|Father John Jenkins and President Barack Obama|
The Fighting Irish are putting up the gloves -- and it is against the president who needs their support more than ever this November.
In an election where the Catholic vote is widely seen as the critical swing vote, the Notre Dame move places the most famous Catholic institution in the United States firmly in opposition to the president on his singular policy on health care.
That is big news given that Notre Dame was widely perceived as being in the president’s corner after they invited him to be their commencement speaker in 2009 over the strong objections of local bishops.
Father John Jenkins is widely regarded as the most articulate and skilful Catholic college president in America, so his stance against Obama on this will be widely discussed and analyzed.
The wording of the lawsuit reflects Jenkins mindset. It is a passionate and emotional statement about the right of religious institutions to safeguard their own beliefs when it comes to what they wish to cover when it comes to medical care.
It is not the usual dry legalese stuff of most lawsuits and bears the hallmarks of Jenkin’s style.
Jenkins is no creature of the Vatican right-wing orthodoxy like so many American bishops. Therefore his lawsuit is all the more potent among moderate American Catholics.
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The college writes, “ This lawsuit is about one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception…. But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the University of Notre Dame… to violate its own conscience by making it provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to its sincerely held religious beliefs.
“American history and tradition, embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protects religious entities from such overbearing and oppressive governmental action. Notre Dame therefore seeks relief in this Court to protect this most fundamental of American rights.
Jenkins makes clear that, "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."
It is very hard to disagree with that statement which could have been made by any religious or political leader since independence.
Jenkins is no rabble rousing bishop out to get the Obama administration on religious grounds. His lawsuit is a passionate dissent from the notion that government can mandate what a Catholic college can and can’t do when it comes to core beliefs.
As Jenkins concludes, "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 infringement."
Suddenly the one major Catholic institution which had backed Obama now seems to be backing off on this one major issue.
That cannot be good news for the incumbent president. He needs Catholic votes in key states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and indeed Indiana, where Notre Dame is located. This Notre Dame uprising will come as a major blow.