Memo to Final Four Crowds: the Hot Dog Vendor May Not Serve You

by Ken Briggs

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The greatest perversion of language occurs when original meaning is twisted to stand for its opposite. Such is the case with Indiana's corruption of the term "religious freedom." If the hot dog vendors at the NCAA Final Four showdown in Indianapolis refuse to serve a self-declared gay person on grounds that it violates the vendor's sacred rights, the state of Indiana may offer them full legal backing. It's that ludicrous.

So how did things come to this? Well, there are I'm sure many factors, but one of them is that as a nation we've heard foes of Obama Care wag their fingers in the air against being required to provide employees birth control options even if they're exempt from having to pay for them. While most church objectors accepted the Administration's compromise, the die-hards have hung in there, helping to create a climate that stretches the "religious freedom" principle to extreme ends and encourages that false First Amendment battle cry into areas unforeseen. Like Indiana's potentially abusive law that could affront the dignity of non-heterosexuals and who knows what other groups, all because some with precious private convictions want the right to punish others for not sharing them.

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports that three prominent colleges in the state have protested the law: Indiana University, Butler University and DePauw University. Conspicuously missing is any Catholic college or university, most notably Notre Dame. Why is that noteworthy? Because Notre Dame has been one of the main antagonists against the birth control requirement, one of the national crusaders against Obama Care policies. It's highly doubtful that staff, faculty and most alumni agree, but university officials have apparently wanted to appease the Catholic Right and perhaps the Vatican for appearing too "liberal" at times, especially inviting Obama to speak there, and this intransigent stand appears to be an amends. Add to that the alarming Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby's tender sensibilities on the matter.

Has Notre Dame's high profile defiance of that provision in the name of "religious freedom" directly caused Gov. Pence to enact the new state outrage? No. Has it contributed to the upsurge in efforts to "reclaim" religious freedom that the Right claims has been lost, increasing the incentive to push the limits too far? It's very likely. So will Notre Dame's top brass keep silent in the face of a law that threatens real rights, shielding itself in abstract, casuistic arguments? Or will it step out with the rest and tilt the forces of decency against a travesty.



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