The chairman of the Sycamore Trust, a group of University of Notre Dame alumni committed to strengthening its Catholic identity, wrote a letter to Notre Dame’s fellows warning that the University could be the “only Catholic litigant” not exempted from the HHS mandate and arguing that the University should remove a recently appointed board member who supports the mandate.
The Cardinal Newman Society broke the news last month that Notre Dame named to its Board of Trustees Katie Washington, who has publicly supported the HHS mandate and criticized the U.S. bishops’ opposition to it. Washington, Notre Dame’s valedictorian in 2010 and an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at the Johns Hopkins University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, contributed in 2012 with fellow Johns Hopkins students to an op-ed which appeared in the Baltimore Sun, saying, “We … strongly disagree with any employer — religious or otherwise —that would refuse to provide full insurance coverage, including contraception, for its employees.”
In his letters to the fellows of the University, Bill Dempsey wrote that he believes Washington’s appointment to the board seriously damages Notre Dame’s case against the HHS Mandate.
Your obligation under the foundational statutes of the university, as you know better than I, is to maintain “at all times” the “essential character of the University as a Catholic institution.” The pertinent injunction of the bishops pursuant to Ex Corde Ecclesiae – which the university says it accepts – is that “each member of the board must be committed to the practical implications of the university’s Catholic character.”
Ms. Washington plainly does not qualify. Notre Dame’s lawsuit is a preeminent example of a “practical implication of the university’s Catholic character.” This is not at all a matter of diversity of views among trustees, nor even a matter of a trustee’s dissenting from one or another teaching of the Church. It is, rather, a matter of the university’s governing body appointing as trustee a person in public opposition to the school’s important religious liberty claim in a lawsuit in which the courts have already expressed skepticism about the school’s sincerity.
Dempsey wrote that he believes that Notre Dame’s lawsuit may go to trial and the board of trustees as well as Father John Jenkins, the president of the University, may be called upon to testify.
“This is much more likely if Ms. Washington remains on the board,” Dempsey wrote, “even if the Supreme Court rules that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act affords a remedy to religious organizations, Notre Dame might lose on trial on the sincerity issue; and the odds of this happening will be increased if Ms. Washington remains on the board.”
He warned of the possibility that Notre Dame may be “the only Catholic litigant that is held to the mandate” because “the courts have concluded it was not sincere in its claim of conscience.”
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