The Sycamore Trust, an organization of alumni committed to promoting the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, criticizes the University’s compliance with the federal HHS mandate as “scandalous disregard of its religious beliefs” in a statement issued Sunday.
The alumni note that Notre Dame itself, in its lawsuit seeking relief from the mandate which requires even religious universities to cover abortifacients, sterilization and contraception in employee and student health plans, argues that compliance with the mandate would “cause scandal.”
“Complying with the mandate will predictably result, if indirectly, in a substantial number of drug-induced abortions, contraceptions and sterilizations,” states the Trust in its latest bulletin. “Furthermore, in complying Notre Dame has set an example for all other Catholic organizations.”
Unlike most other Catholic colleges and universities outside of those recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong Catholic identity, Notre Dame filed suit against the HHS mandate in 2012—a choice the Trust called “a standout decision.” Unfortunately, Notre Dame’s lawsuit—like many others—was dismissed on the grounds that the Obama administration had promised to tweak the religious liberty requirements at a later date.
After the Administration finalized the mandate’s regulations in June 2013, many other Catholic colleges, schools and organizations re-filed their lawsuits. Notre Dame, however, inexplicably waited until late 2013 to re-file its lawsuit, just before the mandate was to take effect. A federal judge denied a preemptive injunction, questioning the University’s “sincerity” in arguing that it could not comply with the mandate.
What upsets the Notre Dame alumni, however, is the University’s next action: a brief announcement that it would comply with the mandate, while it continued to press on with its lawsuit.
“The most surprising aspect of Notre Dame’s decision to comply is that it offered no explanation for acting in a way it had represented to the court would ‘cause scandal’ and be ‘inconsistent with its religious beliefs,’” states the Trust. “Rather, its terse statement implied that it had no choice in the matter.”
Notre Dame did not, in fact, have any easy options. Had it refused to comply with the mandate, the University may have been subject to penalties of up to $100 per employee per day. And some have argued that compliance with the mandate—as long as it is under duress by the federal government—is a moral choice that is sufficiently remote from responsibility for the evil consequences. But to comply even while the University’s lawsuit is ongoing has angered the Sycamore Trust alumni.
“And so at the moment we have the depressing scenario of Notre Dame’s exciting vault into a leadership role in the Church’s defense of religious liberty, followed by a disheartening and puzzling retreat, then a brief revival, and finally an unexplained decision that the University had said would be scandalous and collide with its religious beliefs,” the Trust states.
The alumni are urging the University to take several actions: directly contact President Barack Obama and ask him to suspend penalties against religious organizations until the matter is decided in court; pledge support for the bishops’ long term-efforts to secure legislative relief, with Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins, CSC, playing a prominent role such as the one played by Catholic University of America President John Garvey; and re-file a motion for injunctive relief in light of rulings in similar cases which granted temporary relief from the mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court issued one such injunction last week.
The Trust is also urging Notre Dame to explain why it opted to comply with the mandate, to disclose whether its leaders conversed with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend on the matter, and whether any other factors played a role in the decision-making.
“Let us see if religious liberty is something Notre Dame will not simply spar about, but really fight for,” the alumni write.
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