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Equality of Outrage

| Thursday, March 31, 2016

Recently, a letter to the Editor titled “Objections to the Laetare Medal Decision,” was published in the Observer. This letter expressed objection to the University’s decision to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden. The medal is given “in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society. It is considered the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics.” This letter asserted that because of Vice President Biden’s pro-choice stance on abortion, support of embryonic stem cell research and other issues, he should be disqualified from receiving this award. While I respectfully disagree with this viewpoint, I do acknowledge that Vice President Biden’s stance on these issues does come into direct contrast with Catholic social teachings. However, what bothers me most about the objection to the awarding of the medal to Vice President Biden is the lack of of outrage towards the other recipient of this medal, former Speaker of the House John Boehner.

If Vice President Biden’s support of abortion rights disqualifies him from receiving the medal because it contrasts with Catholic Social teachings, then Speaker Boehner must also be disqualified from receiving the award. The right to life may be an important part of Catholic Social Teaching, but it is far from the only of these teachings.  

In their 1998 book, “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions,” the United States College of Catholic Bishops state that “The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers” is one of the seven themes of social teaching; former Speaker Boehner has repeatedly violated this teaching. The USCCB goes on to explain that this teaching is aimed at guaranteeing, “the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property and to economic initiative.” In 2007, Boehner voted nay on HR 980 — Collective Bargaining for Public Safety Officers, an act that protected the most basic right of unions, that of collective bargaining, for police officers. In 1993 Boehner voted against the Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act, a bill that stops employers from hiring permanent replacements when employees strike. In contrast, Biden has been a strong supporter of labor rights, voting in favor of a later iteration of the Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act, the Striker Replacement Act in 1994.

Another part of the “Right to Life” aspect of Catholic Social Teaching that has been used against Biden regarding his stance on abortion is, according to USCCB, a strong opposition to the death penalty. According to the USCCB, “The value of human life is threatened by…the death penalty.” However, in April 1994, Boehner voted against a bill that would have replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment, and in 1996 he voted against maintaining the right of habeas corpus in death penalty appeals.  

The USCCB also asserts that Catholic Social Teaching, “instructs [Catholics] to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first, another teaching which Speaker Boehner has not always embraced. In 2009, Boehner voted against expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program and in 2006 voted against expanding Section 8 housing vouchers aimed at enabling low income families to buy homes.

While there are legitimate complaints against Vice President Biden receiving the Laetare medal, when looking at Catholic Social Teachings, there must then be an equality of outrage when dealing with the other recipient of this award, former Speaker of the House John Boehner. Catholic Social Teaching does not apply only when it is convenient on certain issues that one agrees with. If one is to truly embody these teachings, they must embrace all aspects, not just those that support a certain narrative.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

Contact Lucas