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Three Years After Honoring Obama, Notre Dame Sues Obama for Trampling First Amendment Rights

3:46 PM, May 21, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Way back in May of 2009, when President Obama was still selling himself to the nation as a post-partisan healer-in-chief, he was awarded an honorary degree and delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. The decision by the most famous Catholic university in America to honor a staunchly pro-abortion president was met with some protest. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon declined to receive an award from Notre Dame and share the stage with Obama that day. She noted that the U.S. Catholic bishops had formally declared in 2004 that Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles." The university responded by saying that bringing Obama to campus was a "good thing for the president and for the causes we care about." 

Obama seemed to relish the controversy. It was an opportunity to speak to a bloc of swing voters (Catholics) in one of the reddest states that swung to Obama in 2008 (Indiana) about how we can work together despite out differences (the kind of rhetoric that launched his political stardom at the 2004 Democratic National Convention). "We must find a way to live together as one human family," Obama said to the 2009 graduates. He told the story of an anti-abortion doctor who had voted for him in the 2004 Illinois Senate primary but was upset that Obama's campaign website characterized abortion opponents as "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose."

"I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words," the doctor wrote to Obama. "After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me," Obama said. 

Fast forward three years to May of 2012, and the University of Notre Dame has gone from honoring President Obama to suing his administration for violating the most basic liberties protected under the First Amendment. In 2009, Obama spoke about the need to debate issues without "reducing those with differing views to caricature." Now, his campaign claims that opponents of his mandate are waging a "war on women" and want to force women to get a “permission slip” from their employers to “access birth control pills, intrauterine devices, or any other type of contraception.”

In its brief filed in federal court today, Notre Dame rebuts the Obama campaign's demagoguery:

"This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference.It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are, and will continue to be, freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available. But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the University of Notre Dame (“Notre Dame”) to violate its own conscience by making it provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to its sincerely held religious beliefs."

Obama's decision to abandon swing voters in favor of the Democratic base has been well documented. The loss of Notre Dame is emblematic of Obama's particular choice to abandon Catholic swing voters for the abortion lobby. In 2010, the lone Democratic congressman who switched his vote from 'yes' to 'no' on Obamacare was Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, a former Notre Dame faculty member who objected to the taxpayer-funding of abortion in the bill. Now Notre Dame as an institution has been compelled by an Obamacare mandate to file suit against the Obama administration. Having honored the president three short years ago, the university cannot be so easily dismissed as a partisan critic.

Like 42 other Catholic schools, hospitals, and churches that filed suit today agains the Obama administration today, Notre Dame does not qualify for the Obamacare mandate's narrow religious exemption. The exemption only applies to institutions that primarily serve and employ members of the same religion, and Notre Dame educates and employs many people who are not Catholic. The administration has therefore created the perverse incentive for Catholic institutions to close their doors to non-Catholics (and thus cease fulfilling their religious obligations). The federal government has also given Catholic institutions the "option" of ending health care plans and paying a steep fine instead of complying with the mandate. In the case of Notre Dame, the fine would amount to $10 million each year.

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