The Election, the Church, and Notre Dame, Chapter One


The election of Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton improves the landscape on a number of issues important to the Church and Notre Dame.

NOTRE DAME, IN — In this bulletin we discuss how the election of Donald Trump may affect the Church and Notre Dame, and in our next bulletin we’ll describe the reaction to the election at Notre Dame. We’ll invite comments after the second bulletin completes the picture.

We discuss policies, not personalities. As R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has observed in the course of his thoughtful First Things commentaries on Trump,

We’re all aware of Trump’s vices. His political principles are muddy. His narcissism is towering. And then there’s his contribution to the coarsening of our public life. Under normal circumstances, any one of these factors would be disqualifying. But circumstances are not normal.

We are aware also that, perhaps especially with Trump, it is hazardous to predict the future. We deal with the situation only as it exists today. Our report will serve as a marker from which to measure Trump’s performance, much as did Obama’s 2009 talk at Notre Dame. He was cheered prematurely. Along with you, we will wait and see.

But for now, as Professor Gerard Bradley of the Notre Dame law school observed in an Irish Rover essaythe “social conservatism” embracing Catholic values “has survived a date with the firing squad.” With Trump rather than Clinton in the White House, the Church and Catholic organizations like Notre Dame can substitute cautious optimism for anxiety on such key matters as abortion and religious liberty.


Notre Dame calls itself pr0-life, and both faculty and student organizations are deeply engaged in the pro-life cause.  Its prospects in a Hillary Clinton administration looked bleak. She was the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history — a champion of Planned Parenthood and a supporter of late-term abortions who pledged to secure federal funding for abortion.

The outlook now looks dramatically different. By one of his first executive orders, President Trump re-instated the “Mexico City policy,” established by President Reagan and revoked by President Obama, that bars United States financial assistance to International Planned Parenthood and any other organizations that promote abortion overseas.

This evidences why the New York Times has reported, “Combatants on both sides see legalized abortion imperiled as it has not been for decades” — from “the composition of the Supreme Court, to a permanent ban on taxpayer-financed abortions, to emboldened Republican statehouses,” and even “including, they agree, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List and a leader of Trump’s pro-life coalition, declared, “This is the strongest the pro-life movement has been since 1973.” She called Trump’s letter to her endorsing the organization’s goals “probably the most valuable piece of paper we’ll ever have.” Those commitments included “putting anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court; passing a national 20-week ban; eliminating federal money for Planned Parenthood; and making permanent the Hyde Amendment to ban taxpayer-funded abortions.”

While “Catholics and pro-lifers were skeptical of Trump at first,” Dannenfelser observed, his “commitments to the pro-life movement became stronger and stronger” leading to his “historic” confrontation with Clinton at the final debate.

The bishops, too, are optimistic about pro-life prospects under Trump.

Religious Liberty, Abortion, the Mandate, and Notre Dame

We have regularly reported on the lawsuits by religious organizations protesting the Obamacare abortifacient/contraceptive mandate, which obliges them to participate in the provision of free abortifacients and contraceptives to their employees. Notre Dame is one of the plaintiffs.

Some of the lawsuits (not Notre Dame’s) finally landed in the Supreme Court, which took the unusual step of ordering the parties to try to forge a compromise. After Justice Scalia’s death, the Court was evidently deadlocked 4-4. The administration has not budged, but neither has it closed the proceeding. Notre Dame’s lawsuit is dormant pending further developments.

When the Supreme Court declined to decide the cases, Clinton protested, “Every woman, no matter where she works, deserves birth control coverage. This shouldn’t be a question.”

A Clinton appointee to the Supreme Court would have tipped the balance, probably decisively, against Notre Dame and the other plaintiffs. Now the tables are turned dramatically.

There is good reason to hope the Trump administration will revoke the mandate or provide a religious conscience exemption. Vice President-elect Pence has said as much, and HHS secretary-designate Congressman Tom Price has condemned the mandate for “trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty.” And even if the cases were somehow to go back to the Supreme Court, the outlook would be much brighter.

Religious Liberty – “Transgenders,” the Church, and Notre Dame

Last May, the Obama Department of Education issued a letter interpreting the sex discrimination provision of the Civil Rights Act to require schools, including Notre Dame, to allow “transgenders” — that is, gender dysphoric people who think their gender is different from their sex — access to the showers, locker rooms, rest rooms and dormitories of their declared gender rather than their biological sex.

A federal court of appeals deferred to the administration’s interpretation, and the Supreme Court has granted review.

As we reported in a recent bulletin, this license for “transgenders” to share the showers, dressing rooms, bedrooms, and restrooms of persons of the opposite sex collides with Church teaching.

Here again, there is good reason to believe that the Trump administration will rescue schools, including Notre Dame, and everyone else subject to the Civil Rights Act. Commenting on the litigation, Vice President-elect Pence said that “both he and the Republican presidential candidate believe that the transgender bathroom issue can be resolved with common sense at the local level. Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools.”

The Trump administration could simply withdraw the letter of interpretation, which would probably lead the Court to send the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration. Or, with a new Justice seated, the Court might decide to settle the matter by construing “sex discrimination” to mean, well, sex discrimination.

DACA Students at Notre Dame

There are about forty undocumented immigrant students at Notre Dame who were brought to this country at an early age and are protected from deportation under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “Dreamers” program. Because Trump decried Obama’s immigration executive orders during his campaign, there has been concern he might revoke this one.

However, he has softened his stance since his election, especially respecting this program. In a recent interview, Trump declared he is “going to work something out” for these young people. They were “brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. ” “Some were good students,” he said. “Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

More, just a few days ago Speaker Ryan “said the charge he has taken from Mr. Trump is to target the serious criminals for deportation while finding a way to grant Dreamers and other low-priority illegal immigrants legal status.”  He declared, “Dreamers don’t have to worry about being deported.”

Other Issues

There are a few other issues worth noting briefly.

School choice could be quite important to Catholic education and, hence, indirectly to Notre Dame.  While Clinton opposes vouchers for private schools, Trump’s signature education proposal is the provision of $20 billion for low income students to attend schools of their choice, including private schools. More, while governor of Indiana, Vice President-elect Pence strongly supported private school vouchers. Still more, Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVos may be the nation’s preeminent supporter of student vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Common Core. In an illuminating Public Discourse article, Professor Bradley has described how the federal Common Core educational program clashes with an authentic Catholic education and why it would be at risk under Trump but secure under Clinton.

Immigration, which has received a good deal of attention at Notre Dame, might align bishops against Trump at some point. As of now, despite his harsh campaign rhetoric, his deportation priority is the same as Obama’s, i.e. criminals, which will take years if it can be completed at all. The test may come if and when a new immigration legislative program is proposed.


While Catholics may, of course, part with Trump on trade, taxes, and other issues and while many might have preferred a different candidate, at this point there is cause for optimism on a number of matters important to Catholic universities and colleges and other Catholic institutions.