Notre Dame Sues Obama for Violating 1st Amendment, Then Invites Him to Speak--Again

By Elizabeth Harrington | September 26, 2012 | 11:21 AM EDT

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

( - The University of Notre Dame, which has joined other Catholic groups in suing the Obama administration over its mandate requiring health plans to offer  contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, is nevertheless inviting President Barack Obama to speak at the university before Election Day.

“The University of Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and student body president Brett Rocheleau have joined in inviting both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney to speak at the University during the fall election campaign,” the school said in a press release on Monday.

The Catholic school sparked outrage in May 2009 when it invited Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree. More than 100,000 people signed a petition in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the address by a politician who supports abortion on demand, including partial-birth abortion.

In the three years since his first visit to Notre Dame, President Obama has announced his support for same-sex “marriage.” And to the dismay of many Americans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is requiring nearly all health insurance plans to offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and FDA-approved birth control drugs, some of which can induce an abortion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has denounced the HHS mandate as "an unprecedented attack on religious liberty," and that it is an "unjust and illegal mandate."

Notre Dame says in inviting Obama and Romney, it is “continuing a long-standing tradition” in “offering Notre Dame as a ‘forum for serious political discussion’ on important issues facing the nation.”

According to the news release, “The intent of the invitations, which include the candidates’ running mates, is to provide the campus community a firsthand impression of the contenders and their messages.”

Notre Dame noted that it has been customary over the last 60 years to invite presidential candidates to the school, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Other candidates who have accepted the invitation through the years include Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge, Warren Miller (a Notre Dame alumnus), Edmund Muskie, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Joe Lieberman, the school officials said.

The invitation to Obama comes after the Archdiocese of New York, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., the University of Notre Dame, and 40 other Catholic dioceses and organizations around the country announced in May that they are suing the Obama administration for violating their freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

"This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference," the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said on its website. “It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs."

In the lawsuit, Notre Dame argues that the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was passed on a presupposition that the government would not fund abortions because of an executive order signed by President Obama supposedly barring the practice.

“That executive order was consistent with a 2009 speech that President Obama gave at Notre Dame, in which he indicated that his Administration would honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft sensible conscience clauses,” the lawsuit states.

“Less than two years later,” the lawsuit continues, “Defendants promulgated the U.S. Government Mandate, subverting the Act’s clear purpose to protect the rights of conscience.”

“Over that time, they issued interim rules and press releases—none of which followed notice-and-comment rulemaking—that required the federal funding of abortifacients, sterilization services, contraceptives and related counseling services and commandeered religious organizations to facilitate those services as well,” it said.

The lawsuit is currently making its way through the courts.  In July, a district judge in Colorado temporarily blocked the mandate from being enforced on a small business owner on the grounds that it violated their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

When President Obama last appeared at Notre Dame on May 17, 2009 a heckler interrupted him, yelling, “Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!”

“We're fine, everybody,” Obama said, adding that he wouldn’t “shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes.”

Obama addressed the issue of abortion at length in his commencement speech, calling for “open hearts and open minds” in the debate.

“Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions,” he said.

He called for a reduction in unintended pregnancies, as well as an increase in adoptions and support for women who carry their babies to term.

“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,” he added.  “Those are things we can do.”