University of Notre Dame communications and public-information officials have let both National Review and my office know that they are unhappy with my January 3 NRO article, “Notre Dame Punts,” claiming that it was based on a “false premise.”
It was not. But before I address that charge, let me offer the Notre Dame football team and its legions of fans my congratulations on a successful and, in many instances, inspiring season: a fact that the outcome of the BCS championship game, however painful for ND supporters, doesn’t change one whit. I look forward with pleasure to conveying those congratulations in person when I lecture at the university later this year. There are good things happening at Notre Dame, and a lot of them have to do with the university’s impressive students, many of whom insist, sometimes against local opposition, that Notre Dame live as the icon of Catholic culture and Catholic higher learning it has long promoted itself as being.
Now, to the matter of alleged false premises.
The complaint from Notre Dame officialdom is that certain ESPN advertising policies would have made it impossible for the university to run, during the BCS championship game, the kind of pro–religious freedom or pro-life self-presentation ad I suggested. Therefore, Notre Dame contends, my criticism of the university was unwarranted and unjust.
As I indicated in my article, I was quite aware of the ESPN policy against “political advocacy or issue-oriented advertising.” That policy has, over the years, frustrated more than one group. In this instance, the policy presented insuperable problems for Catholic groups who explored the possibility of purchasing advertising time on the BCS championship-game broadcast to lift up the Catholic Church’s current defense of religious freedom for all.
But there is paid advertising, to which ESPN’s political censorship clearly applies, and then there is the 30-second free ad ESPN gives the universities that are competing in the BCS championship game, so that the schools can present themselves as they wish themselves to be perceived. Now no one, including me, was suggesting that Notre Dame, in making use of that free opportunity, should run a pro-life ad that began, “Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade was idiotic” and that concluded with the self-affirmation, “We’re Notre Dame, and we defend the right to life of all.” Nor was I suggesting, in reference to the other issue under discussion, that Notre Dame’s self-presentation ad run something like this: “HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s ‘contraceptive mandate’ is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We’re proud that Notre Dame is a litigant challenging this unjust regulation in court. We’re Notre Dame, and we defend religious freedom for all.”