Debate commission board member involved in lawsuit against Obama administration over HHS mandate

A board member of the Commission on Presidential Debates is currently involved in a lawsuit against the Obama administration regarding birth-control and religious liberty.

The University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit on May 21, 2012 — one of 12 filed that day by 43 separate Catholic organizations — against the U.S. government. The lawsuit was over the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that required religious institutions to provide for contraceptives in its employee insurance plans.

The Catholic Church and its surrogates argued that the policy was contrary to its institution’s teachings.

Reverend John I. Jenkins, recently elected board member of the Commission on Presidential Debates — the private tax-exempt corporation that organizes the presidential and vice presidential debates — is president of the University of Notre Dame.

Jenkins had filed public comment with the Obama administration on September 28, 2011 over the HHS mandate in his capacity as the university’s president, hoping that the administration would reconsider the university and institutions like it in a broader exemption.

He was elected by the Commission to serve on its board several days later in October 2011 as the first university president to serve as a board member.

Jenkins, although not named in Notre Dame’s complaint, said in a statement the day of the filing that the lawsuit was “about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.”

Notre Dame and Janet Brown, Executive Director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

Commission co-chairs Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Michael D. McCurry stated in an announcement regarding Jenkins’ election to the board said that they had hoped the commission could benefit from Jenkins’ experience with engaging young voters.

Jenkins welcomed President Obama to Notre Dame as the university’s commencement speaker in 2009, and also conferred upon him an honorary degree from the institution.

His reception of the president drew criticism from fellow Catholics, who take issue with the president’s pro-abortion stance.

McCurry, in a November 2011 interview with National Catholic Register, denied Jenkins’ reception of Obama at Notre Dame had any influence in the Jenkins’ election to the board.

McCurry, a Methodist laymen studying theology at Wesleyan Theological Seminary at American University, told the publication that Jenkins’ value to the debate commission resided in his “standing as a moral philosopher.”

A recent report by the Center for Responsive Politics — published October 2 —  revealed that campaign donations since 2008 by commission board members, including that of the co-chairmen, leaned heavily towards Republicans by over $100,000.

Jenkins, the organization found, had given to neither party during that time.

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