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Disregard the mandate

Jessica Carney, Ken Fowler et. al. | Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In May of 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address to the graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame. Despite the significant disagreement on matters related to the sanctity of life between the University and the President, Obama promised to work together on issues where we find common ground. Among those issues, the President said, was a “sensible conscience clause.”

As part of the President’s Affordable Care Act, Congress gave the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the power to interpret a mandate that required insurers to cover “preventive health services” at no cost. HHS quickly exercised that authority and announced that all employers who provide health care to employees must provide services that include contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

The Obama administration provided an exemption only for those religious employers whose primary purpose is the inculcation of faith, who primarily employ only individuals who confess that faith and who primarily serve only those who are members of that faith. Such a limited exemption — which is narrower than the definition of “religious employers” employed by 47 states and every previous federal definition of the term — excludes almost every Catholic college, including Notre Dame, as well as Catholic hospitals and Catholic Relief Services.

From August through January, President Obama considered broadening the exemption so that it applies to Catholic universities, medical centers and social service organizations. However, on Friday, the Obama administration announced that the proposed definition will be final and that Catholic colleges have until August of 2013 to comply with the HHS regulation. According to The New York Times, President Obama himself made the final decision on the rule. As a result, President Obama is attempting to force institutions like Notre Dame to violate their faith either by not providing health care to employees or by providing services in direct conflict with the moral teachings of the Church.

It is perhaps instructive that President Obama made his final decision on Jan. 20, 2012 — the 26th anniversary of the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. Earlier in the week, the University proudly distributed a photograph of Father Hesburgh arm in arm with Rev. King, singing “We Shall Overcome” at a 1964 civil rights rally at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Rev. King preached peace and civil disobedience as the way to protest the undermining of one’s rights.

Today, the Obama administration has attempted to undermine the University’s ability to exercise its religion freely. But there is an answer: Disobey this regulation. Defend the freedom of religion by refusing to comply with an edict that is neither an ordinance of reason nor directed for the common good. Continue to offer health care for employees, and continue to offer only those services that comport with the Church’s moral teachings.

There may come a point when the government attempts to force the University to change, either through a revocation of federal funding or through the courts. If that day comes, we will be standing beside you.

Father Jenkins, we encourage you to clearly announce Notre Dame’s intention to disregard the HHS regulation as an infringement of the freedom of religious exercise and to state in succinct terms that there can be no compromise on this particular issue.

Jessica Carney

alumna

Class of 2007

Matthew Carney

alumnus

Class of 2006

Rich Coglianese

alumnus

Class of 1989

Ken Fowler

alumnus

Class of 2008

Lauren Fowler

alumna

Class of 2008

Joseph Fremeau

alumnus

Class of 2002

Mark Hotovy

alumnus

Class of 2007

Brendan Hanehan

alumnus

Class of 2007, 2010

Stephanie A. Joyce

alumna

Class of 1994

Larry Luppi

alumnus

Class of 2010

James Mullaney

alumnus

Class of 2007

Karl Schudt

alumnus

Class of 1991

Donald E. Wittgen

alumnus

Class of 1979

Jan. 24