Bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee Offers Policy Framework for Targeted Killing by Drones

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An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flightline at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. June 19. The Reaper is capable of carrying both precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. Gen. John D.W. Corley, Air Combat Command commander, met with Army Gen. William S. Wallace, Army Training and Doctrine Command commanding general, June 30 to discuss a new concept of operations that would maximize the contributions unmanned aerial systems bring to the joint warfighter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung)

WASHINGTON—The practice of targeted killings by unmanned drones should be limited by international standards, be transparent and guided by an awareness of how the practice affects conflict around the world, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace in a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The May 11 letter from Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, noted the ongoing concerns of bishops around the “serious moral questions” raised by drone strikes, and shared a policy framework that had been adopted by the bishops’ committee.

Bishop Cantú wrote, “Since the United States has led in the use of armed drones, it should take the lead in advancing international policies, standards and restrictions on the production, use and proliferation of drones in general, and of armed drones in targeted killings in particular. As weapons technology becomes more sophisticated, the need for an internationally recognized ethical and moral framework governing their use becomes more urgent.”

The framework notes that drone strikes should occur only in areas of active protracted conflict where war has been declared or where there is multilateral agreement to take action, when a threat is imminent, and the use of force if proportionate and a last resort. It also raises concerns about the decision-making processes behind drone strikes, civilian casualties and the long-term fueling of hostilities toward the United States.

The full text of the letter is available online:

USCCB Committee on Migration Issues Report on Immigrant Detention, Calls For a ‘Transformation’ of the System

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Alternatives to detention should be expanded
Vulnerable groups should not be detained
Role of for-profit prisons should be substantially reduced

The U.S. immigrant detention system, which treats vulnerable immigrant detainees as criminals, needs extensive reforms, said representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies, May 11, as they released a report and policy recommendations. They urged Congress and the administration to build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.

 “It is time for our nation to reform this inhumane system, which unnecessarily detains persons, especially vulnerable populations, who are no threat to us and who should be afforded due process and legal protections,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Such vulnerable groups include asylum-seekers, families and children, and victims of human trafficking.

The report, “Unlocking Human Dignity:  A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” was written and produced by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), a Catholic-based educational institute that studies migration, and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB.

“The presumption is to detain immigrants as a management, enforcement and deterrence tool rather than to make individual custody determinations based on family and community ties” Bishop Elizondo said. “This has resulted in the long-term detention of asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and, now, young mothers with children.” Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicate that as many as 34,000 immigrants are detained each day and over 400,000 each year.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, member of the committee and chair of CMS, pointed to the availability of alternatives to detention, such as community-based case management models, which are proven to be both cost-effective and successful in ensuring that immigrants appear at their court proceedings.

“There are ways to create a humane system and also ensure that immigrants are complying with the law,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “But we have created a detention industry in this country which preys upon the vulnerability of our fellow human beings, the vast majority of whom are not criminals.”

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, pointed to the prevalence of for-profit companies, which view detention as a business opportunity, in administering detention facilities. “Detention policy, which directly impacts the human rights and dignity of persons, should not be driven by a profit motive. Detention wastes not only government funds, but the human potential of hundreds of thousands of persons each year,” Kerwin said.

The report, which contains recommendations for changing the current detention system, can be found at

Letter to Forum: Editorial misrepresents work of ND Catholic Conference

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Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. observed that anti-Catholicism is “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people.” A persistent theme in that bias is the idea that the Catholic Church is a sinister force that uses power and threats to thwart American values. The Forum continued that ugly tradition with its editorial on SB 2279 (“Pass ND housing, jobs bill,” March 25).

Read the rest . . .

Faith Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Marriage and Religious Liberty

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A few days before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the rights of states to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, more than 30 religious leaders representing diverse faith communities throughout the United States have reaffirmed their shared commitment to marriage and religious freedom. An open letter entitled “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness” was issued to all in positions of public service on April 23.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), signed the open letter and was joined by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty; and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

“We hope this letter serves as an encouragement to all of us, especially those dedicated to public service, to continue to promote both marriage and religious freedom as integral to a healthy and free society,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “Marriage as the union of one man and one woman provides the best context for the birth and rearing of children and should be specially protected by law. The law, when it upholds the unique meaning of marriage, is simply recognizing an objective reality, not constructing one: children always have a mother and a father and deserve to be loved and raised by both of them. Society should work to strengthen the unique bond between husband and wife, knowing that strong marriages build stronger communities.”

