In it's entirety, "NOTRE DAME TAKES COVER".
Jesus Is Lord!
"Few things are more demoralizing than an officer who cowers in the trenches."
– Dr. R.R. Reno
Editor, First Things
NOTRE DAME, IN — Last month Indiana Governor Michael Pence and Republican legislative leaders hastily retreated from a religious liberty bill under heavy fire from business interests, homosexual rights advocates, and Miley Cyrus and other public policy vocalists. The Catholic and evangelical churches, their allies, and other religious liberty champions were overpowered while an inert Notre Dame administration left it to a courageous nearby pizzeria owner to speak up for religious liberty. Meanwhile, the Arkansas governor and legislature fended off a similar assault through deft rewriting of their bill. In this bulletin, we discuss these episodes with special attention to Notre Dame's dive for cover.In 1993, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") to strengthen religious liberty against government encroachment. Then-congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the bill in the House and Senate, respectively. This was a strong bipartisan reaction to a Supreme Court decision that had cut back on prior religious liberty decisions. Nineteen states followed with their own RFRA statutes, and the courts of another thirteen states adopted RFRA principles.
Until recently, litigation under these statutes had been relatively low profile. The decisions typically were of limited practical effect, religion had a strong hold, and legislatures could generally be counted on to safeguard religious liberty.
Times have changed. Society has become less religious; organized religion has weakened; and the dramatic advance of the gay rights agenda along with the passionate public divide over abortion have triggered an explosion of legislative and judicial activity.
The two preeminent illustrations of these developments are President Obama's abortifacient/contraceptive mandate and the ensuing litigation tsunami and the radioactive legislative and judicial actions on same-sex marriage.
We turn now to the two recent legislative contests, the role of the Church, and the Church's abandonment by Notre Dame.
The Indiana and Arkansas Legislation
The new Indiana statute was substantially the same as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), but its opponents mischaracterized it as providing a sweeping "license to discriminate" against homosexuals. Thereupon influential corporations and the president of the NCAA threatened retaliation; the governors of Connecticut and New York, evidently ignorant of their own states' RFRAs, banned state-funded travel to Indiana; Hilary Clinton bashed the replica of the law her husband signed; and we were all treated to a pithy commentary on public morality by Miley Cyrus.
The Arkansas bill, also modeled on the federal law, drew similar, though somewhat less virulent, opposition. The Arkansas legislature countered by simply conforming the statutory language to that of the federal RFRA. The opposition faded away with some lingering ineffectual grumbling.
But the Indiana legislature and governor, startled and evidently flustered, substituted a legislative farrago that appears to do precisely nothing with respect to pre-existing law. More particularly, with respect to the central issue:
This satisfied the indignant corporations and the affronted NCAA. The gay rights lobby drew back while complaining about the continued absence of a ban on sexual orientation discrimination. (Miley Cyrus has not yet spoken.)
On the other side, the Indiana bishops jointly deplored the acrimony, while Notre Dame's ordinary, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, decried the "unfair and relentless attacks" on the legislation, explained the Church's position on same-sex marriage and the religious liberty issues at stake, and expressed his disappointment in the legislative outcome and his fear that "there will be a continual erosion of religious liberty in this country." See his full statement here.
Nationally, Archbishop William E. Lori of Philadelphia, the chair of the USCCB ad hoc committee on religious liberty, joined by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Baltimore, Dr. Robert George of Princeton, and R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Convention, lamented these developments:
This display of political power and corrupt manipulation of public opinion by the enemies of religious liberty has fueled the drive to eradicate any trace of resistance to same-sex marriage and the classical Christian condemnation of sodomy upon which that resistance is based.
(On the other hand, the effective action of the Arkansas legislature affords encouraging lessons about tactics that go beyond the scope of this commentary.)
What Notre Dame Won't Fight For
While the bishops and their allies were under siege, Father Jenkins declined to come to their defense. He "wasn't available for comment" even as the presidents of Indiana, Butler, DePauw, and Valparaiso universities and of six other Indiana schools condemned the bill as discriminatory.
That was not quite all. Someone noted that Notre Dame had invoked the federal RFRA in its suit against the Obamacare mandate, whereupon a university spokesman was quick to protes: that Notre Dame "had no role "respecting the Indiana bill.
Then came what was headlined, "Notre Dame Posts Response to Indiana Law": the resurrection of the Notre Dame "If You Can Play, You Can Play" video, in which administrators and athletes vow that Notre Dame doesn't discriminate. Taken as a response to the bill, it's hard not to construe the posting as signing on to the characterization of the bill as a "license to discriminate."
It was left to one Kevin O'Connor, owner of nearby Memories Pizzeria, to stand up to the bullies:
Notre Dame, Religious Liberty, and the Future
This behavior by Notre Dame indicates it will likely be at best a non-combatant in the troubled times that have begun for Christians who want to live their lives in fidelity to their faith without government interference. The contest will intensify if the Supreme Court certifies same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Abortion is a looming second front.
The prelude to Notre Dame's abandoning the Church in Indiana was its recognition and encouragement of same-sex marriage by rewarding same-sex "married" employees and students with spousal benefits. The incipient fragility of its stance on abortion and contraception has been disclosed by its establishment of a student health plan that results in Notre Dame students being provided free abotifacients and contraceptives. For some of our reporting on these matters, see here and here.
How has it come to this? The short answer is the secularization that we have been writing about for some nine years. We have discussed secularization mainly as manifested within the university. Now it appears in a different venue in the unwillingness of Notre Dame's leadership to support the Church and other religious leaders against the strong pro-gay marriage sentiment widely shared in secular academe, big business, the arts, and increasingly politics.
Notre Dame has long sought full membership in these ranks. It has succeeded. It is the avatar of Catholic Americanism. It is the eleventh richest university in the world. Many of its trustees and graduates are wealthy and hold high positions in business and the professions. Now this secular world is turning aggressively against fundamental Church teaching and values. It evidently comes hard for Notre Dame leaders to expose themselves to charges of bigotry from associates in academe and business and other respected segments of secular society.
Who wants to be accused of being "bigots" "on the wrong side of history"?
But this faintheartedness, so incongruous for "the Fighting Irish," is lamentable not only for Notre Dame but for the Church and its faithful. As Dr. R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, declared in an essay on the religious liberty crisis, "Few things are more demoralizing than an officer who cowers in the trenches."
As to the tired "wrong side of history" aphorism, the late Cardinal Francis George gave it the only meaning it can have for a Catholic. In urging Catholics to hold fast in the face of "the anti-religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country," he declared: