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Professor lectures on ethics of HHS mandate

Carolina Wilson | Sunday, March 4, 2012

In a lecture about medical ethics Friday, law professor Carter Snead addressed why a non-Catholic or non-religious person without moral objections to contraception should be concerned about the recent Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate.

“The past several years have seen a concerning array of challenges for religious liberty in particular and [for] freedom of conscience,” Snead, the recently appointed director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, said.

Snead began his discussion at the 27th annual Clarke Family Lecture with an outline of events corresponding to the current conflicts in religious liberty. These included the 2009 rhetorical shift of the terms “freedom of worship” to “religious liberty” in the 2011 non-renewal of a grant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) for a sex trafficking victim’s program and the 2011 threat of withholding Medicaid funds to states.

“[These events] have raised grave concerns in the minds of people who value religious freedom, and value rights to conscience,” Snead said.

Another section of Snead’s speech addressed concerns raised by those from a pro-life perspective regarding religious liberty in the “contraceptive” mandate, a subset of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

 “[The religious liberty concern] was that mandates would force some employers, such as Catholic institutions, to facilitate behavior that they hold to be gravely immoral, thus severely diminishing the efficacy of their public witness to the truths of their faith,” he said.

Snead said there are “costs” to religious liberty and conscience under the mandate.

He said the mandate acted in violation of some people’s most deeply held beliefs.

Snead referenced the letter University President Fr. John Jenkins wrote to HHS in September, which said accepting this regulation would be “an impossible position.”

“The [regulation] would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the Church’s social teaching,” Jenkins wrote.

Snead said President Obama’s speech on Feb. 10 attempted to address religious liberty concerns and promised to find accommodations where employers “will not have to pay” for objectionable services. But Snead said the final rule remained unchanged.

Additionally, Snead said the mandate was in violation of broader issues of religious liberty and conscience.

“Are there reasons for those who don’t have ‘a dog in the fight’ to be concerned about this issue?” he said.

Snead said he had serious concern regarding abortive drugs, an unprecedented violation of religious liberty, a flawed form of governance, irresponsible social engineering, coercion and erosion of civil society.

More specifically, Snead said the HHS mandate was a radical imposition of religious liberty and conscience.

“[The mandate] conscripts institutions and individuals into facilitating the provision of goods and services anathema to their deeply held religious beliefs,” he said.

Carter concluded his lecture by providing the audience with a plan for the future. 

He said a case needs to be made for the richness of religious liberty and conscience. Additionally, society needs to pursue rights under federal law and U.S. Constitution, he said.

“We need to make our voices heard,” he said.