religious liberty

Important Congressional Action Alert

Bookmark and Share

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour 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 “Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Bill” is not about sexual orientation discrimination.

Bookmark and Share

1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe 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.

Inclusion Act Receives Strong Support from Three USCCB Chairmen

Bookmark and Share

girlThree chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gave strong support for the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2015. The Act would forbid the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.

“Our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of children – the most vulnerable members of society,” wrote Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; in letters of support to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the U.S. Senate, who introduced the bill.
Highlighting the inclusivity of the legislation, the chairmen noted, “Rightly, the Inclusion Act protects the religious liberties and moral convictions of all child welfare providers. No providers are excluded by the Act.”
Some religious child welfare providers, including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have been excluded from carrying out adoption and foster care services because the providers act on their belief that children deserve to be placed with a married mother and father. The chairmen said, “The Inclusion Act would remedy this unjust discrimination by enabling all providers to serve the needs of parents and children in a manner consistent with the providers’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.”
Stressing that the Inclusion Act respects the importance of parental choice, the chairmen remarked, “Indeed, women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

The letters of support are available online at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Ltr-to-Rep-Kelly-Inclusion-Act-2015.pdfhttp://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Ltr-to-Sen-Enzi-Inclusion-Act-2015.pdf

Catholic and Evangelical Humanitarian Agencies Voice Concern Over Impact of Rule Regarding Unaccompanied Children

Bookmark and Share
An interim final rule published by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services risks harmful effects on unaccompanied children resettled by the United States, according to comments filed by Catholic and Evangelical organizations and relief agencies. At issue is whether the rule adequately accounts for the religious and moral concerns of faith-based organizations. Regulations that may force those agencies to restrict their work could create an unmanageable backlog for services.

“We believe that, through practical discussions, we can find a resolution that allows the government to fulfill its obligation to care for unaccompanied children, while also respecting the religious and moral beliefs of faith-based organization that, to date, have provided such critical care for this vulnerable population,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in joint comments filed on February 20 along with the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Inc., Catholic Relief Services and World Relief.

The organizations stressed their commitment to support and strengthen protections for these minors in ways that respect the organizations’ religious and moral convictions. “In cases where pregnancy occurs, those of us participating in the program are willing to continue to provide health care access, as we have for years, in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs,” the comments noted.

The comments stated that the rule falls short of having adequate protections for those organizations with religious or moral objections to certain requirements under the rule, including providing minors and victims of sexual abuse access to “emergency contraception” and access “to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services,” which the comments indicated “apparently includes abortion.”

The comments also noted that the rule has implications regarding human sexuality and therefore requests that ORR ensure that organizations remain free to act in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions in the area of human sexuality when providing care for unaccompanied minors.

The comments responded to an interim final rule that was published in the Federal Register on December 24, 2014.

Currently, six out of nine national refugee resettlement agencies in the United States are faith-based organizations, including the USCCB, which is the largest in terms of persons served, and World Relief, which mobilizes the resources of the evangelical community. Together, these organizations resettle the majority of refugees entering the United States each year.

The full text of the comments is available online:  www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/02-20-15-comments-UM.pdf.

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori Urge Support for the Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Bookmark and Share

—Congress should reaffirm the principle that government “should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care” because of a conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. In a February 13 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged legislators to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).

It is increasingly obvious that Congress needs to act to protect conscientious objection to the taking of innocent human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. “Recently California’s Department of Managed Health Care began demanding that all health plans under its jurisdiction include elective abortions, including late-term abortions. This mandate has no exemption for religious or moral objections, and is being enforced against religious universities, schools and even churches. Similar proposals have emerged in Washington and other states.”

The bishops noted that the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) section of the bill would give firmer legal basis to the Weldon amendment, part of every Labor/HHS appropriations bill since 2004, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. They noted that President Obama has expressed support for the Weldon amendment.

In addition, the bishops said that H.R. 940 would incorporate respect for rights of conscience into the Affordable Care Act, allowing those who purchase, provide and sponsor health coverage under the Act to opt out of abortion or other specific items that violate their moral and religious convictions. Finally the bill would recognize a private right of action for victims of discrimination under either provision, so they can go to court to defend their rights.

“We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” the bishops concluded.

The full text of the letter is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Cardinal-O-Malley-Archbishop-Lori-Urge-Congress-to-Support-HR-940-Health-Care-Conscience-Rights-Act.pdf

Action Alert: Flawed “Sexual Orientation” Bill

Bookmark and Share

The Senate Judiciary has given a Do Not Pass recommendation to SB 2279, the very flawed bill to grant special legal rights to vaguely defined sexual activities and behaviors.

The Catholic Church affirms the God-given dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination, but this bill is irredeemably flawed.  It’s vague definitions – or lack of them – extend to giving special legal protection to sexual acts.  Moreover, the bill lacks any meaningful protections for religious freedom.

