Notre Dame Faculty to Obama: ‘This Is a Grave Violation of Religious Freedom and Cannot Stand’

February 12, 2012 - 5:21 PM
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in May 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Twenty-five Notre Dame faculty members--led by the university’s top ethics expert, and including some of the school’s most eminent scholars--have signed a statement declaring that President Barack Obama’s latest version of his administration’s mandate that all health insurance plans in the United States must cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions, is “a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand."

The statement—put out on the letterhead of the University of Notre Dame Law School--is also signed by leading scholars from other major American colleges and universities, including Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Brigham Young, Yeshiva and Wheaton College.

Prof. Carter Snead, a professor of law at Notre Dame, was one of the lead organizers of the statement, which was published on his official law school letterhead. Notre Dame's top ethics expert, Snead serves as director of the university's Center for Ethics and Culture, a position to which he was appointed by Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame.

In 2009, Father Jenkins awarded President Barack Obama an honorary Notre Dame law degree.

Some of the other distinguished Notre Dame faculty who signed the statement condemning Obama’s mandate are Prof. Patrick Griffin, chairman of Notre Dame's History Department; Prof. Richard Garnett, an associate dean; John Cavadini, director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life; Christian Smith, director of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society; Prof. Paolo Carozza, director of Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights; Prof. Philip Bess, Notre Dame’s Director of Graduate Studies; and Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor of history.

Other leading organizers of the letter included Prof. Robert George of Princeton and Prof. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School.

When Obama received his honorary degree at Notre Dame's May 17, 2009, commencement, he vowed to respect the conscience rights of those who believe abortion is wrong.

“Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women,” said Obama. “Those are things we can do.”

Many Catholic bishops and lay leaders had criticized Notre Dame's decision to grant Obama an honorary degree--pointing to his long-standing position in favor of legalized abortion on demand, which included going so far as to oppose a law in the Illinois state senate that would have simply said that a baby born alive in that state was entitled to the same rights under the U.S. Constitution as any other born "person."

In their statement released late Friday, the 25 Notre Dame faculty members and the many other prominent scholars from other institutions who joined them said that Obama’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate--even with Obama’s proposed adjustments on Friday--remains an “assault on religious liberty and rights of conscience.”

“The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (‘cost free’) these same products and services,” said the scholars. “Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.

“This so-called ‘accommodation’ changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy,” they said.  “It is certainly no compromise.  The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust.  Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.”

The statement also said that Obama’s latest iteration of the regulation is “an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims” and “cannot stand.”

“The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization,” the scholars said. “This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.  It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”