive indications, the Administration announced on January 20, 2012, that its interim rule would be adopted as final without change.  After an outcry from across the political spectrum, President Obama announced on February 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.  Although I do not question the good intentions and sincerity of all involved in these discussions, progress has not been encouraging and an announcement seeking comments on how to structure any accommodation (HHS Advanced Notification of Proposed Rule Making on preventative services policy, March 16, 2012) provides little in the way of a specific, substantive proposal or a definite timeline for resolution.  Moreover, the process laid out in this announcement will last months, making it impossible for us to plan for and implement any changes to our health plans by the government-mandated deadlines. We will continue in earnest our discussions with Administration officials in an effort to find a resolution, but, after much deliberation, we have concluded that we have no option but to appeal to the courts regarding the fundamental issue of religious freedom.

It is for these reasons that we have filed this lawsuit neither lightly nor gladly, but with sober determination. 

The lawsuit is available online at http://opac.nd.edu/public-information/hhs-complaint


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9 comments

Thanks be to God! I have a very personal reason to feel grateful that Notre Dame has filed this lawsuit. My son is an alumnus, and those who have attended Notre Dame, as well as their parents, have alwaysd been told by the university that we are part of the “Notre Dame family” - a family which has unfortunately become more and more disfunctional in recent years. We have been really distressed that the school which used to be a bastion of the Catholic faith was straying so far from its origins. This is a step in the right direction for the university. I hope many more institutions will also sue.

[1] Posted by Nellie on 5-21-2012 at 03:39 PM · [top]

Rich.  Fr. Jenkins ran point for Obama in 2009, over the commencement debacle.  “Academic integrity,” or somesuch. 

The court system hath no fury like an academic, splittin’ the sheets.

[2] Posted by J Eppinga on 5-21-2012 at 04:10 PM · [top]

With any luck, every American religious denomination with 68 million members and a virtually bottomless well of funds to sue Leviathan will be able to exercise a small degree of religious conscience. 

The rest of us God-botherers will have to click our heels and salute.

[3] Posted by Jeffersonian on 5-21-2012 at 05:40 PM · [top]

While I’m glad that Notre Dame is taking this step, I was disappointed at Fr. Jenkins’ statement that “Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.  As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.” Fr. Jenkins is correct that people have the right to follow their conscience.  (CCC 1782 - “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”  However, a person’s conscience must be an informed one.  Without an informed conscience, people are susceptible to making wrong judgements about their actions. (CCC 1783 “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened… The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.”)  For Catholics, this includes the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church (CCC 1792 “Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel… assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching…: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.”)  Ignorance is not a defense.  (CCC 1791 “This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.”)  Since the Catholic Church clearly teaches that the use of contraception is “intrinsically evil” (CCC 2270) Notre Dame faculty, staff and students who are Catholic are clearly in danger of being culpable for evil actions if they chose to use contraception, even if they believe that doing so is part of their right to follow their conscience.

[4] Posted by Already Gone on 5-21-2012 at 08:34 PM · [top]

I think perhaps Jenkins got a rude awakening when the Obama he honored last year turned around and bit him.

[3]Jeffersonian, many other denominations have expressed solidarity with the Catholic Church on the HHS mandate issue. And if the RC’s succeed in their lawsuit, everyone will benefit; if the court rules in favor of conscience protection, that won’t benefit only RC’s.

[4]Already Gone, I think Fr. Jenkins is making the point that individuals have have a right to follow their conscience; he isn’t commenting on the rightness or wrongness of contraception. He’s making the point that:

This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.

[5] Posted by Nellie on 5-21-2012 at 09:27 PM · [top]

Jeffersonian, many other denominations have expressed solidarity with the Catholic Church on the HHS mandate issue. And if the RC’s succeed in their lawsuit, everyone will benefit; if the court rules in favor of conscience protection, that won’t benefit only RC’s.

Sure, on contraception and abortafacients.  And the rest?

The Constitution, as originally intended, was a vast sea of rights with small islands of government power conferred.  Today, it’s a vast sea of State power with small (and dwindling) islands of rights. 

We’re on defense, and defense doesn’t win games.

[6] Posted by Jeffersonian on 5-21-2012 at 10:00 PM · [top]

The lawsuit isn’t about contraception and abortifacients and sterilization. It’s about freedom of religion, about the First Amendment - and that applies to all religions. That’s the mistake Santorum made in his campaign; he let reporters turn this into a contraception issue, when it’s not that at all. It’s much broader.

I agree with you about the dwindling islands of rights, and I agree we’re on defense; but sometimes, as football fans know, defense does win the game.

[7] Posted by Nellie on 5-21-2012 at 11:41 PM · [top]

http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/news/bishops-linking-obama-to-hitler-enrages-notre-dame-professors

Seems the good Bishop of Peoria, Illinois - Daniel Jenky - was right after all.

[8] Posted by jaybird in Springfield on 5-22-2012 at 12:45 PM · [top]

Protestants have also filled lawsuits.

IMO, the government choose contraception (including abortion-inducing drugs) because it’s pretty much a Catholic issue. The next step would be tax-payer funded abortion, then pretty much anything the government wants.

[9] Posted by Words Matter on 5-28-2012 at 03:03 PM · [top]

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