WASHINGTON—With international religious freedom increasingly imperiled, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) must be reauthorized quickly so it can continue to “highlight the need to protect those who are discriminated against, harassed and even killed for their faith,” said the bishop who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a September 29 letter to Congress, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, urged legislators to support S. 2078, a bill that would extend USCIRF’s mandate for four years. The fact that Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) came together to support this bill in a bipartisan manner is a “welcome sign,” said Bishop Cantú. USCIRF’s mandate is set to expire today.
Bishop Cantú expressed the hope that swift passage of this bill would lead to broader discussion on how to protect religious freedom, which the Church views as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights.”
Bishop Cantú reminded members of Congress that Pope Francis, in his recent visit, warned about efforts to suppress religious freedom, and asked everyone to join “in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
Full text of Bishop Cantú’s letter is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/letter-to-congress-urging-reauthorization-of-uscirf-2015-09-29.cfm
The Catholic Church views protection of religious freedom as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights” since it is rooted in the dignity of the human person. USCCB worked with other faith-based groups and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pass the landmark 1988 International Religious freedom Act (IRFA). IRFA created the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties. Their work is supported by a professional, nonpartisan staff. USCIRF has a proven track record of promoting human dignity and human rights around the world by monitoring and promoting religious freedom.
USCIRF is due to expire this September 30th unless legislation is passed for its reauthorization. Reauthorization of USCIRF is of critical importance to a wide range of U.S. religious believers/voters, U.S. and overseas NGO’s, and to religious communities and governments all over the world. This is not a Democrat or Republic issue or a concern of only a few Members. This is not a concern of only Christians or of the religious faiths most popular in the US. It is a bipartisan issue of concern to all US religious communities because around the world Bahia’s, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and members of newer and less numerous religions all experience persecution and discrimination in various countries.
Failure to reauthorize USCIRF will send a tremendously negative message to the international community. It will tell the worst offenders that our government is no longer truly interested in fighting for religious freedom and basic human rights of religious believers in their countries. If this happens, religious believers will be killed, jailed, and tortured.
Given the Church’s ongoing concern over the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, we strongly support a bipartisan bill to reauthorize USCIRF. We share the concerns of Pope Francis, “In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” Please encourage Congress to lend their support for reauthorization.
See Bishop Oscar Cantu’s August 26, 2015 letter to Congress encouraging legislation for the reauthorization of USCIRF, in which he wrote, “Protecting religious freedom is critical to the health of societies.”
The Truth About Planned Parenthood
by Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
Calls to defund Planned Parenthood renewed after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos that shows Planned Parenthood staff engaged in the collection and distribution of tissue and organs from aborted unborn children. The center claims that the videos show Planned Parenthood engaged in illegal activity, including the sale of unborn body parts for profit. Planned Parenthood claims that its actions were not for profit, were legal, and that defunding Planned Parenthood will deny access to women’s health and increase abortions. When we examine the facts, it becomes clear that Planned Parenthood’s claims do not justify continued funding with our tax dollars.
Planned Parenthood does abortions, and lots of them
Planned Parenthood claims that only three percent of its services are abortions. It arrives at this figure by counting every little service it provides, such as a pregnancy test, a Pap test, and tests for STDs. Suppose, therefore, that a woman comes in for an abortion. Planned Parenthood first tests if she’s pregnant, tests for STDs, conducts the abortion, and hands her contraceptives on the way out. By Planned Parenthood’s figuring, only one-fourth of the activities conducted involved abortion. Rich Lowry of the National Review noted that with this reasoning, “Major League Baseball teams could say that they sell about 20 million hot dogs and play 2,430 games in a season, so baseball is only .012 percent of what they do.”
Three percent is a lot and is three percent too much
Three percent of Planned Parenthood’s business comes to about 330,000 abortions a year. That is 330,000 too many. Any organization that does any abortions should forfeit access to taxpayer money.
Planned Parenthood is Anti-Religious Freedom
It is tempting to say that Planned Parenthood is all about abortion, but the truth is that the organization has included hostility toward religious freedom in its activities. When North Dakota voters considered a religious freedom measure Planned Parenthood affiliates from around the nation contributed $1.2 Million toward its defeat. They did this despite the fact that Planned Parenthood does not have a clinic in the state, the measure had nothing to do with “reproductive rights,” and many Planned Parenthood clinics operate in states with similar laws with no problems.
Don’t believe the claim that abortions will go up if Planned Parenthood loses tax funding or closes clinics
This claim appeals to the belief that greater access to contraceptives would lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and therefore fewer abortions. The much ignored problem with this claim is that there exists little or no empirical evidence to support it. In fact, most studies closely looking at the issue have found that the opposite is true. For example, states and nations that fund and encourage high contraception access have higher rates and numbers of abortions. States like North Dakota that provide no funding for contraception have lower abortion rates.
