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Senators want study of 'non-compete' deals in low-wage jobs

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A bipartisan group of senators have written to the Government Accountability Office asking it to examine the use of non-compete agreements by employers when dealing with low-wage workers.


In a letter sent March 7,  Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Todd Young (R-IN) asked GAO comptroller general Gene Dodaro to review the practice non-compete agreements, and the effect these agreements have on the economy.


A non-compete agreement prevents or delays an employee from taking a new job either with certain competitors or in the same industry after his employment has ended. They are common in some fields as a measure to protect trade secrets and to lower turnover among employees, but the letter claims that the practice has expanded in recent years.


“We are requesting that GAO review the available research on the use of [non-compete] agreements and the impact of non-compete contracts on the nation’s workforce,” the senators wrote.


Specifically, the senators want the GAO to look at how prevalent non-compete agreements have become in lower-wage positions, and how these agreements impact the workforce and the economy as a whole.


The letter claims that 12 percent of workers earning less than $20,000 and 15 percent of workers earning between $20,000 and $40,000, have signed non-compete agreements. These employees may not know they will be subject to a non-compete agreement until after they have received a job offer, the letter explains.


Senator Rubio said on Thursday that the practice was in urgent need of review.


“It is unacceptable that non-compete agreements are being used to unnecessarily restrict entry-level workers from pursuing better employment opportunities,” Rubio said.


The senators also asked for a study of state-level measures taken steps to limit non-compete agreements, and how these have impacted local economies.


“The use of non-competes has spread from highly technical fields into less technical and lower wage work, where they might reduce wage and benefit competition among employers and restrict employee’s upward mobility--for no good reason,” said the letter.


The head of the Catholic Social Workers’ National Association said the practice of forcing employees, especially lower-wage employees, to sign non-compete agreements is contrary to America’s founding ideals and violates the rights of workers.


“According to Catholic Social Teachings, our economy must serve the people,” Kathleen Neher, co-founder and president of the CSWNA, told CNA.


“Work provides more than money, it provides a sense of community, dignity and participation in God's creation.The basic rights of workers must be respected, which includes helping them grow and achieve their dreams,” she said.

Non-compete agreements, she said, only increase the pressures faced by lower-wage workers who, Neher said, often are people students or people with fewer academic qualifications.


“We live in America, the land of opportunity,” Neher said. “We should never place limits on possibilities for growth.”


She warned that restrictions on workers like non-compete agreements would have negative impacts on their mental health, and the economy as a whole. Workers, she explained, achieve more when given the chance to do so.


“Lower-level employment is there to teach and guide employees so they can move up the ladder of success,” she said, which would result in higher tax revenue and more money being spent in the community.

States debate life and death laws

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 13:45

Annapolis, Md., Mar 7, 2019 / 11:45 am (CNA).- Legislators in Maryland are considering a bill to legalize physician assisted suicide. At the same time, Georgia lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The two measures are the latest in a rolling series of state-level laws on life issues across the country.

In Georgia, the fetal heartbeat bill advanced through the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 17 to 14. All Republican members of the committee voted for the bill, and all Democrat members of the committee voted against. Legislative deadlines mean that a vote on the bill must take place by the end of Thursday, March 7.


The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest--which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman--as well as for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or are deemed to be “medically futile.”


Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had promised abortion restrictions during his campaign, and his website states that he is supportive of legislation that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.


Georgia’s General Assembly has a Republican majority in both houses. If the bill were to be voted on, it is likely that it would pass, and be signed into law by Gov. Kemp.


However, even if passed, it is unlikely the law would go into effect. In other states that have considered similar laws, legal challenges have prevented legislation from going into effect.


In Tennessee, the state’s Catholic bishops recently issued a statement saying that they were opposed to the Tennessee legislature passing a “Heartbeat Bill” as it would result in a costly legal challenge that the state would lose.


In order for the “heartbeat bills” to be found constitutional, the Supreme Court would have to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a woman had a constitutional right to have an abortion.


Meanwhile, three states further north, Maryland lawmakers will soon vote on the “End of Life Option Act,” which would permit those with terminal illnesses to end their own lives with medication from a doctor. The bill, which received preliminary approval by the House of Delegates on March 6, will face a final vote on Thursday.


The “End of Life Option Act” would require that adults seeking to die be deemed “mentally capable,” in severe pain and have a prognosis of less than six months life expectancy, before they can be prescribed life-ending drugs.


The bill has previously been proposed several times, but it did not receive approval from two House committees--the Health and Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee--until this year.


Currently, the “End of Life Option Act” has 68 co-sponsors--three short of the number required to assure passage of the legislation. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard County) told a local Fox station that she is “never confident [about the result] until the vote is taken.”


While the majority of the bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats, the measure does not have unanimous party support.


Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore County), voiced her opposition to the bill, saying that it was “not up to us to say when your life should end” and that she did not think the state should assist with suicide.


Assisted suicide currently is legal in six states and the District of Columbia.


The separate bills in Maryland and Georgia are the latest in a wider national trend of increased and opposed life legislation in 2019.


In January, New York passed a sweeping abortion law which codified a right to an abortion, and removed abortion from the state’s criminal code. Vermont passed a similar law in February. Efforts to pass similar legislation failed in Virginia, but are continuing in Rhode Island.


In Tennessee, a bill that would ban abortion after the detection of a heartbeat passed in the state’s House of Representatives on Thursday. Ohio lawmakers reintroduced the “heartbeat bill” in February after it was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich (R) in 2018.

Missouri discrimination cases could have far-reaching implications

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 02:08

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 7, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- The Missouri state Supreme Court issued two discrimination rulings last week related to sexual orientation and gender identity, both of which could lead to changes in the way discrimination is defined in the state, a Catholic public policy advocate told CNA.  

Tyler McClay, an attorney and executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, expressed concern about the rulings, as it is now possible for “discrimination” under the Missouri Human Rights Act to be redefined if these plaintiffs win their court cases.

In one case, Harold Lampley, a gay man, sued the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2015, alleging that because he does not conform to “stereotypical expectations” of how a male should behave, he and his friend Rene Frost were harassed in their workplace.

Though the circuit court originally threw out the case, the Supreme Court’s ruling last week will allow Lampley to sue his former employer, with judges writing in the opinion that the question of whether Missouri’s human rights laws protect people from sex-based stereotyping had not yet been addressed.

The Eighth Circuit Court had previously ruled that the Missouri Human Rights Act, which was amended during June 2017, does not include sexual orientation in its list of protections. The law does specifically mention race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age and familial status.

In a separate case, the Court ruled Feb. 26 that a transgender student had the right to sue the school district that denied the student access to the boys’ restroom and locker rooms. The student, identified in court documents as R.M.A., alleges discrimination on the basis of sex. The student was born biologically female but identifies as a male.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s latest ruling states that R.M.A. did not claim protection from the law based on his transgender status, but rather because of “sex,” a term which the state’s human rights statute does not define. Moreover, although the student remains biologically female, the student had changed the gender on their birth certificate to male, in accordance with existing Missouri law. Therefore, R.M.A.’s lawsuit against the Blue Springs school district will be allowed to go forward.

In an interview with CNA, McClay explained that the cases could impact what constitutes discrimination under state law.

“The reasoning in the gay employee case had to do with him saying he was discriminated against because he didn't act like a man, and so they consider that to be sex-stereotyping discrimination,” he said.

“I'm kind of surprised that the court would define sex-based discrimination based on those fact patterns,” he said. "Maybe the court feels like there's no other way for this [plaintiff] to get relief than for us to say, ‘you can sue on this ground.’”

On the transgender student case, McClay said the debate revolves around the fact that the school would not allow a biologically female student to use the male bathroom facilities.

“The court now has to make a decision: is that accommodation that was being made for that student discrimination? I would argue that it's not, it's an accommodation that's respecting the privacy of the other students and the safety of that individual student. Regardless of how well-accepted that person is by the other sex, you're putting that person in a difficult situation,” he said.

“As a policy matter, we have to decide; if we have these situations, how are we going to deal with these cases at the high school and elementary school level?”

These two cases have broader implications, too, he said, for faith-based organizations — such as adoption agencies that only place children in homes with a mother and a father — that could be accused of discrimination if the interpretation of the law changes.

“Faith-based organizations that have contracts with the government; are they going to be able to continue to operate according to their faith systems going forward?” McClay said. “Or are they going to be deemed to be discriminatory, and excluded?...Those agencies do a lot of good."

“The important thing for people to recognize is there are not just religious liberty implications, but there are privacy implications and rights of conscience as well,” McClay said.

“If sex discrimination is, in a sense, discrimination based on gender identity, then does a doctor who doesn't want to do gender transition surgery have the right to refuse? Or is that discrimination? Is the hospital that doesn't want to do the procedures for religious reasons, is that now going to be discrimination? I think those are the concerns that I have going forward,” he said.

There are also pushes to change the Missouri Human Rights Act to explicitly outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would list both as protected categories, has been pending in the state legislature since 1998, the Associated Press reports.

New bill could mean more scholarships for Catholic schools nationwide

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 18:36

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- A proposed federal tax credit-based scholarship program could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school, and it has the backing of a major Catholic education group.

“This bill is clearly something we could support,” said Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy at the National Catholic Education Association. Her organization’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

“We believe it’s a justice issue,” she told CNA. Parents who are well off can move to a better school district, but parents who can’t have a particular claim on society’s need to care for them.

“Parents as the primary educators of their children should be helped to be able to choose the best option for their children, and in most cases that would involve money,” she said.

McDonald said the association is pleased with the general framework of what the U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, put forward by supporting members of Congress.

If the legislation passes Congress, these scholarships will be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations. Donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.

According to the education department, the tax credit program could mean “a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs.”

States could use the program to expand student access to education opportunities including private and home education; special education services and therapies; transportation to school; advanced, remedial and elective courses; summer and after-school programs; tutoring; and apprenticeships and industry certifications.

Sister McDonald said the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

Her association also advocates for Catholic education.

“We produce well-educated citizens with moral values who have track records of community service, and, from our perspective, commitment to our Church and the civic values that they learn in school,” she said.

All schools serve the public good, and Catholic schools act “in concert” with public school, not in opposition to them.

While talk of taxpayer funds to Catholic schools sometimes prompts fears of political interference in their mission, McDonald pointed to protections in the proposed legislation.

The legislation says it does not allow the federal government, the state, or another scholarship-granting entity to control “any aspect of a private or home educator provider.” No education provider may be excluded or disadvantaged based “in whole or in part” on its religious education character or affiliation, “including religiously- or mission-based policies or practices.”

Non-interference with a Catholic school’s mission is a particularly important feature of the proposal, said McDonald. This would bar efforts to require that Catholic schools give up any part of their religious identity if they want to participate in the scholarship programs.

Elizabeth Hill, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized these provisions in a March 6 email to CNA.

“Discrimination against any education provider based on their religious character or affiliation is expressly prohibited,” Hill said. “Existing state constitutional provisions like Blaine Amendments would not prohibit a state from including private and parochial schools as eligible providers under a federal tax-credit for scholarships. State constitutions apply to state appropriations and tax expenditures.”

McDonald added that the legislation is clear that the scholarship is “a benefit to the child,” saying “this is paid to the parent, not to the school even in any state programs.” Any denial of a “secular benefit available to all” would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in her view.

At the same time, any legislation must pass Congress for a federal tax credit to become available for scholarships.

The NCEA said it will “work with others in the private school community to advocate for congressional passage.”

“There will be a number of challenges in attempts to gain bipartisan support for the bills in both houses of Congress and get a final bill passed,” the association said in a statement. “Coalitions of supporters will need to engage with one another and with parent groups to develop a blueprint for advocacy with their congressional delegates to dispel myths and promote benefits of the program.”

The U.S. Department of Education said the scholarships “will not create a new federal education program but instead will allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers, and allowable education expenses.”

“The policy would not rely on any funds currently allocated to public education, nor would it create a new federal education program. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states,” the Department of Education said.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said “freedom for all involved” is the key element of the proposal.

“Students, families, teachers, schools, states – all can participate, if they choose, and do so in the ways that work best for them,” she said in a Feb. 28 statement. “The major shift is that a student's needs and preferences, not their address or family income, will determine the type and quality of education they can pursue.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, is sponsoring the House version of the proposed legislation, called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

“Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, and we can help accomplish that goal through a new federal tax credit,” Byrne said Feb. 28. “This model has succeeded at creating opportunity for students in my home state of Alabama, and I am hopeful through this legislation that we can create similar opportunities for students around the country.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said the proposal would help all students access “a personalized education experience that meets their individual needs.”

“A quality education is the gateway to the American dream and stable, family-sustaining employment,” Cruz said.

As the NCEA understands the bill, McDonald said, a scholarship-granting organization could be set up even without legislative involvement. The proposed legislation is “deliberately vague so that other configurations could work if a state would not want to do it.”

About 17 states have some kind of tax credit program, though they differ in who is eligible for the tax credit and which families or schools are eligible for the scholarships. Almost all of these programs are need-based.

Ash Wednesday liturgies held on Capitol Hill

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Catholic members of Congress participated in the traditional Lenten practice of receiving ashes at the Capitol on Wednesday. During the liturgy, legislators and staff were reminded of the importance of Christian witness and service, even in the heart of government.


Fr. Bill Carloni of the Archdiocese of Washington told the assembly that while many in the public might view Congress as a “trainwreck”, it was important to remember that the work done on Capitol Hill was “holy, because of the holiness that we bring to it.”


The standing-room-only crowd gathered for the Ash Wednesday liturgy March 6. The liturgy was held in a House of Representatives meeting room in the Capitol Visitors’ Center.


Work, Carloni said in his homily, should be viewed as “in some way a response to the impulse of God’s spirit in your life,” and that those who work for Congress are “servants of the Lord when [they] are servants of this institution and the commonwealth of our nation.”


Carloni, the pastor at Holy Name Church in Washington, was on the Hill to assist House Chaplain Fr. Pat Conroy, S.J., with the distribution of ashes to members of the House of Representatives, their staff, and staff of the Capitol building.


