Obama has faced a firestorm of protest from Christians of various denominations because of his faction’s effort to force all health insurance plans to “cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions.” He has responded with transparently deceptive maneuvers intended to create the impression that the mandate will be administered with respect for those whose religious beliefs preclude the use of such contraceptives. This week “Twenty-five Notre Dame faculty members – led by the university’s top ethics expert … have signed a statement declaring that … Obama’s latest version of his administration’s mandate … is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.”
Some purblind political strategists in the Catholic community may expect people to see Notre Dame’s opposition to Obama as particularly significant because of the University’s formally expressed admiration for him. In my column last week, I alluded to Notre Dame’s award of an honorary degree to Obama despite his infamous extremism on abortion, extremism that more than qualifies him for the title of High Priest of the Culture of Death. By reappointing John Jenkins as the University’s president, Notre Dame’s governing authorities reaffirmed their contumacious commitment to this worship of evil. Jenkins is the publicly unrepentant figure responsible for initiating and defending the University’s scandalous idolization of evil.
The text of the honorary degree in question praised Obama for “bringing to the world stage a renewed American dedication to diplomacy and dialogue with all nations and religions committed to human rights and the global common good”; and for his “willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate.” People influenced by these words may be led to wonder how the man they describe could be guilty of a “grave violation of religious freedom.” They may be prey to the suspicion that the accusation against him is motivated by self-serving institutional and political interests. If they accept the text of the honorary degree as truthful, they will be susceptible to the argument that Obama is motivated by dedication to human rights, to wit, a woman’s purported right to reproductive health services consistent with her freedom to make responsible choices with respect to sexual activity and its consequences. Thus, by declaring its regard for Obama’s human rights advocacy in the degree, Notre Dame saps the credibility of its claim that Obama is guilty of assaulting the rights of conscience now.
The people at Notre Dame who conferred and applauded Obama’s honorary degree praised and honored his dedication to human rights. By itself, this abuse of the institution’s moral authority may or may not decisively influence the convictions of those exposed to it. But insofar as such people trust the University’s moral example, they will certainly be disposed to accept the account of Obama’s good qualities used to justify its action. That account disregards the fact that every assertion of a fundamental human right necessarily relies in turn upon an assertion about what is right. It would make no sense to praise someone’s dedication to rights if he is in fact promoting wrongs. So by putting the University’s trusted moral authority behind the proposition that Obama is someone who exemplifies America’s dedication to human rights, Obama’s admirers at Notre Dame implicitly validate his understanding of what is right. Given his radical promotion of so-called “abortion rights,” this encourages people who give weight to Notre Dame’s moral judgment to assume that there is a morally valid understanding of right which substantiates Obama’s “abortion rights” advocacy. This assumption predisposes them to look for and accept the logic that justifies what he does to protect these specious “rights.”
So, in the present battle over the contraceptive mandate, the Notre Dame community’s unrepentant insistence on honoring Obama’s career invites skepticism about their current criticism of his action. After all, his action is consistent with the understanding of rights he has taken throughout his career. By contrast, the Notre Dame community’s present criticism of his action is inconsistent with their past worship of his behavior. For, at the time they commenced to honor him, his admirers at Notre Dame knew of his radical dedication to “abortion rights.” Yet and still they praised him for his dedication to human rights and his respect for people of faith.
The Obama worshippers at Notre Dame will no doubt contend that his present actions justify their present criticism. But to counter their contention, Obama’s present defenders need only point out that his stance with respect to human rights in the present instance is exactly what it has always been, and what it was when his worshippers at Notre Dame proclaimed their admiration for it. Notre Dame’s latest declaration accuses him of violating religious freedom. But his defenders could reasonably ask, “Since when has religious freedom included the right to violate the human rights of others? Did the religious arguments deployed in support of apartheid protect, as a matter of religious freedom, its systematic violations of human right? Should the religious protestations of [so-called] ‘homophobes’ do so today?”
Whatever confusion prevailed in America in the past, today most people will publicly reject the notion that those who violate the human rights of others can justify their violation with a specious claim of “freedom.” A valid claim of fundamental human right limits the exercise of freedom. It entails the obligation to respect what is right, an obligation government exists to secure.
In this respect Notre Dame’s present declaration ignores the logic of human rights in exactly the way its willingness to honor Obama ignored that logic. The objection to Obama’s mandate, like the moral objection to his leadership on any issue of rights, does not turn on his violation of religious freedom. It turns on his abandonment of the true principle of human right. It turns on his rejection of the words in America’s declaration of rights (the Declaration of Independence), which say that all human being are “created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
According to the Declaration, human rights are not based on arbitrary individual assertions of freedom. Nor are they merely assertions of freedom for this or that human group or association (including religious associations) based on conventional practices and positive human law. They are affirmations of what is right based on the authority of the Creator, by whose will our nature was designed and endowed for the good of each and every human person who shares in it. They are called human rights because they acknowledge and respect this good intention, inherent in the nature of our common humanity.
Many people of Christian faith reject contraceptive abortifacients because such contraceptives thwart this natural good intention for the preservation of humanity as a whole. In taking this stand for right, they act in light of the principle of God-endowed right on which the United States was founded. This is not, therefore, simply a matter of religious freedom. It involves the more basic premise of moral responsibility that makes sense of the claim to any and all such “freedoms.” In his advocacy of so-called “abortion rights,” Obama rejects this foundational truth. He rejects the intrinsic connection between our rights and our responsibility to respect the Creator’s substantiation of what is right. He rejects the self-evident truth that our claim to freedom depends upon our willingness to act as the Creator has, in our very nature, authorized us to act.
Obama’s insistence that it is right for government to use the force of law to impose public support for the practice of sterilization and contraceptive abortion is a logical consequence of this rejection. But the people who oppose him for violating right when it comes to freedom have no credibility if they praise and honor him in a way that validates his perverted understanding of what is right. For, if access to abortion may be legitimately promoted as a right, which Obama has long and consistently done, he cannot be criticized for respecting the government’s obligation to secure that right for all who wish to practice it. But if the murder of our innocent posterity is fundamentally wrong, the health mandate that forces people to subsidize such murder is also fundamentally wrong. You can’t have it both ways.
It is clear, therefore, that as long as the Notre Dame community persists in falsely honoring Obama’s perverse and consistent rejection of the God-endowed standard of right, its opposition to his violation of religious freedom stands self-defeated. To escape the toils of this self-contradiction, Notre Dame must rescind the honorary degree conferred on Obama and issue a public explanation of the issue of fundamental principle that inspired it to repent of ascribing worth to his lifelong denial of self-evident truth. Until it does, its perceived leadership in the fight against Obama’s bid to make conscience the bond slave of evil will only serve to arm that righteous cause against itself.