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Leitner Fellow Examines Notre Dame’s Use of the RFRA

Submitted by on January 29 – 2013No Comment

Leitner Center Human Rights Fellow Bridgette Dunlap co-authored an op-ed for the South Bend Tribune about the University of Notre Dame’s challenge to the federal contraceptive coverage rule.

The University claimed to have rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects “[a] person whose religious exercise has been burdened” by the government. Dunlaps article asks the question: “Who is Notre Dame?”

The claim to protection under RFRA would seem to rest on one of two theories: Either that the term ‘person’ should be read to include corporations, or, that the corporation represents as-of-yet unidentified human persons, as when a church sues on behalf of parishioners. Notre Dame’s court submissions exhibit confusion on this point, referring to Notre Dame both as having a singular “conscience” and as having plural “consciences.”

Dunlap makes the point that although the Supreme Court found corporations to have some First Amendment rights, this does not include all constitutional or statutory rights of people, such as voting.

Dunlap goes on to challenge the notion that bishops are in a position to dictate what a University’s beliefs should be.

The idea that the bishops dictate what Notre Dame’s beliefs are would be contrary to Catholic teaching under Ex Corde Ecclesiae regarding the autonomy possessed by Catholic-affiliated universities. It would be inconsistent with the scholarship and debate that take place on these campuses. It would make Notre Dame a strange place to choose to study or teach theology, and endanger Notre Dame’s ability to recruit non-Catholics and Catholics who do not believe the bishops’ authority carries over to matters of individual conscience, law or science.

Read Dunlap’s op-ed in the South Bend Tribune.