On Ash Wednesday, Christians, including national politicians, receive ashes as a sign of their contrition and a reminder of their mortality. Throughout the day, on C-Span and in pictures posted to Twitter, members of Congress could be seen wearing small ashen crosses on their foreheads.


Representatives and their staff, as well as anyone else who works in the Capitol, had several chances on Wednesday to receive ashes from Conroy. In addition to daily Mass, ashes were distributed during a Liturgy of the Word held three times during the day.


At the 2:30 p.m. service, at least five members of Congress could be seen in attendance, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).


“I choose to participate in Ash Wednesday as a reminder and recommitment to my faith. I live my faith in Congress through promoting good works to help others, particularly the less fortunate,” Soto told CNA.


Conroy told CNA that he had been distributing ashes each year since he became House Chaplain eight years ago, and his predecessor, Fr. Dan Coughlin, also made a point of holding services on Ash Wednesday.


The Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, who is not Catholic, also offered ash distribution services.


Coughlin and Conroy are the only Catholics to serve as House Chaplain.


Earlier in the day, Conroy told CNA that about eight members came to Mass that morning, and that he had also distributed ashes to about 45 members after votes had concluded.  


“It’s a pretty popular devotion,” said Conroy. He told CNA that many members also chose to receive ashes at one of the nearby Catholic parishes.


Two members of Congress who did not have to wait in line for ashes were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). Both are practicing Catholics. Conroy told CNA that he had visited their offices earlier in the morning and distributed ashes there.


“I make house calls for leadership,” he explained. Pelosi was spotted wearing ashes during a live-stream video late Wednesday morning.


The practice of wearing ashes on one’s forehead as a form of penance has existed for centuries. While Fr. Conroy’s flock includes some of the most powerful foreheads in the world, he told CNA that he believes they are just like other people of faith, and are in need of redemption.


"I think any person who steps forward to receive ashes--doesn't matter who they are--is at least in some small way acknowledging to themselves that they are in need of repentance, that they are in need of renewal, that they do need to remember who we are, as people of faith, and what we're called to. Even if we're not that good at it," said Conroy.  


"In that sense, I think the population of members of Congress is no different than anybody else."

New York bishops blaze against legalization in joint marijuana statement

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 15:45

Albany, N.Y., Mar 6, 2019 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 28 bishops, issued a fiery statement on Wednesday opposing plans to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.


In a statement released March 6, the bishops said legalization would be disastrous, and accused the state of “encouraging destructive behavior” to raise tax revenue.


Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be akin to opening a “Pandora’s Box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families, and all of society,” said the statement.


“Vice is not an appropriate economic development engine for a state that prides itself as a national progressive leader,” said the bishops. “Our state motto is Excelsior (ever upward), but policies that exploit addiction instead lead us ever downward.”


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced in late 2018 that he intended to make the legalization of marijuana for recreational use a legislative priority for the coming year, a departure from his past views on the issue.


Marijuana for medicinal use has been legal in New York since 2014, and the state legislature may consider a bill in the near future. Legalization efforts are opposed by not only the state’s bishops, but also its law enforcement, medical, and educational communities.


The bishops expressed deep concern that efforts to use the drug to raise state income could have dire consequences for society, and particularly for young marijuana users.


“Of particular concern regarding the movement toward legalization is the impact on children,” the statement said.


“Proponents argue that usage will be restricted to age 21 and older but, as we have seen in the alcohol and tobacco industries, producers of harmful products always find a way to market their products to children.”


The bishops said that no increase in revenue would be worth the “increased teenage and childhood usage, harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.”


The statement also acknowledged racial disparities among those arrested for marijuana use and possession. These disparities, which show a disproportionate effect on minority communities, have been advanced by legalization supporters as a benefit of decriminalization.  


“We take this issue seriously,” the bishops wrote.


“The state can and should take appropriate measures to ensure that skin color or zip code do not result in different outcomes for the same offense, including re-evaluating the justice of current criminal penalties for low-level possession.”


“We must not simply throw up our hands and legalize a harmful substance in order to declare the problem of discrimination solved.”

Minnesota Catholics promote 'integral human ecology' at state lobbying event

Wed, 03/06/2019 - 08:00

St. Paul, Minn., Mar 6, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- At a time when, to many Catholics, politics in America seem at odds with faith and morals, Catholics in Minnesota gathered last month to demonstrate their active role in the legislative process.

On Feb. 19, over 1,000 Catholics, hailing from every one of Minnesota’s 90 state senate districts, gathered in Saint Paul for a day-long event called “Catholics at the Capitol.” The event was organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.
MCC Executive Director Jason Adkins described the day as “a fantastic experience of helping people overcome their misperceptions about politics, their fear of the process.”

Adkins expressed confidence that the day helped participants find “their voice as faithful citizens.”

Following the midterm elections of 2018, Minnesota is the only U.S. state with a divided state legislature: a Democratic majority controls the state House of Representatives, while a Republican majority holds sway in the state Senate. With a newly-elected Democratic governor, advocacy by the MCC has focused on the art of the possible.
While meeting with state legislators during the afternoon, Catholics at the Capitol participants were encouraged to voice support for two specific measures, using talking points and handouts provided by the MCC.

Adkins explained that these two initiatives — the regulation of surrogacy in the state to prevent commercial exploitation of women, and a package of bills aimed at providing support to mothers and their children from pregnancy to two years of age — were deliberately selected for the day, because they were thought to be non-controversial in the legislature.

“The main priority of the day was education. We certainly wanted to assist the legislative advocacy around those two issues, but we wanted to pick issues that we thought had a strong consensus behind them.” he said, so that participants could have a positive experience of interacting with their elected representatives.

“We also have recognized that the pro-life political cause has kind of reached a stalemate. If your state is not controlled totally by Republicans, then it’s hard to get any pro-life legislation passed.”

By focusing their efforts this legislative session on proposals like the “First 1000 Days” collection of bills in support of mothers and young children, Adkins said the MCC “wanted to try to break that Gordian knot and propose something that we think may not combat the supply of legal abortions, but it can try to fight the demand.”

CNA asked Adkins if the wave of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse (and reports of episcopal failures regarding the handling of such cases) have had an impact on the Minnesota bishops’ ability to speak effectively on social issues. He said they haven’t noticed any change in the responsiveness or receptiveness of legislators so far.

“But where it has an impact,” he continued, “and it’s undoubted that it does: it has an impact on the bishops’ ability to be effective teachers to their own flock. So that’s the real challenge that we’ve encountered.”

The bishops of Minnesota have not appeared shy about continuing to lead their people in public. During the event, they distributed “Minnesota: Our Common Home”, an “educational resource” published with the approval of the Catholic bishops of the state.

As the title indicates, the text is a localized digest of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical “On Care for our Common Home,” Laudato Si’.

The local text is significantly more compact than the original, with a word count under 13,000 compared to the encyclical’s more than 40,000 words.

The Minnesota document is presented in three parts: A Crisis of Nature, Ecological Conversion, and Integral Ecology.

The third part builds upon a phrase borrowed from Pope Francis — “integral ecology” — to call for a “consistent ethic of life” — a concept that, despite the controversy it has often engendered among American Catholics, is a core concept within the MCC’s efforts.

