The Left’s Selective Defense of Conscience Rights

Abortion advocates have a bizarre notion of moral agency.

“Cooperation” is a traditional category in moral theology. It asks to what degree and under what circumstances one becomes a participant in the evil someone else does.

“Cooperation” is usually divided into two types: “formal” and “material.” One “formally cooperates” in another’s wrongdoing when one recognizes it to be such but wants to take part in it. Both doers’ wills are the same: both want to do X, and so both are responsible for X.

“Material cooperation” is more nuanced. There are instances where circumstances require me to be associated in some way with the evil someone else does. I may not always be able (or required) to remove myself from a situation, but I should distance myself as much as I can from the evil another does.

National Review reports a controversy in which one Minnesota Democrat congresswoman seems to be making a moral mountain out of a molehill. St. Paul congresswoman Betty McCollum is churning out statements about the responsibility of the University of Minnesota when the Washington Redskins next play there.

The Washington NFL franchise is the object of vehement denunciations because its name is regarded by some as offensive to American Indians. There is considerable pressure, especially inside Washington’s political class, to demand the team change its name. Its owner, Dan Snyder, refuses.

The Twin Cities’ NFL franchise, the Minnesota Vikings, will be using the University of Minnesota’s stadium this fall while its own new stadium is being built. That means the Vikings will face the Redskins on university grounds on November 2, and the congresswoman from St. Paul is already pressing the Vikings, in the name of the school’s “anti-discrimination policy” to oppose the name. National Review says the school is “looking to ‘make every effort to eliminate’ the use of the Washington Redskins name on game-related material and on game day when the two teams square off….” Can we expect game day to be “Vikings v. Those Other Guys”?

I will take no position on whether “Redskins” is, as Congresswoman McCollum says, a “’hateful slur.’” What I find most interesting is her extremely sensitive conscience that is ready to remove the speck from the Vikings’ eye while happily retaining the beam in her own.

The University of Minnesota is essentially a landlord, providing a facility to a tenant. The tenant is a local football team and the facility is a football field. In the course of that tenancy, various other teams will come to play the tenant.

One could argue that the November 2 Vikings v. Redskins game is, at worst, extremely remote material cooperation. Two professional football teams are doing a morally neutral thing, i.e., playing football. The whole controversy is about whether the landlord should object to the tenant’s guest’s name.

For Congresswoman McCollum, they should and must. Justice and morality demand it.

The same congresswoman, a professed Catholic, brooks no conscience rights for the owners of Hobby Lobby when they were forced to pay for abortifacients under Obamacare. When the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell came down, Congresswoman McCollum promptly issued a statement pledging “to find every legislative avenue available to reverse this ruling which is an attack on women and sound medical science.” True to her word, she is a co-sponsor of HR 5051, the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014.” (For my analysis of the companion Senate bill, see here.)

According to McCollum, a corporation (since that is, essentially, what a football franchise is) has a moral duty to protest another team’s name. A non-profit corporation (since that is, essentially, what a university is … although many tuition-paying parents might ask about the “non-profit” part) should kick another corporation out of its facilities over its name.

But a corporation has no moral right to refuse to pay for a drug or a device that it believes will cause the death of another human being. Indeed, that corporation has the moral duty to “see no evil,” pretend that the moral gravity of complicity in killing is irrelevant, and pay for its employees’ abortifacients.

Apparently, your conscience is only entitled to be sensitive about those things which Betty McCollum’s conscience dislikes.

When politicians and pundit pontificate derisively about “corporations are not persons” that “cannot have moral opinions,” what they really mean is that they can’t have certain opinions. If those same speakers really believed corporations have no consciences, they would not be storming board meetings demanding corporation X divest from the cause du jour. They would never have demanded Big Tobacco pay settlements. They would not be making hefty fees as consultants teaching your company about “corporate responsibility.” And they would be as incensed that Starbucks told a stockholder who dissented from its corporate pro-homosexual advocacy to sell off his shares as they are ready to bash Barilla spaghetti for insisting it would only use “classic families” in its advertising.

Of course we all know that hasn’t happened.

In his new book, Cardinal Angelo Scola remarks how such positions when made public policy imperil religious freedom:

… the so-called neutral state is not culturally impartial but takes on a secularist orientation that, through legislative choices, above all in anthropologically sensitive matters, becomes hostile to cultural identities of religious origin. Through the objectivity and authoritativeness of the law is spread—in fact—a culture marked by a secularized vision of man and of the world, which is legitimate as one voice in a pluralistic society but which the state cannot make its own without assuming implicitly an undue substantive position that restricts religious freedom. (Emphasis added.)

Religious freedom starts with freedom of conscience, to act or not act according to one’s convictions in moral matters. Betty McCollum in practice offers a selective conscience (hers), which finds some corporate activities acceptable but not others, norms she would then impose on the rest of us. I guess this is what is meant by the conscience that can swallow a camel but strains at a gnat.

John M. Grondelski


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.

  • fredx2

    What is disturbing is the attempt to drag people who are not involved in the controversy into the controversy to suit their political desires. Not only must McCullom protest the name, but she wants to FORCE others to protest the name!

