Saturday, August 18, 2012

ND Student Petition On The HHS Mandate

Of course, since this is at ND, I'm not shocked that this particular petition is asking the University to drop its lawsuit against the mandate and surrender to the President's agenda.

The petition, which includes signatures from approximately 140 students as of this week, faculty, staff and alumni, originated as a personal letter to University President Fr. John Jenkins from philosophy graduate student Kathryn Pogin. It argues for the University’s compliance with the mandate based on philosophical and legal principles...

“We want it to be a starting point for dialogue and discussion,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be antagonistic toward the administration or Fr. Jenkins.”

There's that word again. Dialogue. We've seen how well that's worked in the past. At some point, I'd love to see an analysis of where dialogue has actually helped the Church in these sorts of matters. Nothing springs immediately to mind. The examples I've gotten in the past have usually involved communism. I'm not sure what Cold War folks were watching, but the great period of dialogue during the reigns of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI didn't do much good. Ask Cardinal Mindszenty. It wasn't until Blessed John Paul II's adoption of much more uncompromising posture that anything was accomplished.

Anyways, back to the main story here. There are three main points argued in the petition. Let's take a look:

“First of all, it’s not clear to us that the University couldn’t comply with the mandate without remaining within Catholic practice,” she said.

This is based largely on a tortured extension of double effect that you can read in the actual petition here. From what I can tell, the petition is less of an argument that access to contraceptives is actually ok and more of an appeal to ambiguity, saying that it isn't clear what the moral status of the mandate is. In a nutshell, the petitioners seem to be requesting that, in the case of a potentially sinful action, one should err on the side of doing the action anyway, rather than choosing a path of restraint.

“In addition, even if there is a genuine conflict with freedom of religion, which we’re not convinced there is, at least with respect to contraceptives, we think the legal argument favors compliance with the mandate.”

The legal argument is left somewhat vague. Sure, there's the  possibility that the Supreme Court will hear what it feels to be a compelling legal argument to uphold the mandate. I have absolutely no idea why this means that ND should go along with it. Unjust laws are not laws at all, regardless of what the President or the Court say.

The petition also makes a claim based on Dignitatis Humanae.

In its concern for religious freedom, the administration should remember that Dignitatis Humanae says not only that religious belief and practice should be protected but also that "in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion."

In an astounding leap of intellectual dishonesty, the petitioners argue that ND's refusal to help employees chemically sterilize themselves amounts to "indirect coercion" and "imposing its religious beliefs and practices on its employees." Let's ignore for a moment that one could use this exact same argument to force ND to provide for abortions, benefits for homosexual couples, and a host of other items repugnant to Catholic belief. For some reason, I'm betting that the petitioners wouldn't have a problem with any of those things either. Let's also ignore that this line of reasoning completely bypasses the fact that ND employees aren't slaves and therefore any such "indirect coercion" is the result of the employees' free choice to work for ND.

Instead, let's note what DH actually says about HHS mandate-type stuff:

However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

So if you ignore the government's obligation to God, the objective moral order, and the safeguarding of morality, the petition makes perfect sense. In other words, if you ignore the rest of what DH says.

The petitioners' final concern is that other aspects of Catholic identity at ND are being ignored or somehow short-changed. What are these issues? Allowing heretics to promote their views to students in philosophy and theology classes? Allowing supporters of infanticide to deliver speeches at graduation? The performance and display of repulsive "art" on-campus?

Of course not.

“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,” the petition states...

“[The lack of affordable health coverage] is actually more of a problem than we outlined in the petition because state health programs are not available to international students, so some international students’ dependents go uninsured,” she said. “We think that’s a moral issue and an issue of Catholic identity.”

Is this not begging the question just a little? It requires the assumption that the previous arguments are valid and correct. To get to this point, ND must accept that there is nothing actually wrong with the HHS mandate. Why? Because if there is something wrong with the mandate, and the courts uphold it, then ND has no choice but to shut down or wipe out its insurance program altogether (which, of course, would mean paying millions of dollars in fines under the Affordable Care Act). To even reach the problem of how effective the current employee/student health insurances are, there has to be an entity providing the insurance in the first place. The petitioners have decided to ignore that in order to create a diversion to some other element of "Catholic identity" that may or may not be problematic.

It's great to know that the petitioners have so much respect for Catholic identity since they are comfortable letting it be sacrificed in exchange for expanded health coverage.

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