“Our belief is that ‘integral ecology’ is a very powerful way of repackaging the natural law: the idea that we have a created nature, and we live among things with a nature, that we must respect their possibilities and limitations, and living in accordance with the way God has ordered them, whether that's our bodies or the creation we see all around us in the earth,” Adkins told CNA.

Emphasis on ‘integral ecology’ provides a new framework for public advocacy in the state.

“Minnesota: Our Common Home” calls not only for stewardship of natural resources, but also for “an ecological view of the human person.”

The document also underscores “the underlying false belief that we can be God” at the root of social ills such as artificial contraception, the disconnection of gender from biology, and the growing prevalence of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“The bishops don't take positions on public policy because they want to play politics” Adkins said. “They do it to help identify for Catholics how our Catholic social teaching translates into concrete public policy that [citizens] can choose to take up and support in the public square.”


Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop end legal battle

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 19:38

Denver, Colo., Mar 5, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday both Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop agreed to drop their ongoing litigation, ending a more than six-year-long legal battle.  

Colorado Civil Rights Commission will dismiss the state action against Masterpiece. Jack Phillips, the owner, will in turn dismiss his federal case against Colorado.

“After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases. The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said March 5.

He added that “Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

Each side will hence cover their own legal fees. Weiser also said the agreement does not affect the ability of a transgender person, Autumn Scardina, from pursuing a claim against Phillips.

In October the state civil rights commission had issued a formal complaint against the cake shop, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the same commission had violated Phillips' rights. The civil rights commission had prosecuted Phillips for declining to bake a cake marking a same-sex wedding ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

Later, Scardina requested that Phillips bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition”, which he declined, again because of his religious beliefs.

Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint when Phillips declined, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.

“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs,” Phillips said. “The Supreme Court affirmed that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional, and that Colorado was hostile to my faith.”

Phillips had filed a lawsuit against Civil Rights Division Executive Director Aubrey Elenis. He sought $100,000 in damages. In January, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wiley Daniel said Phillips could demonstrate that the state’s actions were damaging.

The baker said the hostility of the first case had already cost him 40 percent of his business and hindered his wedding work. However, even after the first ruling, he said that “Colorado was relentless in seeking to crush” Masterpiece for the expression of his religious beliefs.

“Today is a win for freedom,” Phillips said March 5. “I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect.”

“The state’s demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kirsten Waggoner, who argued on behalf of Masterpiece at the US Supreme Court.

“We hope that the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them. We look forward to the day when Jack doesn’t have to fear government punishment for his faith or harassment from people who oppose his beliefs.”

Waggoner added that religious tolerance was an important aspect of the nation. She said the end of the lawsuit is a good sign for religious freedom, but expressed sorrow for the effect of the case on Phillips.

“Jack’s victory is great news for everyone. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each another,” she said.

“While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state’s decision to target Jack has cost him more than six-and-a-half years of his life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings.”

Appeals court says Fulton Sheen's body should go to Peoria

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 18:26

New York City, N.Y., Mar 5, 2019 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A New York appeals court has unanimously ruled that the earthly remains of Venerable Fulton Sheen should be moved to Peoria, Illinois – a ruling that could pave the way for the archbishop’s beatification unless there is another appeal.

A statement from the Diocese of Peoria on Tuesday welcomed the decision and called on the Archdiocese of New York “to end their failed legal contestation, which has only resulted in three rulings against them.”

“Further appeal is not only unprecedented but extremely costly to all the parties involved…Now is the time to end the legal tug-of-war and begin the final stages of the Cause of Beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen,” the Peoria statement said.

Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral disagree with the court decision and are considering their next steps, the Peoria Journal Star reported.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

However, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

The Archdiocese of New York, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

Last June, the Superior Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham’s request that Sheen’s body be moved to Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York then announced that the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were appealing the decision.

Now, a New York appellate court has again sided with Cunningham, ruling 5-0 that Peoria may have the body. The court found that Sheen lived his life with heaven and sainthood as his ultimate goals, which should be considered in the present dispute.

The Diocese of Peoria voiced hope that the beatification efforts for Sheen may now move forward, with Sheen’s body in Peoria. In its statement, the diocese said that the courts have now had ample opportunity to consider the arguments raised by New York, but have ultimately found them unavailing.

Both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have repeatedly voiced prayers that the beatification cause may move forward in a timely manner.

Archbishop Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death.

Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area. In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous – a key step necessary before someone is beatified.

The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

Should fears about climate come before kids?

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic academics have said that concerns about climate change should not discourage millennials from having children.


Recent discussion of millennial concerns began after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested that younger people might not have children because of fears about climate change.


“And so, it’s basically like, there is a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult and does lead, I think, young people, to have a legitimate question. You know, should--is it okay to still have children?” Ocasio-Cortez said in a video posted on the website Instagram.


But academics have suggested Ocasio-Cortez’s comments misunderstand why couples decide to have children.


Professors from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, told CNA that while the concept of bringing a child into the world is always daunting, environmental factors should not be enough to dissuade someone from having children altogether.


Dr. Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology and executive director of Catholic University’s Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that he does believe the concerns of millennials are justified, and that “it’s not unreasonable to worry about the world into which one brings children.”


But, he said, having children is an expression of both love and faith, and that includes “faith in each other, faith in the goodness of God, faith in His creation.”


Capizzi told CNA that he thinks people overlook this basic fact because “so much in the world distracts us from the role of faith in the loving relationship of parents.”


“Concerns about the world and its future are distracting: in faith we are taught God saves and loves the world,” he said.


A recent online poll by the website Bussiness Insider suggested as many as one-in-three Americans shares Ocasio-Cortez’s fears, with 30 percent of all respondents saying parents should consider the effects of climate change before having a child, a number that climbed to 38 percent among Americans aged 18-29.


Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, assistant professor of social research and economic thought at Catholic University, said that having children is a sign of optimism and that climate concerns should take a backseat to other factors.


"I think it takes a lot of courage to have a child, in any time," Pakaluk said. “Having children in general seems to require a lot of courage and optimism.”  


Pakaluk, whose primary research area is in demographics and families, told CNA that having a child is an intimidating task, but one that is made easier with what she called “spiritual resources.”


She said she is afraid that the spiritual resources needed to inspire couples to raise children are “waning” in today’s society, resulting in fewer births.


She did not, however, place the blame squarely on climate change, noting instead that the climate has undergone massive changes for thousands of years, “apparently without our affecting it.”


Pakaluk also said rhetoric about overpopulation should be tempered by experience, and that while many believe vital resources are becoming more scarce, the opposite is often true.


"As the world population has grown, together with research, industry, and innovation, in fact, most of those scarce resources have actually become less scarce,” she said.


The professor noted that while the world’s population had typically ebbed and flowed before steadily rising over the last century, the “golden age” of sustained population growth is coming to an end.


Pakaluk noted that about four decades ago, people simply ceased having large families --a trend she said cannot entirely be blamed on concerns about changing climate.


Pakaluk told CNA that while the threat of climate change does not worry her too much, one thing does: the recent Center for Disease Control announcement that the United States’ fertility rate was at its lowest ever, and that no state is currently having children at replacement level rates.