    Talk about Orwellian behavior.

    At bottom, there is a totalitarian instinct on the left.

    • tom

      When’s her bishop gonna bar her from the altar rail? She hurts the Church, mortally and leaves herself open to grievous error. Whom will this mad woman be attacking next?

  • Rock St. Elvis

    As one with Cherokee ancestry, I have no trouble with the name “Redskins.” Whether something is a “hateful slur” hinges largely, if not entirely, on the intent behind its use. The Washington Redskins name is not an insult as it is not intended as one.

    • Scott W.

      People who decide to be offended on behalf of others think they are doing the others a favor, but in reality they are being annoyingly condescending while the object of their offense isn’t.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Those who argue that “corporations are not persons” should consider the little puzzle posed by F W Maitland over a century ago.

    “My organised group shall be a sovereign state. Let us call it Nusquamia. Like many other sovereign states, it owes money, and I will suppose that you are one of its creditors. You are not receiving the expected interest and there is talk of repudiation. That being so, I believe that you will be, and indeed I think that you ought to be, indignant, morally, righteously indignant. Now the question that I want to raise is this: Who is it that really owes you money? Nusquamia. Granted, but can you convert the proposition that Nusquamia owes you money into a series of propositions imposing duties on certain human beings that are now in existence? The task will not be easy. Clearly you do not think that every Nusquamian owes you some aliquot share of the debt. No one thinks in that way… Nor, I think, shall we get much good out of the word “collectively,” which is the smudgiest word in the English language, for the largest “collection” of zeros is only zero.”

    I think we shall agree with Dicey that “When a body of twenty, or two thousand, or two hundred thousand men bind themselves together to act in a particular way for some common purpose, they create a body, which by no fiction of law, but by the very nature of things, differs from the individuals of whom it is constituted.”

    • That is a puzzle. But here’s one potential answer to it: The principle of subsidiarity states that a body of twenty, or two thousand, or two hundred thousand men; should never usurp the duty of a family.

      Thus this corporate personhood needs to be limited- the corporate veil needs to be pierced- and we need to protect the rights of human beings above the rights of corporations.

      Especially when those human beings own corporations.

      As for the idiot who lent a corporation money- well, he gets what is coming to him, there is no humanity in the corporation and the ONLY reason a corporation ever pays its debts is under threat of the corporate form of capitol punishment (bankruptcy).

  • Is not “Vikings” also a hateful slur?

    • Bob

      As a tall ranch owning, aquatic animal and bird loving horseback rider with a pilots license I find the Giants, Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons, Jets, Broncos, and Colts football nsmes offensive also. They need to change their mascots.

  • JP

    Rep McCollem should be commended on taking the lead on an issue that will surely go down as one of the great moral issues of our time. Way to go, Betty!


    What a silly woman she is.

    Along with the lovely and talented Sen. Al (Darn it – people LIKE me!!) Francken the good people of Minnesota must feel very proud.

  • jpct50

    Contrary to what most might think, Native Americans usually prefer the term American Indian (check out most tribal websites.) Also, you just have to appreciate the irony of Red Mesa High School, located on the Navajo Reservation in Red Mesa, Arizona, a public school with nearly 100% of its students being Navajo Indian and they call themselves – yep you guessed it, the Redskins!

  • Fred

    This is such an absurd topic I almost didn’t want to jump in as it doesn’t seem worthy here even though it is yet another example of the state of cultural moral confusion. Though our life is shaped by the times we live in, it doesn’t take much reading to realize that there have been politicians throughout the ages who are not timid in showing their mental smallness. Splinter and beam indeed. Interesting topic to choose to write about, and spot on.

  • John Albertson

    Satire is the best was to deal with nutty political correctness. See Father Rutler’s article “What’s in a Name?” about the Redskins in Crisis last November.

  • Thomas

    The Libs don’t really care about American Indians and their perceived sensitivities. They DO, however, see a target in a rich, white, male, owner and that really sticks in their craw.

    • Thomas

      As long as Lib femi-nazi’s continue to gain power, rich, white, men are on the endangered species list.

  • Jen*

    I find the on-going logical disconnect in our country to be as powerful, insidious and destructive as anything we have ever faced. It’s one thing to know your enemy. It’s quite devastating to realize we are capable of manufacturing and expanding any number of boondoggles to drain away our time and energy and make us almost incapable of recognizing an actual threat.

  • Vinnie

    I JUST HEARD IN BREAKING NEWS that the owner of the Redskins has decided to DROP the name………………………………………………………………..
    Washington because it’s so embarrassing.

    • Thomas

      “Washington because it’s so embarrassing.”

      Eventually, they’ll drop Washington because George was a rich, white, landowner. As this group sees it today, all of our problems today stem from rich, white, patriarchs.

      • Fred

        That is too funny Vinnie, I love it. You don’t mind if I reuse your humor do you?

        • Vinnie

          That’s what I’ve done.

      • Tamsin

        There’s an entire state out west that would like to change its name.

