Notre Dame University is having an identity crisis, so it would seem. The Catholic university is seeking an injunction against the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which requires employer-sponsored health plans to provide access to contraceptives. As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame respects the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding contraceptives and abortions – that is, that they are sinful. However, in not complying with the HHS mandate, it is estimated that the university would be charged upwards of $1 million a day in fees for lack of compliance. Therefore, in an effort to comply by the mandate but still hold true to its Catholic belief system, Notre Dame has chosen to contract with a third party for its employee health insurance, while waiting for the legal battles to reach an outcome.
While allowing a third party to operate its health program may seem like a viable solution to the situation caused by a Catholic organization’s reluctance to violate its religious beliefs, it is not the ideal solution. In fact, it is like putting a Band-Aid on a cut to the bone. The situation is not whether Notre Dame is in compliance with the HHS mandate, it is whether Notre Dame should be forced to comply with the mandate. Notre Dame, by its very Catholic identity, should be free to opt-out of the mandate on the grounds of its religious beliefs. Paying another party to hand out the contraceptives is turning a blind eye to the real problem. While it is understandable that Notre Dame does not desire to pay the substantial fines for failure to comply with the mandate, passing the operations off to someone else is not in keeping with the religious beliefs of the university, it is only making it easier for someone to sleep at night as they believe that they are not the one violating Catholic teaching.
Religious employers across the United States are having to do just what Notre Dame is doing – look for creative solutions to abide by the mandate, but still feel as though they are keeping with their religious beliefs which keep them from providing contraceptives themselves. However, the Constitution guarantees all citizens freedom of religion, and it is this very freedom which is at stake. When a religious organization is forced to turn its back on its belief system in order to be in compliance with a law, even if that compliance comes through a third party, that organization’s religious freedom is clearly being ignored by the very Government sworn to protect those rights.