The religious leaders stressed the need for civility and mutual respect, writing, “Government should protect the rights of those with differing views of marriage to express their beliefs and convictions without fear of intimidation, marginalization or unwarranted charges that their values imply hostility, animosity, or hatred of others.”

The leaders close with a statement of their duty and love towards all: “In this and in all that we do, we are motivated by our duty to love God and neighbor. This love extends to all those who disagree with us on this issue. The well-being of men, women, and the children they conceive compels us to stand for marriage as between one man and one woman.”

The letter is available at: and follows two previous open letters: “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment,” issued December 6, 2010, and “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” issued January 12, 2012, which are available at


Human Trafficking Bill Sent to Governor/Services Bill Waiting

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chaintraffickingSB 2107,  the “mainframe” bill which adopts much of the uniform act on human trafficking and includes language preventing funds for victims services from being used to refer for our counsel in favor of abortion was given final approval by the Senate yesterday.  It now goes to Governor Dalrymple for his signature.

The Grand Forks Herald has more . . .

SB 2199, which provides needed services to victims of trafficking still needs Senate approval.

To see why SB 2199 is so important, check out this story from the Bismarck Tribune.

Three Bills on Human Trafficking Pass House Unanimously

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chaintraffickingOn Wednesday, the House passed three important bills to address human trafficking in the state.

SB 2107 is the “mainframe” bill which adopts much of the uniform act on human trafficking and includes language preventing funds for victims services from being used to refer for our counsel in favor of abortion.

SB 2199 appropriates funding to help fund desperately needed services for victims of human trafficking.

SB 2275 makes it a crime for a human trafficker to force a victim to have an abortion.

All three bills passed unanimously.  SB 2275 will go the governor.  The Senate will need to consider whether to concur to changes the House made to SB 2107 and SB 2199.

North Dakota Passes First Ever School Choice Legislation

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schoolchoice.001For the first time ever, the North Dakota legislature has passed legislation furthering parental choice in education.

SB 2151 provides some funding for low-income parents who voluntarily choose to enroll their child in a qualified pre-K education program.  The money would “follow the child” so that a parent can choose a nonpublic, including religious-affiliated, school.

On Wednesday the House passed the measure 50-41.  Today, the Senate concurred with the House amendments and gave final approval to the bill.  Governor Dalrymple supported the proposal in his budget address and is, therefore, expected to sign the bill.

The Most Important Bill You Never Hear About

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1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe appropriation bill for the Department of Human Services may be the most important bill you never hear about.

The Department of Human Services is large.  Its budget for the 2013-2015 biennium was over $3 Billion. This session’s bill requests $3.6 Billion, but expect the final bill to be less after adjustments in light of falling oil revenues. The department has over 2,200 full-time employees. (Full disclosure, my wife is one of them.)

While it may be tempting to some to see the department’s budget as proof of an overgrown bureaucracy, the truth is that the department’s services include a wide range of programs that, if looked at individually, are not particularly large or expensive. About 33% of the budget consists of Medicaid and children’s health insurance payments, but the rest covers many other services. These include:

  • Long-term care, which includes nursing homes
  • Special needs adoption
  • Foster care
  • Care for individuals with developmental disabilities, including guardianship services
  • Autism services
  • Abortion alternatives services
  • Guardianship establishment and Vulnerable Adult Protective Services
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • The human service centers
  • The state hospital
  • Child support services
  • Various substance abuse programs
  • The Life Skills and Transition Center (formerly known as the Developmental Center)
  • Child care assistance
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance
  • Senior Meals Programs
  • Vocational Rehabilitation

And there are many more.  In fact, the budget request had 55 separate line items, most of which are for unique services.  Chances are, if you or a family member has ever been sick, struggling financially, in a nursing home, disabled, facing a mental illness or behavioral health problem, divorced with a child, or unexpectedly pregnant, you have had contact with the Department of Human Services.

It should be pointed out that about 60% of the department’s budget comes from federal, not state dollars.  Nevertheless, the breadth of the department’s actions and size of the total budget can make it seem overwhelming and an easy target when it comes to “trimming” government spending.  After all, the poor, sick, and struggling don’t have strong lobbying organizations.

