University Professor Leads Catholics for Obama
October 27, 2012
Filed under News
Stephen Schneck, professor of political science and director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy and Catholic Studies (IPC) and the acting dean of social work does not limit his public influence to his professional career: he is also a co-chairman for Catholics for Obama.
Schneck actively campaigns with the Catholics for Obama campaign team, which includes Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and 18 others, and will travel all over the country in the upcoming weeks giving speeches on why Catholics should reelect President Barack Obama in November.
Although he holds two roles, one as an objective leader of the IPC and the other as an activist Democrat, he says that he keeps the two separate.
“What I do for the campaign is what I do as a private citizen and really has no connection to my work here,” he said in an interview. “The institute is academic and objective and non-partisan.”
Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs, said that Schneck’s actions are not a conflict of interest and are in line with the University and the Catholic Church’s stance that individuals are called to participate in the public sphere.
Junior politics major Rebecca Ruesch said that she was worried Schneck’s affiliation with the Obama campaign could create a conflict of interest.
“I think the point of the institute is to be above political parties,” she said. “If Dr. Schneck is heading Catholics for Obama that does create some conflict of interest.”
Nevertheless, Schneck has not been quiet about his political beliefs and how he reconciles his faith with his party affiliation, especially on the subject of abortion and religious freedom.
He gave interviews to both EWTN and PBS describing his belief that it was actually more in line with Catholic teaching on abortion to vote for Obama, despite the Democratic platform stating specifically that the party “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”
Schneck says that while he does not agree with this part of the platform, it would actually reduce the number of abortions if Obama wins the election than if Romney wins.
The cuts that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, propose for Medicare are so drastic that they will cause many more women to have abortions, Schneck said.
“The Obama administration supports a number of policies like food stamps and public housing, all of which are slated to be cut by Romney/Ryan,” he said. “And if you put all these [together] it actually looks to me like a perfect storm building, creating conditions where it will be much harder for women in these at-risk pregnancy situations to carry their babies to term.”
Schneck also expressed his doubts that the Republican Party has any intention of repealing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. He said that the Republican Party had many chances to do so since then and never has.
He mentioned the abortion programs in the Netherlands and Germany and said the reason why they have one-third of the abortion rates of the United States despite similar abortion laws is that their support services and adoption services are “bigger and better” than anything in the United States.
The Catholic role in public policy has been thrust into the spotlight over the past year as a result of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which would require Catholic institutions to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization in their insurance plans.
The University, along with several other colleges and universities, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in May, claims that the mandate would force religious institutions to violate their beliefs.
Schneck said that he is in complete agreement with the University’s lawsuit and that while the Obama administration has made steps in the right direction since then, they need to come a long way before the mandate is acceptable to Catholics.
But the HHS mandate is not such a threat to religious liberty that it would cause Schneck to change his political affiliation because, as he puts it, threats to religious liberty are just as apparent all over the world.
He mentioned the Supreme Court Case, Employment Division vs. Smith which decided that a state could deny unemployment benefits to someone who used the drug “peyote” even though its use was part of a Native American religious ritual.
“That particular case poses a real challenge to long-term to religious liberty,” he said. “And the actions of Congress continually pose threats to religious liberty.”
He made it clear that students should not feel embarrassed or marginalized because they belong to one political party or another.
“I encourage all of our students here at the University to recognize that the beauty of the Catholic faith is that it transcends political parties and transcends ideologies. To be Catholic is not to be conservative and is not to be liberal,” he said. “To be Catholic is to be Catholic and we should all go into that voting booth thinking about our faith and trying to apply our faith to the public square.”
Schneck will be appearing on an expert panel sponsored by the University next Thursday called “The Catholic Vote,” which will serve as an intellectual discussion of the importance of the Catholic vote in November and the issues that are important to him in particular.
His position as a co-chairman of Catholics for Obama is not advertised in the event description on the Public Affairs website, and he says he will not use the panel as a chance to campaign for the Obama administration and will keep it strictly academic.