"Certainly, for (Ocasio-Cortez) and other millennials--I don't think they have a lot to worry about (in regards to climate change),” Pakaluk said. “I think they should probably be a lot more worried about what our economy looks like without kids, because that actually does give me a moment of fear.”

Fasting and Abstinence at Lent: A CNA Explainer

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 16:42

Denver, Colo., Mar 5, 2019 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- Most Catholics, even those who don’t often go to Mass, know that Lent is a time for Friday Fish Fries and “giving something up.” But many Catholics wonder what exactly the Church requires during Lent, and why.

Here are a few points that might help you have a great Lent this year:

What is Lent?

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River. John was a prophet and a preacher, and he urged people to be baptized as a sign of their repentance from sin.

After Jesus was baptized, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the Holy Spirit descended upon him “like a dove,” and a voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

People were amazed, but Jesus immediately went away by himself into the desert. There he fasted and prayed, and while he was there, Satan appeared to him three times, tempting him.

Jesus stayed in the desert for 40 days. When he left the desert, he began calling his disciples and apostles, as the mission that led to his crucifixion had begun.

The Church says that Lent is a 40-day period of unity with “the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”

By sacrificing small things, as well as fasting, praying, and giving to charity, Catholics are invited to experience a period of prayer like the one Jesus experienced, and to prepare themselves to resist Satan’s temptation, and fulfill the mission God has given the Church.

Lent comes before Easter, and is a preparation for that feast, which is one of the most important in the Church’s life.

So, I can’t eat meat then?

During the Fridays of Lent, Roman Catholics are to abstain from meat, in union with the fasting of Jesus, and in memory of Christ’s death on a Friday. Fish is not considered meat for these purposes, nor are some other kinds of aquatic creatures in certain places- alligator is ok in Louisiana, and, curiously, muskrat is allowed in some parts of Michigan!

Generally speaking, products derived from animals, like broth or gelatin, are not considered to violate the rule of abstinence- this is because the point is to make a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ, not to become consumed with parsing ingredient lists for animal byproducts.

The point, really, is for the Fridays of Lent to be days of simplicity and even a bit of hunger- while seafood is allowed, a butter-soaked lobster probably misses that point.

All Catholics age 14 and older are expected to abstain from meat, although those who can’t do so for health reasons, along with pregnant and nursing women, are obviously exempted.

I have heard the Fridays of Lent referred to as “days of abstinence.” Usually when the Church talks about abstinence…

This is a surprisingly common question. When the Church talks about abstinence in this context, she is referring to abstention from eating meat.

What about fasting? When do I fast? And what do I do?

The two required days of fasting during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are also days of abstinence. All Roman Catholics 18 to 59 are required to abstain from meat and to fast.

In 1966, Pope St. Paul VI said that the Church’s “law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening.” This is often taken to mean that the most Catholics should eat on a day of fasting is one normal sized meal--with no meat--and two smaller snacks.

Those who wish for a more intense fast are not prohibited from more fasting, but this is generally a good idea to discuss with a spiritual director, confessor, or pastor.

Wait-- so I’m 60, and my grandson is 17. Does that mean we don’t have to fast?

That’s correct. You are not required by canon law to fast- though you are still bound by the law of abstinence. This means that whether to fast should be a matter for your discernment, perhaps with some guidance from your pastor or confessor.

What about candy? Should I give that up? What’s that about anyway? I don’t even like candy.

I like candy. But here a few thoughts on what to do for a fruitful Lent:

The season of Lent emphasizes three things: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Prayer means prayer, that one is pretty simple. Almsgiving refers to acts of charity or generosity. And fasting refers to doing without something, especially something on which we’ve become dependent, something we think we can’t live without, or something that distracts us from God.

Actually, these three themes are related directly to the three temptations Christ faced in the desert, and you can read about that here.  

But for a fruitful Lent, it is helpful to decide on one practice for each of those themes. To find some practice of prayer you can add to your day. To decide on some act of charity or work of mercy you’ll take up. And to decide what you can fast from- it might be food, like candy, or it might be your phone, or music and news on the car radio, or soda.

The key is to choose something that you will sustain the whole of Lent, and something that does not gravely disrupt your family life or the people around you. If you drive miles to work, don’t give up driving. If you take care of young children, don’t commit to all-night prayer vigils, at least not every night.

Ideally, the practices of prayer we commit to will become incorporated into our regular lives, and our sacrifices and almsgiving might become something we continue to do as well.

There is a story about Dorothy Day, who used to give up cigarettes each year, but who would annually become so grumpy that the members of her community would beg her to take them back up again. Think about the people you live with, and work with, as you decide on your Lenten practices-- If you work in this office, don’t give up showering, please.

But think also about prayer. Eventually Dorothy Day decided that instead of giving up cigarettes for Lent, she would start praying daily, “Dear God, help me stop smoking.” She prayed it faithfully for years, though she continued to smoke. One day, she realized she didn’t want to smoke. She never picked up a cigarette again.

Prayer should be the central focus of our Lent. Without prayer, Lent will be a kind of endurance test for us. A test of how strong we are, or how much willpower we have. But Lent isn’t really about that. Lent is about how much we can turn to God the Father, through Jesus, and hand over our lives to him. That should be the center of our Lenten discipline.

So, no candy then?

Maybe on Sundays. Sunday is weekly our celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and some Catholics decide to put aside their Lenten disciplines, in order to celebrate Christ. There are no rules about this; it’s a matter of your individual conscience. If keeping Lenten practices on Sunday helps you to focus on Christ, keep them. If celebrating Sunday with candy helps you to focus on Christ, that’s ok too.

Have a blessed Lent!


More than 20 states file lawsuits against Title X changes

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 15:51

Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2019 / 01:51 pm (CNA).- Nearly two dozen states are suing over changes to Title X eligibility that prevent recipients of the federal funding program from performing or facilitating abortions.

Calling the new rule “yet another attack from the Trump Administration on women and families,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown pledged to fight “against this administration as they continue to undermine health care for those who need it most.”

Oregon is among the states filing lawsuits over the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Protect Life Rule.” On Feb. 22, the department announced its finalized version of the rule.

Planned Parenthood is expected to be stripped of about $60 million in federal funds due to the rule change, which impacts eligibility requirements, although the new rules do not mandate a cut to total Title X funding nationally.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning, including contraception, and other health screenings for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Pro-life groups have applauded the measure, saying it is an important step in recognizing that abortion is not health care.

However, abortion advocates have denounced the move as an attack on women.

"The Title X rule is designed to destroy our nation’s family planning provider network and deprive millions of poor and low-income people of access to the contraception and other preventive health care they need,” said Clare Coleman, president & CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.

On March 4, Oregon announced that it is leading a multi-state lawsuit against the new rules.

Oregon’s attorney general was joined in the lawsuit by attorneys general of 20 other states – Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia.

California, home to the country’s largest Title X program, also filed a lawsuit against the new rules on March 4. The suit says the new requirements force providers to forego Title X funding if they offer full and accurate information and unbiased counseling about abortion.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the changes are “dangerous to women’s health” and will restrict patients’ “access to critical healthcare services.”

