Notre Dame's Political Football

By Brian P. Dunleavy
May 31, 2012

The last time I wrote about the University of Notre Dame I received threatening emails from alumni so I know what to expect this time, too.

And I don't care.

Last week, Notre Dame, one of the top Catholic universities in this country, announced that it had filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a portion of the Affordable Care Act (or what condescending blowhards call "Obamacare") that, as the university's statement reads, "requires religious organizations to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate insurance coverage for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church." Other church-affiliated institutions have filed similar litigation, including the Archdiocese of New York and the Catholic University of America.

But the school based in South Bend, Indiana stands out in this story because of its status as a symbol for many Catholic Americans and, in particular, Irish Catholic Americans. In short, people like me.

These folks are called "Subway Alumni," and they have an unusual bond with Notre Dame in general, and the university’s football team in particular. They may not have attended the school themselves. They may not even know anyone who has attended the school. Yet, they cheer harder for the Fighting Irish on fall Saturdays than many actual alumni and undergraduates. Over the years, the school’s achievements on the gridiron—the team’s recent mediocrity notwithstanding—have served as inspiration for all Irish Catholic Americans as they have attempted to improve their standing in American society.

There is nothing else in college or professional sports quite like it.

No doubt some of these folks will cheer even more for the Fighting Irish after last week’s announcement, with the battles on the football field serving as a metaphor for the school’s fight for "religious freedom" off of it.

Not me.

While we can all argue whether or not the finer points of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" include birth control and abortion (but not war, apparently) based on biblical text, one cannot dispute the fact that Jesus—at least as depicted in the New Testament—spent much of his time ministering to the poor. It is utterly astonishing then that Catholic institutions would be so quick to legally challenge the government (the same government from which many of them receive tax breaks, by the way) on one provision of the new health care law, while remaining stone silent on the same government’s epic failure for decades to help those in need somehow obtain adequate and affordable health care, which the Affordable Care Act for all its failings (and there are many) at least aims to do.

Of course, church leaders, including administrators at Notre Dame, are entitled to their beliefs. However, in claiming that the Affordable Care Act somehow imposes someone else's so-called secular beliefs on their institutions they fail to realize that they, in turn, are forcing others—namely all of their employees—to suffer for the sake of church doctrine by denying women access to needed medical care ("the pill" does more than prevent pregnancy). Not all workers at Catholic schools or hospitals are Catholic, and not all of them are working there by choice. In some cases, at least, they may be there because no one else is hiring.

Notre Dame isn't the only offender here, just the biggest name on the list. But needless to say I won't be cheering for the school this fall, on the football field—or in the courtroom.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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