Another challenge is that some people believe that these services should be provided entirely through private charities, especially the churches.  Certainly churches have a role to play.  Charity is a Christian obligation.  There is, however, a difference between charity, which is freely given in response to an immediate need, and justice, which is due to a person because of their dignity as a human person.  The Church teaches that we should not leave to charity that which is already due as a matter of justice.

We also need to recognize that, mostly out of a desire to protect citizens, the provision of human services has become professionalized and regulated.  As a consequence, the cost of covering all these services would be beyond the capability of the charitable sector.  If you are already tired of the diocese’s capital campaigns, imagine what it would be like if churches had to raise another $1.5 Billion annually.

The Department of Human Services bill is not like an abortion or school choice bill, where you can email your legislator with a simple “yes” or “no” request.  The bill will be passed.  The question is what in it will be funded and at what level.  How, as Catholics citizens, do we engage in the development of such a bill?

Something the Wisconsin Catholic Conference recently wrote about budget bills in general applies to the Department of Human Services bill.  It wrote:

While they contain numerous facts, data, and projections, state budgets are documents through which our state makes choices and sets priorities.  They are about how needs are met and which are deferred or denied.  As such, they are moral documents that define the values of those who enact them.

While the WCC does not take a position for or against the state budget as a whole, it does address aspects of the budget that advance or hinder important priorities.  For Catholics, a vital priority is always that of meeting the needs of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized.

Ultimately, the budget bill is a moral document that reflects who we are as a state.  The least we can do is pray for the legislators that will review the department’s bill.

Heavenly Father, grant wisdom and open hearts to our elected officials as they decide how best to help our neighbors, especially the least among us. Amen.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

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SB 2279 and Religious Freedom

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File:ReligiousFreedomStamp-1The North Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on SB 2279.  What kind of infringements upon religious liberty would be caused by SB 2279?


  • Faith-based entities that are not part of a “religious organization” would have no protection in hiring practices or the provision of services.  Examples include:

FirstChoice Clinic
Prairie St. John’s Hospital
Teen Challenge
St. Vincent’s Care Center (St. Vincent’s adheres to a Catholic mission, but it is owned and operated by Sanford.)
New Life Crisis Pregnancy Center
Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home
Christian Family Life Services
Perry Center Home for Unwed Mothers
Shilo High School
Hope Christian School

  • If an atheist (or a professed Wiccan) applied to work at a Christian grade school as a math teacher and the school does not restrict the position to Christians of that denomination, the school could not reject the applicant even though the applicant’s stated beliefs are antithetical to the school’s mission.
  • If a male applicant for a coaching position at a Catholic high school appeared for his interview wearing a dress, the school would not be allowed to reject the cross-dressing applicant so long as he says he is Catholic.
  • Suppose a male coach at the Catholic school decides to always wear a dress to work. If he remains a member of the Catholic Church, the school could not take any action against him without being subject to an investigation by the Labor Department and possible legal action.
  • Knights of Columbus halls would no longer be able to rent out space for wedding receptions, family reunions, or anything else unless, contrary to their religious principles, they also rent space out for same-sex wedding celebrations, pagan rituals, the Klu Klux Klan, and even a Man/Boy Love association.
  • Private businesses have no protection in employment and business matters.  Examples include:

Religious bookstores such as Hurley’s
Islamic (Halal) groceries
Christian-based web designers
Dating services

These types of businesses would, for example, have to employ people who engage in activities that might violate their beliefs about sex outside of marriage.

In addition, all businesses would be required to participate in activities that they might find morally objectionable, such as a same-sex wedding, a celebration of divorce, etc.

  • A religious-based college, such as University of Mary, that provides space, money, or approval to any student clubs, it would have to do the same for clubs for gay and lesbian students.
  • Scouting and children’s organizations could not consider a person’s sexual activities and behaviors when making leadership positions.
  • SB 2279 would make it illegal for religious organizations that own non-commercial housing (convent, rectory, boarding house, retreat space) to consider sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex when giving preference for space.  Only religious adherence to the same faith would be allowed, even if the housing is for non-commercial purposes.

Important note: People commonly believe that the religious beliefs in these examples are protected by the U.S. Constitution.  This is not true.  So long as a law does target religion and applies to everyone – which is the case with the North Dakota Human Rights Act – the government may infringe upon someone’s religious beliefs without violating the U.S. Constitution.