Washington state has also announced that it is preparing a lawsuit.

“Washington has been, and will continue to be, a state that stands with women and their right to safe and legal abortion and reproductive care. We will never allow President Trump or anyone else in D.C. to take those rights away,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a Feb. 25 statement.

The changes in Title X funding are part of President Trump’s campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood, which is still eligible for other federal funding. Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funds.


Alaska mayor vetoes equal rights ordinance

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 15:30

Fairbanks, Alaska, Mar 5, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Jim Matherly, the mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska, vetoed an equal rights ordinance on Friday, March 1, after having previously supported the measure.


City Ordinance 6093 would have provided protections against discrimination for those who identify as LGBTQ in employment, housing, and in public accomodations. It would also create a mechanism for people to challenge discrimination in court.


“After much soul-searching, research, and examination of all facets of the issues surrounding Ordinance 6093, I am exercising my veto powers,” said Matherly in a letter addressed to the residents of the City of Fairbanks.


Matherly explained that he did not make the decision to veto the ordinance, which had been passed by a 4-2 vote by the City Council, lightly, and that he still thinks that the idea behind the equal rights ordinance is “sound.”


Initially, Matherly had co-sponsored the ordinance, but later became concerned that it was far more complicated than he had originally thought.


The two members of the City Council who voted against the ordinance expressed concerns that the ordinance applied to too many small businesses, and that it was too quick to encourage people to bring their claims to a court, rather than attempting to settle the matter outside of a courtroom.


In the letter, Matherly voiced concerns that much of the testimony regarding the equal rights ordinance had come from outside of both Fairbanks as well as from outside Alaska.


“While I value the opinion of our neighbors in the surrounding communities and visitors from farther out, I want the citizens of Fairbanks to chart their own course and decide how we move forward as a city,” said Matherly.


Last month, in the city of Anchorage became the center of a court battle when the Alliance Defending Freedom sued the city to prevent the application of a gender identity law to a faith-based women’s shelter.


The lawsuit concerned an investigation by the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission into Hope Center, which provides shelter to women who have suffered domestic violence. The Hope Center was referred to the commission for refusing overnight accomodation to a man who identifies himself as a “transgender woman.”


Lawyers for the ADF told the U.S. District Court that the women in the shelter were deeply traumatized by domestic abuse and would “rather sleep in the woods” than with men present in the shelter overnight.  


In Fairbanks, Matherly now wants local residents to vote on the equal rights plans as a ballot measure during elections this coming October.


“I believe this question should be given to City residents that choose to exercise their voting rights,” said Matherly, noting that in recent years Fairbanks residents have voted to reject increased property taxes and in favor of marijuana legalization.


“I look forward to receiving continued input from Fairbanks residents and businesses as we go forward,” said Matherly. “This veto will allow time to solicit and assimilate input which will mature into the ballot proposition.”

New York state moves closer to banning ‘revenge porn’

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 02:11

New York City, N.Y., Mar 5, 2019 / 12:11 am (CNA).- Lawmakers in New York have passed a bill to outlaw “revenge porn”— the non-consensual sharing of explicit images of a person, typically done by an ex-romantic partner.

The bill, passed by legislators last week, has the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign it into law, the Associated Press reports.

Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, and several cities and counties across the U.S. have already banned revenge porn.

Without an explicit ban on the practice, judges have turned down appeals to help victims of revenge porn, citing freedom of speech, The New York Times reports. Five years ago, when New York’s revenge porn ban was first introduced, only a handful of states had passed similar bans.

In addition to jail time for offenders, Senate bill 1719C would also allow victims to sue the person who had shared the revenge porn, and would make New York the first state in the nation to allow judges to order websites or social media platforms to take down the explicit photos or videos, according to NYT.

This provision has led to opposition to the bill from technology companies who worried that they could be held liable for revenge porn hosted on their sites. The final version of the bill includes broad immunity under federal law through the Communications Decency Act for websites where people might post the explicit images.

Nevertheless, the Internet Association, which includes large technology companies such as Google and Facebook, has spoken out against the bill in the past, including during June 2018 when the bill was up for debate.

Several states have moved to ban revenge porn in recent years. Former Gov. John  Kasich signed a revenge porn ban into law in Ohio in Dec. 2018 after a similar measure failed to pass in 2016.

Montana lawmakers introduced a bill to outlaw revenge porn in January 2019, after having failed to ban the practice in 2017. The law would provide for fines and possible jail time for those who publish or distribute any type of nude or sexualized photos or videos without the consent of the person depicted. The bill is currently in the Montana senate.

Supreme Court rejects church funding case

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court will not consider a case which would have raised questions about the separation of church and state. The court ruled unanimously against granting certiorari in the case The Presbyterian Church in Morristown v. Freedom From Religion Foundation on Monday, March 4.


The case concerned the question of whether churches or other active religious buildings in New Jersey were eligible for taxpayer money designated for historic preservation.


Although all nine justices voted against hearing the case, three of the justices--Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch--issued comments saying the court would have to consider the issue at some point in the near future.


Kavanaugh, the newest member of the Supreme Court, issued an opinion in which he said that preventing religious organizations from accessing grants for historic preservation was “pure discrimination against religion,” and raised “serious questions under this court’s precedents and the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee of equality.”


In 2018, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that Morris County could not issue historic preservation grants to 12 churches located in the county. The county appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court.


The county had previously issued such grants until 2015, until a suit was filed arguing that the practice was a violation of the Establishment Clause, since government money was granted to repair actively operating churches.


The plaintiff in that case was represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-described “National non prophet nonprofit” that promotes the separation of church and state.


Attorneys for the foundation argued that the New Jersey State Constitution forbids taxpayer dollars from going to religious organizations.


In a press release published on its website, the foundation called the Supreme Court’s decision a “big triumph for the rights of hardworking New Jersey folks.”


In his opinion, Kavanaugh said that “the court will need to decide whether a government that distributes historic preservation funds may deny funds to religious organizations simply because the organizations are religious.”

Fat Tuesday pancake race: People flip out to show off their skill-ets

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 18:11

Dodge City, Kan., Mar 4, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- Fat Tuesday celebrations have included parades, carnivals, and parties. But have you ever heard of a pancake race?  

Olney, England, and Liberal, Kansas, will compete against each other March 5 in the International Pancake Race, a 415-yard competition involving pancakes, skillets, and some serious flipping skills.

This is the 70th race since the friendly feud began in 1950. Last year, Liberal beat Olney with the victory of Gaby Covarrubias, a local parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.

“It was an awesome experience. My first time running and winning was not what I expected. I had always wanted to race but never had the courage to sign up,” she told CNA.

“I didn’t enter the race with intentions of winning. I just wanted to be a part of the tradition,” she said. “This is a huge value to our community. It makes our community unique and brings us together each year.”

Although the competition has only been observed in Kansas for the last 69 years, the race itself is actually much older, said Greg Bird, general chairman to the Pancake Day Board. The committee runs the Pancake Hall of Fame, which is located at the finish line.

Originating in Olney in the 15th century, the tradition stems from the tale of a woman, who was so late to church she ran with pan in hand and apron still tied around her waist.

