Notre Dame Grad Students Petition in Favor of HHS Mandate
8/1/2012 8:11:00 PM -Cardinal Newman Society - Campus Notes

A group of philosophy graduate students at the University of Notre Dame recently created a petition opposing the university's lawsuit against the HHS mandate. They even go so far as to say that by accepting the mandate - i.e., giving up Notre Dame's right to act according to its Catholic mission - the university could better fulfill its Catholic mission.

We the undersigned members of the Notre Dame community wish to express our disagreement with the university's decision to file a lawsuit contesting the Health and Human Services mandate that requires employee health insurance plans to provide no cost birth control coverage to employees. We understand that the university administration believes this lawsuit will advance its Catholic mission and promote freedom of conscience. We too are fully committed to freedom of conscience. However, we believe the philosophical and legal arguments strongly favor compliance with the law. Further we believe Notre Dame would better serve its Catholic mission by focusing on improving campus services for families rather than embroiling itself in a legal challenge.

Although we recognize concerns regarding religious freedom ought to be taken seriously, it remains unclear whether providing access to artificial contraceptives actually would conflict with Catholic belief.

The students argue that the mandate might not conflict with Catholic teachings at all because of what they call "double effect" which posits that in some cases it is permissible to cause harm in the process of achieving something good under certain conditions. Their argument is that it falls under this umbrella of "double effect" in three ways:

1) The foreseen evil is not intended. (Surely those Catholics who believe artificial contraception use is wrong will not intend that any insured procure it for illicit purposes.)

2) The good effects of the action must not be produced or caused by the foreseen harmful effects. (Complying with the law and providing healthcare to the community would not be caused by any individual's use of contraceptives for illicit purposes.)

3) The good effects must be sufficiently desirable. (Avoiding a costly lawsuit, avoiding fines, complying with the law, and providing healthcare to the community are certainly desirable.)

The students further argue that religious freedom is not an absolute right but is one that must yield to a "compelling state interest." And, according to the petition, the HHS mandate "does that by promoting the health of women and children."

"By requiring its employees to purchase additional insurance or to pay out of pocket, thereby placing a not insignificant financial burden on them, Notre Dame is effectively utilizing indirect coercion and imposing its religious beliefs and practices on its employees," the petition's authors write.

In his letter announcing the lawsuit, Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins made clear that the university's position had nothing to do with coercion. "We believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents. We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings."

At the time of publication, the petition had about 90 signatures.

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