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Brian interned at Faith in Public Life in Fall 2011.

Catholic Bishops Renew Poverty Campaign and Call for Extension of Unemployment Benefits

December 13, 2011, 3:30 pm | By Brian Thorn

We’ve been writing a great deal about the need for (and examples of) Catholic leadership on economic issues over the past few weeks. The sputtering economy and the spread of the Occupy movement have challenged faith leaders to address the economic concerns of their congregations — and Catholic clergy should be applauded for their efforts to meet this challenge.

The Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, a subdivision of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is celebrating Poverty Awareness Month (January) by re-launching its Poverty USA campaign. The campaign, which includes a new website, social media presence, interactive poverty tour, and daily activities beginning January 1st, will promote awareness of poverty in the United States.

“Our culture of life begins with a love that binds us to the hopes and joys, the struggles and the sorrows of people, especially those who are poor or any way afflicted,” said Bishop Jaime Soto, chairman of domestic anti-poverty effort. “We measure our own health by the quality of care we give to those most vulnerable. We labor with those whose work is burdensome.”

But Poverty USA is not the USCCB’s only approach to alleviate economic suffering. The Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development (CDJHD), another subdivision of the USCCB, is appealing to members of the House of Representatives to “find effective ways to assure continuing Unemployment Insurance and Emergency Unemployment Compensation to protect jobless workers and their families.”

This plea from the USCCB on behalf of unemployed, uninsured Americans across the country comes at a time when Republicans in the House are leading efforts to cut unemployment benefits from a maximum duration of 99 to 59 weeks.

Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the CDJHD, explained the relevance of economic issues to people of faith: “When the economy fails to generate sufficient jobs, there is a moral obligation to help protect the life and dignity of unemployed workers and their families.”

The Bishops’ message stands in direct opposition to conservative political and faith leaders who use The Big Lie to advocate destroying the social safety net right when Americans need it most. Hopefully the Bishops’ efforts will make clear that those who suggest otherwise (particularly Catholic politicians) do so in clear opposition to the Church’s position.

Photo Credit: David Sachs/SEIU, Flickr

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President Obama’s Faith Language in Tree Lighting Remarks Counters Right-Wing Attacks

December 7, 2011, 1:10 pm | By Brian Thorn

President Obama invoked both Christian faith and the plight of immigrants at the National Christmas Tree Lighting last Thursday saying in part:

“More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Watch the President’s full remarks below:

The speech came days after Obama’s Thanksgiving Day speech, for which he was slammed by some on the Right for supposedly ignoring God and focusing on community.

The context–that the President did mention God in his 2009 and 2010 addresses, as well as in his written remarks this year and the press release about his remarks–of course, doesn’t seem to matter to those making these attacks.

This attempt to label Obama as hostile to religion is the latest example of the Right using religion as a divisive tool to score political points. Although President Obama deserves an apology for the constant untruths spouted by detractors, I’m afraid all he can hope for is that their New Year’s Resolutions include a newfound commitment to reality.

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Secure Communities Leading to Detention or Deportation of Thousands of U.S. Citizens

November 29, 2011, 4:17 pm | By Brian Thorn


The risks of the Secure Communities immigration program to community security and individual liberties have been well documented by faith and secular groups alike. The law requires local, state, and federal law enforcement officials check the immigration status of individuals they detain (before they’re even convicted) and report back to Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s (ICE).

This program has subverted due process, damaged relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and broken up families all in the name of being tough on undocumented immigrants. But a new story of a Minneapolis man detained despite his U.S. citizenship reveals that these unintended consequences can extend to all Americans.

Anthony A. Clarke was arrested by federal agents in 2008, detained awaiting deportation for 43 days, and remained under ICE jurisdiction for over a year until his release in December of 2009. Unfortunately for ICE, Clarke became a legal citizen of the United States when his mother was naturalized in 1975–thirty-three years before the arrest.

And according to Paul McEnroe of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, this is far from an isolated incident:

After a detailed examination of federal immigration records, Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University estimated this year that about 4,000 American citizens were illegally detained or deported as aliens in 2010. In a study published last summer, she found that as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003.

While the error that led to the arrest was ultimately discovered and Clarke released, the story and data highlight the abuse by federal immigration agents of an inherently unfair, possibly illegal law. There are certainly problems with the nation’s immigration system, but resorting to measures as extreme as S-Comm is not only politically irresponsible, it’s morally unacceptable.

Photo credit: Jhonathan F. Gómez, Flickr

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Archbishop Dolan Lends Support to NY Minimum Wage Increase Campaign

November 22, 2011, 5:00 pm | By Brian Thorn


Yesterday Nick highlighted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’s disparity in media strategy communicating their positions on economic justice and those about abortion and same-sex marriage. This story, about Archbishop Timothy Dolan weighing in on a bill to increase the minimum wage in New York City, is a positive example of just what he was calling for.

At a Monday rally for the bill, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, read a statement from the Archbishop acknowledging the current economic crisis facing the country and advocating a path to recovery.

Despite Sullivan’s explicit statement that the archdiocese does not take a “specific position” on the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, supporters are welcoming the Catholic voice, hoping that it will add moral and political strength to the bill.

“We’re going to speak about how this economic crisis continues to hurt everybody in society, particularly the poor,” said Msgr. Sullivan, highlighting the importance of the bill. “We need to make sure there are decent jobs with decent wages.”

The New Jersey Bishops have also just released a statement on poverty and their plans to combat it. Both they and Archbishop Dolan should be applauded for so clearly speaking out in support of these important issues.

Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New York

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Poll of the Week: How to Reduce the Deficit

November 18, 2011, 1:55 pm | By Brian Thorn

While the supercommittee tasked with a deficit reduction plan is stuck in an ideological stalemate, a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey found that Americans largely agree on a solution. According to the report, “nearly 7-in-10 (68%) of Americans say that in order to reduce the deficit, it’s fair to ask wealthier Americans to pay a greater percentage in taxes than the middle class and those less well off.”

PRRI’s Director of Research Daniel Cox explains the data in greater detail: “Americans favor taxing wealthier Americans and corporations, and they oppose cutting social programs and military funding.”

Like the findings on income inequality and the minimum wage from PRRI’s American Values Survey released last week, this survey reveals that majorities of all religious groups polled support this approach.

In addition, the AVS found that religious affiliation of respondents was a stronger response predictor than political affiliations. This suggests that Congressional leaders should be paying closer attention to the broad alliance of faith leaders working to find a moral solution to the deficit than to the tactics of ideological extremists.

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