A Look Back at the Summer
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
September 2010

As summer winds to an end, it seems appropriate to take a look at some important developments that occurred while we were enjoying the fairs, family reunions, and kite festivals.

Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment

Parishes across the state helped gather signatures to place a Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment on the North Dakota ballot. The response from some parishes was tremendous.

Although we fell short of collecting enough signatures in time to qualify for the November ballot, we are just a few thousand short of the number needed to place the measure on a future ballot.

That means that you can still collect signatures and send any completed petitions to the North Dakota Catholic Conference. Be sure to take advantage of any opportunities to collect more signatures. For more information, go to: ndcatholic.org/rlra.

Religious Liberty and Social Services Threatened by Federal Bill

Hundreds of religious organizations that provide substance abuse and mental health services are objecting to a provision in the SAMHSA Modernization Act of 2010 that would prevent grant recipients under the Act from hiring on the basis of religion. Federal law usually allows religious entities that provide social services to receive funding for those programs without having to change their hiring practices. This provision would change federal policy by discriminating against religious entities who consider religion in hiring. The bill is HR 5466.

Immigration and Arizona Law

Arizona passed a controversial immigration law, parts of which were subsequently enjoined. The Arizona bishops opposed the law on several grounds, calling it harmful to families and communities. Legislators from several states, including North Dakota, have expressed support for a similar law in their states. For more on this trend and why such a law would not be good for North Dakota see: http://ndcatholic.org/editorials/column0810/index.html.

Abortion in New Health Care Law

When the new health care reform law passed, the bishops stated that both the law and the executive order signed by President Barack Obama did not do enough to prevent federal funding of abortion. Within months, the bishops were shown to be correct.

The new law allows the federal government to take over state high risk policies. States created and ran these policies for those individuals who could not get regular health insurance because of preexisting conditions. Certain states submitted plans that included coverage for elective abortions. The pro-life community called attention to this development and, thankfully, the Administration later announced that the plans would not include abortion. The pro-abortion rights groups cried foul, correctly noting that the law did not preclude abortion coverage. In this case, both sides are in agreement: neither the new law nor the president’s executive order truly prohibits abortion funding or coverage. Now is the time for Congress to pass a remedial bill that actually prohibits abortion coverage and protects the conscience rights of health care workers.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding

President George W. Bush partially lifted a ban on embryonic stem cell research funding. That was not enough for proponents of destructive embryonic research, however, and the Obama administration allowed even more funding for this work. A group of pro-life advocates then filed a suit arguing that the funding violated a provision in federal law. The trial court agreed and immediately enjoined the federal government from funding any embryonic stem cell research. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling and Congress is expected to take up the issue.

Here is a reminder for North Dakota voters: North Dakota law prohibits embryonic stem cell research. Even if a candidate for federal office supports embryonic stem cell research, they should respect the will of North Dakotans and oppose federal funding for something that is illegal in our state.