Planned Parenthood’s Distraction Defense
Planned Parenthood claims the videos were edited. Actually, the unedited versions were posted at the same time. Planned Parenthood claims that they were secretly and illegally filmed. That might be true, but it does not change the substance of the videos. Planned Parenthood claims that the people behind the videos are extremists. Once again, who made the videos and what connections they might have had to other organizations is irrelevant. It does not change the substance of the videos.
It does not matter that it was legal
Perhaps the most used distraction technique is the claim that what Planned Parenthood did is legal under federal law. The Center for Medical Progress alleges that the videos show Planned Parenthood engaged in the trafficking of fetal body parts for a profit, something that is illegal under federal law. The legal system will have to determine whether Planned Parenthood violated federal laws. In the meantime, we should not lose sight of the fact that even what Planned Parenthood admits to doing is unconscionable, even if legal.
It is illegal in North Dakota
What Planned Parenthood admits to doing would be a felony if done in North Dakota. Our Congressional delegation should keep that in mind when voting on whether to defund Planned Parenthood. North Dakotans have already said that Planned Parenthood’s actions are unacceptable.
Possible Good Does Not Make it Right
Planned Parenthood and its defenders have resorted to the consequentialist argument that, no matter how you feel about abortion, what was shown in the videos is actually good because it may lead to cures. That is another distraction technique and one that relies on a flawed moral analysis. A good outcome cannot justify an evil act. The intentional killing of human life is evil and no amount of resulting “good” can make the killing morally acceptable.
Planned Parenthood likes to point out that no federal dollars pay for abortions. This is partly true. Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to directly pay for most abortions. Tax dollars can, however, pay for abortions due to rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. More importantly, all money is somewhat fungible. Tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood help support its agenda in other ways, an agenda that includes abortions and anti-religious freedom activity.
The mere fact that something is legal does not mean that citizens should have to disregard an organization’s involvement in the activity when it comes to deciding whether to fund another activity by the organization. In other words, even if our tax dollars do not directly pay for abortions, Planned Parenthood’s provision of abortion should exclude it from receiving our tax dollars.
Space does not permit discussion of Planned Parenthood’s never disavowed racist and eugenic history. It should be clear, even without that information, that the time has come to defund Planned Parenthood and send it to the ash heap of history.
Please join in urging Congress to support our cherished rights of conscience and religious liberty. Policy is being considered on Capitol Hill that can protect the freedom of all Americans. Please take action today!
Just follow this link to our center for Human Life Action : www.nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=292
Now is the time to urge Congress to work to enact critically important conscience protections this year. Such protections will likely be included in a soon-to-be-introduced appropriations bill, but House members should be urged to ensure that it remains a high priority and goes into law. Senators should also be called upon to help ensure passage of these needed protections. We need you to contact Congress.
Thank you for once again raising your voice in defense of life and liberty. Together we will be heard!
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: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Open-Letter-on-Marriage-and-Religious-Freedom-April-2015.pdf 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 www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/ecumenical-and-interreligious-activities.cfm.
- 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:
Prairie St. John’s Hospital
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
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.
The House Human Services Committee overwhelmingly voted against SB 2279, a bill that would give sexual acts outside of marriage special legal protection while restricting religious freedoms. The vote was 11-2 for a Do Not Pass recommendation.
The committee made an amendment to the problematic “religious exemptions” in the bill which the conference is still analyzing.
Your help is needed to stop two dangerous pieces of legislation recently passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and signed by the mayor. These acts, the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act” (RHNDA) and the “Human Rights Amendment Act” (HRAA) are subject to disapproval by Congress.
On March 6, 2015 the DC government forwarded these laws to Congress, which has 30 legislative days to pass resolutions of disapproval; after this time other avenues might be able to block the laws’ implementation.
Please act immediately on the NCHLA Action Alert found at: nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=316
On March 20, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington along with the chairmen of five committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent letters to the House and Senate urging Congress to block RHNDA and HRAA. For the text of the US bishops’ letter see www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/ADW-USCCB-letter-DC-bills-3-20-15.pdf
The state House is considering SB 2279, often called the “sexual orientation non-discrimination” bill. A vocal campaign in favor of the bill has tried to make the bill a referendum on how a person feels about sexual orientation discrimination. According to them, if discrimination based on sexual orientation is “bad,” you must support the bill. Opposing the bill, to them, means that you endorse such discrimination.
The truth is that the bill is not about how one feels about sexual orientation. The truth is that the bill gives special legal protection – the right to sue – based on an individual’s sexual-related acts.
In addition, the bill is a direct attack – some would say a right to harass – on individuals and organizations with sincere religious beliefs about those sexual acts.
For more information, see the testimony of the conference against SB 2279.