Knights of Columbus head Carl Anderson questioned the Obama Administration’s policies in a speech at Notre Dame University, six years after the president promised conscience protections and common ground on issues such as abortion. “If there is at the core of the American understanding of freedom a principal that can neither be negotiated nor compromised away, it is this recognition that freedom is a reflection of the divine image in every human being,” stated Anderson. The University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture honored the Knights of Columbus on April 26 with the Evangelium Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations who have defended and served the sanctity of human life, inspired by St. John Paul II's 1995 papal encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.” Past recipients included Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and Helen M. Alvare, associate professor of law at George Mason University. Anderson, the Supreme Knight, received the medal on behalf of the fraternal organization, which he has led for 14 years. During this time, the group has given more than 664 million hours of service, along with $1.4 billion to charity. The knights donated the award's monetary prize of $10,000 to the Charles E. Rice Fellowship Fund. Anderson's speech highlighted ethical and cultural challenges which threaten both the dignity and freedom of individuals. He began with the promise President Barack Obama made on Notre Dame's campus six years ago - a promise of common ground. During his Commencement Address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, the president stated that he would honor the conscience of those who disagreed with abortion and contraception through a sensible conscience clause. “Six years later, that goal has still not been achieved,” Anderson said, pointing to the HHS mandate that was issued only a year later, with only very narrow exemptions for religious organizations. The mandate — which has faced lawsuits from hundreds of plaintiffs around the country on the grounds of conscience — requires employers to fund and facilitate health care plans offering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions. “The history of the HHS mandate shows an administration grudgingly walking back its proposal only by the smallest steps and only when ultimately forced to do so by judicial action. And in the end, not really walking it back at all,” Anderson continued, calling the administration “stubbornly intransigent.” The Affordable Care Act and accompanying HHS mandate mean that Catholic institutions can only remain free insofar as they conform with the government, he stressed. He cited a Columbus-Marist poll which found that 84 percent of Americans favor limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy and believe in laws protecting both the life of the mother and child. Two-thirds say the abortion rate is too high. Sixty percent believe that abortion is morally wrong. “In spite of media bias and judicial intransigence, the American people have nonetheless reached a sort of consensus on abortion,” he said, referencing the gap between government mandate and citizen belief. The Affordable Care Act strays beyond a health care program, and has instead become a system which controls around one-sixth of the U.S. economy, Anderson charged. “The potential for government control of the U.S. economy through HHS mandate-style regulation goes far beyond what we may have imagined just a few years ago,” he said, pointing to Europe as an example. Noting that some 90 laws around the world have been enacted or proposed to constrain freedom of association and assembly since 2012, the Knights of Columbus leader cautioned that space for civil society is shrinking, and the problem is not merely political, but ideological. “Persons of faith confront an ideology based on a false concept of personhood,” he suggested. “This ideology does not understand the human person, it understands neither men nor women. It makes all of them - all of us - isolated beings, disconnected, living for ourselves,” an attitude which represents a “perverse form of personal freedom.” This disordered freedom, Anderson said, infiltrates into perverse forms of liberation. He pointed to the example of contraception: the false idea that a woman is “free” from pregnancy and that a man is “liberated” from the responsibilities of fatherhood. In the case of the HHS mandate, Anderson said, there is underlying “myth that women's social and economic equality depends upon universal availability of contraception, sterilization and abortion - imposed, if necessary by the government.” The true result of the mindset behind the mandate, he continued, is “the emergence of a 'new normal,' children without a father in the house.” In this way, government promotion and funding of contraception contribute to fatherlessness in America, while stifling religious institutions from pursuing their Constitution-protected freedoms, he said. Nevertheless, Anderson observed reasons for hope in America. He said that the tide of the times is summoning a missionary spirit among Catholics. Many foundational Catholic institutions in America were built by men and women who were filled with missionary spirits, enraptured in the pursuit of freedom of religion, he reminded the audience. “These institutions opened a window on the transcendent dignity of each human being... these institutions offered something that government cannot offer - the promise of the Gospel of Life, of Evangelium Vitae,” Anderson urged. “You and I are called not only to sustain these institutions; we are called to sustain this promise. We must preserve the free exercise of religion, which allows us not only to make this promise, but keep it.”
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