Like other pre-Lenten observances, the event is traditionally a means for Christians to purge their kitchens of provisions which would be surrendered during the 40 days of fasting and abstinence.

“Getting ready for Lent, everyone was trying to use up all their fat before Lent started. So there was a [woman] in Olney cooking up pancakes trying to use up her fat, when the Church bells started ringing for the shriving service,” Bird told CNA.

“The story is she got there a little bit late, the door was closed so she had to knock on the door of the Church to get permission to come in and the minister had to open the door, give her a kiss of peace, and let her come into the service.”

The race still clings too many of the old traditions. It is only permitted for women, 18 and older, who must compete in an apron, a headscarf, and a skirt. Once the race begins, the women must flip the pancake, run on an “S” shaped course similar to one in England, and complete the race with a pancake flip. As tradition demands, the winner of the race then receives a “kiss of peace.”

Numerous other activities surround the event. Over the weekend, a pancake eating and flipping contest was held, and Sunday concluded a talent show. Tuesday morning will kick off with a large breakfast, expecting to feed over a 1,000 people.

The event will include speeches from dignitaries and ministers. Since the race is international, officials from the either community will also speak at the event if they are visiting the opponent’s home town. In the spirit of unity, Liberal will perform both the US national anthem and God Save the Queen. This year, the Liberal Lutheran pastor will give a homily.

The race in Liberal has only 15 spots available for competitors, but the whole day contains races inclusive to the whole community, like kid races, a shorter race for women over 50, and a men’s race.

“We have a pacers' race, which is for the guys. The intention was, at the starting line, the guys would take the ladies coats and run the race a head of them so when the ladies did the race they would have their coats at the end,” said Bird.

After the contest, the town gathers for a service at the First United Methodist Church put on by the community’s ecumenical group, the Liberal Ministerial Alliance. Pancake Day then concludes with the awards ceremony, a video call with Olney to determine the victorious town, and a parade.

The competition is not only a financial benefit as a tourist attraction, but it is also a time for camaraderie and spiritual preparation. Pancake Chairman Mike Brack told CNA that it prepares the community for the Lenten sacrifice.

“It’s a great way to celebrate the tradition of Pancake Day and the beginning of Lent – the importance of preparing for Lent,” he said.

“It’s a coming together of our community, that’s what it was designed to do. The Lenten message of reminding of ourselves of the sacrifices that we have to make and doing that as a community…It’s very significant,” he further added.

Father Jacob Schneider, parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua parish, told CNA the event is an extension across Christian denominations and ethnic lines. He said the event is an ecumenical experience and a unification of the entire town, which, because of the county’s factory work, includes large portions of immigrants and ethnicities.

“It does, even for the very least because of pancakes, bring people together, who normally would never cross paths. In that regards, it is a really communal activity,” he said. “This is one of the few overreaching activities that has somehow transcended all the different cultures.”

Mobile archbishop: Victims of deadly tornadoes need your prayers

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 17:47

Mobile, Ala., Mar 4, 2019 / 03:47 pm (CNA).- Various storms spawned deadly tornadoes on Sunday, killing at least 23 people in central Alabama and causing more destruction through Georgia and Florida.

“Priests were present at the hospital yesterday to minister to the injured and their families,” Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile said in a March 4 statement to CNA.

“I am asking for prayers for all who lost their lives in the catastrophic tornadoes which occurred yesterday in the Archdiocese of Mobile and for those who have suffered from the devastating damage to homes and businesses,” he said.

Lee County, Ala. suffered all the reported fatalities, the New York Times said. More than ten people were unaccounted for, and the death toll is expected to rise.

“I would describe the damage that we have seen in the area as catastrophic,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said at a Monday press conference. “Complete residences are gone.”

Between three and five tornadoes hit Alabama. At its worst the main storm produced a tornado measuring as high as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds measuring perhaps 170 mph. Its path was at least 24 miles long.

“Almost a mile wide,” Meteorologist Chris Darden estimated, according to the website “A monster tornado as it moved across the area.”

Catholic Social Services has been in contact with local pastors and is “ready to help with the recovery efforts,” said Archbishop Rodi.

The Alabama tornadoes struck just miles from the town of Auburn. Local Catholics there reacted.

“Our continued thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the disastrous storms that took place yesterday,” St. Michael Parish in Auburn said on its Facebook page March 4.

The parish is circulating information about relief services and donations. It is collecting gift cards to give to agencies to distribute to families in need.

A tornado that touched down near Cairo, Ga., damaged dozens of homes and businesses.

“We have a lot of trees down, debris and power lines,” Cairo mayor Booker T. Gainor told The Tallahassee Democrat. “We have trees completely through houses. You would think a hurricane came after this, the way it looks.”

In 2011, storms spawned over 60 tornadoes that killed over 230 people in Alabama. The disasters prompted storm shelter upgrades and increased attention to the threat of bad weather, the New York Times reports.

Former NJ prosecutor named to top role in Metuchen diocese

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 16:30

Metuchen, N.J., Mar 4, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Metuchen has named a former public prosecutor as its new chancellor, Bishop James F. Checchio announced on March 1.


Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq. will begin his new role on April 12.


Kearns previously served as the Hunterdon County Prosecutor and a former Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey. In his new office, he will oversee the diocese’s corporate structures, supervise diocesan directors and their offices, support the diocese’s Catholic schools and Catholic Social Services, and will maintain the diocesan archives and records.


In a statement released by Metuchen announcing the hire, Bishop Checchio said that he had “consulted many” people over the appointment and had carefully considered the decision.


Checchio said Kearns “will bring much knowledge and experience to the position,” and that his “broad skillset” would “guide us further especially where civil and Church matters intersect.”


According to canon law, the chancellor of a diocese is responsible for maintaining the diocesan records, including confidential files often known as the secret archive. In many dioceses in the United States the role has been expanded, with the chancellor sometimes functioning as a virtual chief operating officer of the diocese.


The appointment of the former prosecutor comes shortly after the release of the names of “credibly” accused clergy in all the dioceses of New Jersey, and the creation of a special statewide compensation program for abuse victims.


The Diocese of Metuchen was erected in 1981. Its first bishop was Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was laicized, removed from the clerical state, on February 16, after a canonical process found him guilty of several charges of sexual abuse involving both adults and minors.


Prior to the installation of Cecchio in 2016, the diocese had been led since 2002 by Bishop Paul Bootkoski, previously McCarrick’s auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark.


In August 2018 former Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Vigano, accused Bootkoski of covering up McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and priests. Bootkoski disputed the Vigano claims, and said that he had handled all abuse allegations against McCarrick in a timely manner.


The Diocese of Metuchen was one of three dioceses to agree a settlement with one of McCarrick’s adult victims. That settlement, paid in 2005, was not made public until the summer of 2018.


In addition to his legal career, Kearns is a trained family and adolescent therapist. He has also worked with survivors of domestic violence, both men and women.


In his announcement, Checchio praised Kearns for his “active faith and dedication to the Church,” and said that he was “especially grateful for his personal faith and integrity as a Catholic citizen” in accepting the position.


