When delivering the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, President Barack Obama stated, “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause.”
Last week 43 Catholic dioceses and other institutions including the University of Notre Dame filed suit in federal court seeking to block the Obama Administration’s recent Health and Human Services mandate that “unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the church’s religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences.” University President Father John I. Jenkins, who welcomed President Obama to South Bend just three short years ago, explained that his university was suing the administration because of the need to “assert the right to follow our conscience” on matters such as refusing to pay for “abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures.”
The president’s conscience declaration at Notre Dame’s commencement now rings empty and hollow in the face of the unconstitutional mandate his administration continues to force upon religious institutions- especially the Catholic Church. The administration continues to rebuff Catholic Church leaders in their attempts to work out a reasonable compromise that truly respects conscience. However, administration officials continue to maintain that if a religious organization wishes to be exempted from the immoral mandate they must only employ and serve only those who share their same “religious” values. This rigid limit on exemption from immoral mandates excludes most schools and agencies affiliated with the Catholic Church in the United States - a fact well known and understood by the Obama administration.
The lawsuit charges that the Obama administration’s mandate violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act which requires that the federal government meet a higher legal standard for any law that interferes with religious liberty. The Obama administration continues to suggest that the mandate is about providing for women’s healthcare. However, it is commonly understood that contraceptives are widely available and easily affordable and that the Obama administration is really playing politics with their inaccurate suggestion. In this election year it is clear that liberal sexual politics trump religious liberty for the president.
In a compelling display church unity in defense of religious liberty, 43 Catholic dioceses and institutions hailing from across the country (including the University of Notre Dame, the Archdioceses of St. Louis, New York and Washington, D.C., the Michigan Catholic Conference, and The Catholic University of America) have begun the legal fight to defend conscience and protect their religious liberty. With this lawsuit the Catholic Church has sent a loud and powerful message to the Obama administration that she will fight on all fronts to protect religious liberty. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has rightly suggested, “It is not a fight of our making.” However, for Catholics and all those who cherish religious liberty it is a fight worth fighting.