Contact your state senator and urge him or her to vote No on SB 2279.

When: Now. The senate could vote on the bill as early as tomorrow.

Where: North Dakota Senate

How: The legislature’s email system is the best way at this time.

Message: Please vote NO on SB 2279.  I don’t support unjust discrimination against anyone, but this bill is too broad and does not protect sincere religious beliefs.

USCCB Chairman Gives Strong Support to the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015

Bookmark and Share
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave strong support for the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015 (H.R. 824, S. 435) introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Randy Weber (R-TX) and in the U.S. Senate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In letters of support dated February 11 to Representative Weber and Senator Cruz, Archbishop Cordileone noted that agencies within the Executive Branch of the federal government have begun using a rule that, contrary to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, allows a federal overruling of state marriage law. “By employing a ‘place of celebration’ rule, these agencies have chosen to ignore the law of the state in which people reside in determining whether they are married. The effect, if not the intent, of this choice is to circumvent state laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
The Archbishop further indicated how it is that these federal agencies are acting contrary to Supreme Court precedent. “The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, however, requires the federal government to defer to state marriage law, not disregard it.” He concluded that the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015 is necessary because it “would remedy this problem by requiring the federal government, consistent with Windsor, to defer to the marriage law of the state in which people actually reside when determining whether they are married for purposes of federal law.”
Archbishop Cordileone urged other members of Congress to join in supporting this legislation, saying, “Marriage needs to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined.  Every just effort to stand for the unique meaning of marriage is worthy of support.”

Archbishop Lori Praises Unanimous Supreme Court Decision Protecting the Religious Freedom of Muslim Prisoner

Bookmark and Share

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, in the case of Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a Muslim inmate in an Arkansas state prison who sought to wear a half-inch beard in accordance with his faith.

“The decision in Holt v. Hobbs is a great victory for religious freedom,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, “because it underscores that each and every person enjoys this basic human right.”

“You don’t lose it if you subscribe to a minority faith, or even if you enter prison — in fact, you never lose it,” Archbishop Lori explained.  “That is because, as the Second Vatican Council taught 50 years ago in Dignitatis Humanae, ‘the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person.’”

The Court found that the State of Arkansas could not meet the requirements of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which forbids the imposition of a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, unless the burden is the “least restrictive means” to serve a “compelling government interest.”

This “exceptionally demanding” test is virtually identical to the one established by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which is the principal basis for the successful federal civil rights lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that employers cover sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortion.

In May 2014, USCCB joined other religious groups in filing an amicus curiae brief at the Supreme Court in support of the position that prevailed in yesterday’s decision.  That brief is available online: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/Holt-v-Hobb-Arkansas-Dept-of-Correction.pdf

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori Urge Congress To Include Abortion Non-Discrimination Act in Funding Legislation

Bookmark and Share
Congress should incorporate the protections of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) into must-pass funding legislation, said the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a November 17 letter to Congress. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore cited the California Department of Managed Health Care’s recent move to mandate elective abortions in all health plans under its jurisdiction, with no religious or moral exemption, as one urgent reason for Congress to improve federal laws protecting conscience rights on abortion.
“The crisis in California requires Congress to reaffirm a principle that has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support: Government should not force hospitals, doctors, nurses and other providers to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care because they cannot in conscience participate in destroying a developing human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. They chair the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.
Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori noted that such rules proposed in California and other states violate the longstanding Weldon amendment, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds from discriminating against those who object to taking part in abortion or abortion coverage. However, that law lacks an effective means of enforcement and has been subject to legal challenges. The bishops support ANDA as an assurance of greater legal protection. Its protections were included in the U.S. House of Representatives’ draft version of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, but that act was ultimately not passed by Congress.
“We strongly urge you to incorporate ANDA into must-pass funding legislation at your earliest possible opportunity,” the bishops concluded.

Archbishop Kurtz Provides Initial Response to Revised HHS Mandate Regulations

Bookmark and Share

Disappointed that regulation will not expand exemption, only modifies ‘accommodation’

Extending ‘accommodation’ to exempted businesses reduces religious freedom

More thorough study and detailed comments to come

 

WASHINGTON–Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it is issuing an additional set of interim final rules to implement its requirement that health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, provide for sterilization, contraception, and drugs that can cause an abortion. In response, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), provided the following statement:

 

“The Administration is once again revising its regulations on the HHS mandate. We will study the regulations carefully and will provide more detailed comments at a later date. In keeping with our practice, we will evaluate the regulations according to the principles set forth in ‘United for Religious Freedom,’ a March 2012 statement of the USCCB Administrative Committee that was later affirmed unanimously by the body of bishops at the General Assembly of June 2012.

 

“On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the “religious employer” exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate.  Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage.  Also, by proposing to extend the “accommodation” to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision inHobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”