In interviews with a handful of signatories, three put distance them and the Obama administration over the ruling. Thomas Reese, SJ, a former editor of the Jesuit weekly America magazine, said “it was my fault in signing the letter by not paying enough attention to what the group’s about.” While Father Reese emphasized that he supports a wide exemption for religious institutions, such as hospitals and universities, from the impending contraception mandate, he declined to comment on the mandate itself. “What are you trying to get me to say?” he said.
Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, expressed support for Secretary Sebelius’ resignation. “It would be a good thing if she stepped down,” he said. “I think she was a talented person for the job, but if the President asked her to step down, that would be good for her.” Professor Schneck expressed disappointment with the mandate and said he supports a wide exemption for religious institutions.
Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec, a former ambassador to Malta for the Obama administration, made public a letter he wrote to the President expressing his opposition to the contraception mandate and said he may not support Obama’s re-election effort in November.
While Reese, Schneck, and Kmiec have put distance between them and the Obama administration over the HHS ruling, several signatories continue to support both Secretary Sebelius and the ruling.
One signatory in this camp is James P. Joseph, a lawyer at the prestigious law firm of Arnold and Porter in Washington. “I’m still a supporter of hers,” he said of Sebelius. “I have not had time to look at the parameters of what they decided … and it is a difficult balancing act. (But) my view on politics is that while these issues are important, Sebelius and Obama overall are doing a good job.”
Patrick Whelan, president of the Catholic Democrats, appears to have gone a step further than Joseph. His organization has endorsed not only President Obama and Secretary Sebelius, but also the contraception mandate. On its webpage, the group has posted an op-ed from member Victoria Kovari that criticizes the nation’s bishops for “spend[ing] their moral and financial resources on a misplaced fight for so called religious liberty, when so much else is at stake.”
While some signatories do not endorse Sebelius without reservation and others continue to, most signatories were unavailable for comment. I placed a phone call or email with all but a few of them but more than a dozen have not returned my messages. When I hear from them, I will update this post.
UPDATE: Kari Tremeryn (nee Lundgren), a doctoral candidate in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, offered a robust defense of the contraception mandate in an email to me. She wrote that the ruling does not compel employees of religious hospitals and universities to use contraception (or get sterilized or take abortifacients).
The mandate also protects, she added, those workers’ religious freedom. As she put the matter, “Why should a married evangelical employee of a Catholic hospital, for example, not have access to contraception through her health insurance equal to what she would have at a comparable secular institution? Would the hospital be better off if all employees for whom artificial birth control is not an issue of conscience all sought employment in secular institutions? What about those employees for whom such mobility isn’t an option, especially in this economy?”