    • John Albertson

      What does one expect from US footballers: overweight and overpaid guys in tights and shoulder pads? Full-blooded American Indians should be glad to have nothing to do with them.

  • And where is the local bishop and the Pope? No where to be seen on the issue of Catholic politicians supporting infanticide and homosexual marriage.

    • Watosh

      Taking these issues on would be unpopular, even maybe unAmerican, and besides if they did the politicians might take away the tax emption status of the Church.

      • John Albertson

        Great: and if we worried about losing tax exemptions, we would be able to pay our bills in this life, but not in the next. I doubt that any martyr worried about tax exemptions

        • Watosh

          As you said above, satire is the best way to deal with nutty political correctness, I thought a little satire might be the best way to describe the reluctance of our hierarchy to tackle certain issues, but the trouble is satire can be misinterpreted. Of course I hope I didn’t imply I thought that worrying about any tax exemption status was a legitimate worry by any Catholic, let alone Catholic martyrs.

  • cestusdei

    My English ancestors were attacked by Vikings. This is a sensitive issue with me. They need to change their name right now. I demand it.

    • Thomas

      Her type don’t care about White aggression against Other Whites. She doesn’t feel there is anything wrong there. She’s still fascinated by the “dictionary scene” from Malcom X, the movie. Watch it on You Tube.

      • Thomas

        uh…Malcolm X…

    • John200

      1200 years ago? Do they know the dates? facts? Amount of losses? I can steer them to a good lawyer.

      Oh,… now I see.

  • Art Deco

    The woman has lived and worked within a particular subculture since 1987 and likely has no independent or critical disposition toward it. Nothing to see here (between her ears).

  • Jhawk77

    May father told me I have Siksika (Blackfeet) Indian blood from about three generations previous. I shudder to think what the politically correct would say if the Washington Redskins would drop the so-called racial epithet of “Redskins” for the accurate name of “Blackfeet.”

  • montanajack1948

    Not speaking to the merits of this particular issue, but when you write that “Betty McCollum in practice offers a selective conscience (hers), which finds some corporate activities acceptable but not others, norms she would then impose on the rest of us”–isn’t that true for all of us? Isn’t everyone’s conscience “selective”? Whether speaking of corporations or individuals, don’t we all find “some…activities acceptable but not others”? Don’t we all, in various ways, attempt to impose our norms on others, or at least persuade others that our norms are correct?

    • Art Deco

      isn’t that true for all of us? Isn’t everyone’s conscience “selective”?

      Betty can tell her daughter to pay for her own IUD and quit Jonesing for one on the dime of Hobby Lobby. Worked for my mother’s contemporaries.

    • John200

      The point is to first, form your conscience well. The natural law and the Magisterium are your guides to proper formation.

      The modifier “properly formed” is often missed in discussions of conscience. This causes much confusion. From the recent archives, check Tony Esolen’s 3-article sequence on “A Counterfeit Conscience.” The Catechism has a short, relevant section (CCC 1776-1802).

      A second reason to attend to your conscience is that it can cause problems for others who take you seriously. You might persuade others to sin; for you that is the sin of scandal. Betty McCollum seems to be running this risk.

      Natural law and the Magisterium will give you safe norms.

      • montanajack1948

        Thank you, John.

        • John200

          No charge, man.

  • Rhoda Penmark

    Some people are so adamantly “pro-life” that they prioritize the rights of a single-celled zygote above those of a woman. Yet many of these same people loudly cheer every time the death penalty is carried out. And they were gung-ho when Dubya invaded Iraq under false pretenses because, you know, “just war.” It goes both ways, politically speaking, and the hypocrisies of conservatives extend far deeper than trivia like sports teams’ names.

    By the way, re the “Minnesota Democrat congresswoman,” the correct adjective is “Democratic.” You undermine your own credibility when you deliberately make such an error simply because you can’t pass up even a minor opportunity to show your disrespect.

    • Art Deco

      Thanx for the talking points.

    • Guest

      How many babies can one kill before it matters? Your dismissal of life is appalling, not surprising but appalling.

    • Bob


      Considering 99% of abortions happen post 12 days after conception, I’d hardly call the developing human a “one celled zygote.”

      But keep telling us of your kill the baby in the womb, narcissist attitude. Its quite entertaining.

    • Fargo106

      You tried to tie together people’s reactions to several occurences and lump them all together as the same people (without any corroboration, BTW) The issues aren’t connected and the people aren’t connected. You undermine your own credibility when you deliberately attempt to cloud the real issue simply because you can’t pass up even a minor opportunity to show your disrespect.

  • Greg Cook

    One of my local papers (the Seattle Times) came up with their own way of solving this “problem.” The last time there was a piece about the Redskins, the paper refused to use that name, but referred to Washington DC’s NFL franchise, thereby flunking Journalism 101 at least insofar as they used several words where one would have sufficed.


    Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Betty McCollum, – all of them (not to mention a veritable plethora of ‘sport’ columnists) seem to share one common belief – we (the many members of the gum-chewing public) need their input and wisdom on each and every subject under the sun.

    Bulletin – we don’t.

    Pinheads one and all.

    Every word they say reinforces my point.

    Over and over