Kearns is married and has four children. He is a native of Hunterdon County, in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Commentary: Abortion, extremism, and the need for dialogue

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Last week, 44 U.S. Senators voted against legislation that would ban the willful or negligent homicide of babies -born alive after a botched abortion.
The bill would not have placed any restrictions on abortion in this country. It would simply have clarified in law that it is illegal to directly kill or withhold necessary life-saving medical care from a newborn baby who survives an abortion attempt. Yet nearly half of the Senate opposed this legislation, saying that they did so on the grounds of supporting women’s reproductive rights.
The vote last week demonstrated just how far supporters of abortion are expected to go in the name of women’s rights. But it also sheds light on the broader polarization of our country on the issue of abortion. Amid speculation that Roe v. Wade could soon be overturned, activists on both sides of the issue are working adamantly to gain ground, particularly at the state level.
Last month, New York enacted a law permitting abortion in all nine months of pregnancy if deemed necessary for the sake of the mother’s health, a provision that has been interpreted by courts so broadly as to essentially allow for abortion-on-demand. Illinois and Vermont are considering even broader legislation that would openly allow abortion for any reason at any time in a pregnancy. Expansive abortion bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.
Meanwhile, pro-life states are also working to pass laws that would protect life if Roe v. Wade were overturned. In both Missouri and Kentucky, lawmakers have advanced bills to ban abortion after a baby’s heartbeat can be detected. Iowa is considering an amendment to declare life as beginning at conception. The Arkansas House has passed a bill to limit abortion to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. In North Dakota, House legislators passed a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortion.
The stage is set for an intensified cultural confrontation over abortion, one in which each side thinks the other is a threat to fundamental human rights.
For those of us on the pro-life side, abortion is an issue of the utmost moral significance. Because we understand the humanity of the unborn person, we recognize abortion as the murder of the most vulnerable, helpless, innocent human life, something that can never be justified.
But to those who support abortion, the issue is also critical. Planned Parenthood’s new president, Leana Wen, said in an interview last week, “We should be approaching healthcare from a social justice lens, valuing each person and their choice. Only then can all people be free and equal.”

Those who believe legally protected access to abortion is necessary for freedom and equality see restrictions on abortion as a real repression of women’s basic and fundamental rights.
Abortion politics are a zero-sum game, in which neither side is content to agree to disagree. And with nearly two dozen abortion-related cases just one step away from the Supreme Court, it is clear that this issue is not going away.
A reversal of Roe v. Wade- a crucial first step-will usher in state-level fights in which supporters of abortion will not quickly give up.

In fact, a legal victory at the Supreme Court level would yield an unprecedented flood of money, manpower and determination for Planned Parenthood and its allies, who would broadcast immediately the message that women’s essential rights are in grave danger.
What, then, is the solution for pro-lifers? It cannot be a solely political back-and-forth, a tangled and vicious cycle of legislation and court rulings. If nothing else, pro-lifers are at a strategic disadvantage, and likely to remain so unless something changes: we can be outspent by the abortion lobby because of the extraordinary financial resources at the disposal of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others.
The people speaking up most vocally about abortion tend to be those with the strongest views – either for or against. But polls consistently show that the majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle. They do not think abortion should be completely banned, nor do they think it should be completely unrestricted. They are uncomfortable with abortion – despite efforts by Planned Parenthood to depict it as something normal and even empowering – but they see it as an unfortunate solution to an unfortunate problem.

To win the abortion battle, at the federal and state level, we will need to change the hearts and minds of those people in the middle. And to do that, we need to learn how to dialogue with people who disagree with us on important issues- politicians, perhaps, but more important, ordinary people who have not been engaged meaningfully on the topic. We need to see them as human persons to be encountered.

The “us vs. them” mentality that leads to bitter, vitriolic arguments in Congress – or, more frequently, on social media – is only doing damage to the pro-life cause. That’s not how hearts and minds are changed.
Because these people “in the middle” often haven’t given a lot of thought to the issue of abortion, they have the potential to shift their views in a more pro-life direction, if they are presented with both scientific facts about unborn human life and compassionate solutions to difficult pregnancies. Especially if the pro-lifers presenting those things are open to patient and respectful conversation that recognizes the human dignity of those with whom we disagree.
Next month, the movie “Unplanned” will be released in theaters nationwide. It tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood employee who underwent a powerful conversion and is now a pro-life activist. For Johnson, the conversion process included several key moments that led her to question her underlying assumptions about the abortion industry, and ultimately to have a profound change of heart.
Johnson’s story is a reminder that many of those who support abortion are well-intentioned. They want to help women. They’ve seen the challenges that an unexpected pregnancy can present. They believe, in the words of Planned Parenthood’s current president, that abortion is necessary for women’s equality and freedom.
Many of them also believe that pro-lifers are sexist bigots or religious zealots who want to repress women and stifle equality and freedom. Those stereotypes are purposefully disseminated to demonize pro-lifers. But we can’t overcome them without dialogue and encounter.
Nearly 25 years ago in Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II called for “a new culture of life.” It would be “new,” he said, in part “because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties.”
Almost a quarter-century later, the need for “dialogue among all parties” is perhaps even greater. And it is Catholics who should be leading the charge.


Tennessee bishops oppose 'Heartbeat Bill' over legal concerns

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 12:00

Nashville, Tenn., Mar 4, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Tennessee have voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law being considered in the state and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges.


The leaders of the state’s three dioceses released an open letter Feb. 26 stating that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge.


“We believe that the sanctity of human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception to natural death,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville in a letter that was originally punished in the Tennessee Register.


Although Kurtz’s archdiocese is in Kentucky, he currently served as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Memphis.


“While we wholeheartedly support the intention of the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ being considered by the Tennessee Legislature, we must also be prudent in how we combat the pro-abortion evil that dwells in our society,” said the bishops.


Despite enjoying majority support in both houses of the state legislature, and the endorsement of Gov. Bill Lee, the bill is also opposed by Tennessee Right to Life, the state's leading pro-life group.


In 1973, the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion throughout pregnancy. This, the bishops noted, created a legal precedent that must be considered when framing legislation that seeks to restrict abortion.


The bishops cited similar laws in other states that were passed, but never went into effect because of legal challenges. In those cases, the laws were found to be unconstitutional, and the state was forced to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.


“Given the field of legal realities that we must consider, we believe it would not be prudent to support the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ knowing the certainty of its overturning when challenged, in addition to the court ordered fees that would be paid to the pro-abortion plaintiffs,” they said.


Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest chain of abortion providers, has already said they would file suit against Tennessee if the Human Life Protection Act were to become law.


If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, it would free up states to enact their own restrictions on abortion.


The bishops said they would prefer to see pro-life legislation less likely to face legal challenges and more likely to be found constitutional. They voiced “urgent support” for an alternative Human Life Protection Act which would, in the event that Roe were overturned, trigger an automatic ban on abortion in the state.


Tennessee currently prohibits abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and requires a woman wait 48 hours before receiving an abortion. Americans United for Life ranked the state as the 18th-most friendly to life in their 2019 Life List.


In 2014, voters in the state approved a constitutional amendment to the state constitution that said "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or the funding of an abortion.”


This constitutional amendment was approved by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018.