On St Valentine’s Day last week, oddly, faculty members of John Carroll University sent a letter which 47 of them signed to president Robert L. Niehoff SJ requesting that he accept the so-called “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration as to offering contraception coverage in their employee health plan. The represents less than a fourth of the 215 faculty members of the institution located in the suburbs of Cleveland OH.
Representing various departments at the institution founded by the Jesuit order of priests, which describes itself as “Educating for leadership and service in the Jesuit tradition”, signatories included members from the departments of: Classical and Modern Languages and Cultures, Philosophy, Political Science, and Theology, as well as the new minor degree program in public health. The letter bears the signature of Prof. Paul R.Lauritzen of Theology, Associate Professor Jim Lissemore of Biology, and Professor Susan B. Long of JCU Population and Public Health, and the names of other supporting faculty.
The letter expressed the faculty members’ concern that the Catholic bishops of the United States in their heated opposition to the mandate from the White House “have rejected the accommodation offered by the administration,” and thus leading them to “leads us to wonder what motivates their continued resistance.” “Access to contraception is central to the health and well-being of children,” the letter states, in which Rev. Niehoff is urged to “stand up to those who would play politics with women’s health,” and “endorse a policy of insurance coverage of contraception that respects the religious liberties and health of all who teach and work at Catholic colleges and universities”.
The signatories, such as some Catholics in public life such as U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senator John Kerry (D), reject the Catholic bishops’ claim that Obama’s contraception-coverage mandate is an attack on constitutionally protected religious freedom. The dons at John Carroll argue that Obama’s mandate “is driven by a concern for women’s health”.
Other Catholics have also applauded President Obama’s “accommodation”. For example, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities released a statement last week commending the president. “The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) acknowledges and appreciates the compromise that President Obama has made to accommodate religious institutions in regard to the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act. We commend the Obama Administration for its willingness to work with us on moving toward a solution, and we look forward to working out the details of these new regulations with the White House”.
Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, who once had denounced the mandate as an infringement of the Constitution, said on February 17 “I’m encouraged by the president’s recognition of the inalienable right of religious liberty…I think we’re headed in a very good direction.” For her part, Sister Sister Carol Keehan of The Catholic Health Association stated, “The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions”.
The letter from the John Carroll faculty members cites support for contraception among several non-Catholic institutions, including the Institute of Medicine, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, but nowhere does it cite Catholic moral teaching. The letter asks for Rev. Niehoff to intervene, in the midst of a presidential election year as the issue of the mandate promises to become a significant wedge between the Democratic Party and the GOP, and between liberals and conservatives. The letter reads, “We thus ask that, along with the presidents of other Catholic and Jesuit universities, you urge the bishops to avoid the inflammatory rhetoric they have been using to attack the administration’s policy”.
Professor Paul Lauritzen, the lead signatory of the John Carroll faculty letter, is the author of numerous articles on medical ethics and is the editor of Cloning and the Future of Human Embryo Research. Professor Susan B. Long is an anthropologist and author of Final Days: Japanese Culture and Choice at the End of Life, which on her webpage she describes as an exploration of “bioethical issues at the end of life in a culture quite different from those in which bioethics originated.”