The University of Notre Dame is joining other U.S. religious groups in suing the federal government over the mandate to provide birth control free of charge as part of the employees’ health coverage. Since the new policy was announced by President Obama last August, suits challenging it have already been filed by the Archdioceses of Washington, Michigan and New York, as well as the Catholic University of America.
In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, Father John Jenkins, the Notre Dame President explained that the lawsuit is not about denying needed medical care to women, but about the freedom of conscience.
This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives. For if we concede that the Government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions. For if one Presidential Administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another Administration will do the same for another very different set of policies.
After the Obama administration became a target of protests from organizations that are affiliated with churches that forbid birth control and felt that requiring them to provide that medicine would put them in conflict with their religious belief, the HHS introduced an exemption for organizations whose function is primarily pastoral and whose employees were mostly from the same faith group. The University felt that a lawsuit was their only remaining option when, after submitting a request that the exemption be widened to include entities like schools, hospitals and religiously-affiliated charities, on January 20th the HHS announced that the rule will go into effect as is.
Further negotiations with the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services proved unfruitful and left Notre Dame with no other choice but to seek judicial remedy.
“We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others,” Jenkins said. “We simply ask that the government not impose its values on the university when those values conflict with our religious teachings.”
This is a drastic step for a school that, in previous years, worked closely with both the administration and President Obama. In 2009, Notre Dame, one of the best known and respected Catholic universities in the United States, faced censure from other Catholic groups around the country for inviting the President to speak at the commencement ceremony and awarding him an honorary law degree.