Yesterday, the U.S. Catholic Bishops began their summer general assembly which prominently featured a long afternoon session on religious liberty. Following presentations from Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty Chair Bishop William Lori and Catholic University of America President John Garvey, the floor was opened for questions and comments from fellow bishops.
One of the bishops who took the mic was Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska. Prefacing his question with the caveat that he hasn’t actually read the Affordable Care Act, he asked about a rumor he had heard:
I haven’t had a chance to read the Obamacare Protection Act, but somebody told me that there’s a total exemption for Muslims in the back of that act, that all Muslims are exempt because insurance for Muslims is a type of gambling which is contrary to the Koran and therefore Muslims are not obliged in any way to observe the insurance mandate which derives from the act. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, I just want to know if any of you know anything about it.
The allegation that the Obama administration is giving broad exemptions to Muslim Americans is a self-evidently ridiculous right-wing myth meant to further shameful smears of the President as un-Christian and un-American.
It’s shocking to think that Bishop Bruskewitz not only believed there was a chance this smear was true, but also that he was willing to repeat it in a publicly-broadcast forum. When concerned Catholics warn of the dangerous influence of Republican politics among Church leadership lately, this kind of revelation only bolsters their point.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been receiving renewed attention in Washington this week with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee holding a hearing Tuesday to discuss the proposed legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT Americans at work.
Opposing the bill, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) appeared on Tony Perkins’s radio show to describe the legislation as “part of this administration’s ongoing war on religion.” (Perkins is president of the Family Research Council which has been named a hate group for its persistent use of false information to attack LGBT people).
Unfortunately for Gohmert, actual religious groups disagree with his assesment; coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, over 35 of them released a letter this week decrying workplace discrimination against LGBT employees and publicly endorsing ENDA:
Many of our sacred texts speak to the importance and sacred nature of work – an opportunity to be co-creators with God – and demand in the strongest possible terms the protection of all workers as a matter of justice. Our faith leaders and congregations grapple with the difficulties of lost jobs every day, particularly in these difficult economic times. It is indefensible that, while sharing every American’s concerns about the health of our economy, LGBT workers must also fear job security because of prejudice.
At the same time, as religious denominations and faith groups, we deeply value our guarantee to the freedoms of faith and conscience under the First Amendment. ENDA broadly exempts from its scope any religious organization, thereby ensuring that religious institutions will not be compelled to violate the religious precepts on which they are founded, whether or not we may agree with those precepts. In so doing, ENDA respects the protections for religious institutions afforded by the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are protected from baseless discrimination in the workplace.
As the letter notes, ENDA includes broad exemptions for religious organizations. Unfortunately, religious conservatives are still unsatisfied, now demanding that any exemptions apply to any individual who objects to the law for moral reasons.
This, of course, is the same standard that has been demanded by the Catholic Bishops in the contraception regulation debate (affectionately known as the “Taco Bell exemption“) and codified in the dangerously broad Blunt amendment that failed in Congress this spring.
As with that problematic legislation, instituting such a standard in the case of ENDA would essentially nullify the entire point of the legislation, giving hostile employers a broad latitude to ignore the law so long as they cited moral justification for their decisions.
U.S. Catholic has an interview with Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America about Catholicism in politics, economic justice, and helping the poor:
Why is poverty an issue Catholics should be concerned about?
I’ve been blessed with a real perspective on the level of need in America, with the poverty that’s out there. I actually know people who are poor. I know how they’re struggling and how they’re looking for work. I know how they’re embarrassed to go on public assistance or embarrassed to be at a grocery store paying for their kids’ Rice Krispies with food stamps.
I challenge people to think about their neighbors, their friends, and the people down the block who are truly down and out, who require some help to put food on the table for their kids. I challenge any Catholic to honestly be able to say we should cut food stamps and use that money to reduce taxation when looking for a solution to a real person’s problems.
When you see people who are struggling in the context of their daily lives, trying to make ends meet, trying to find a way to get out of that situation, then I think you realize that these safety nets are fundamentally important.
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The Religious Right Turns 33: What Have We Learned? By Jonathan Merritt — Atlantic, Opinion
I first met Jerry Falwell in 1999 when I was a senior in high school. My father, a pastor who was about to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, drove me to Lynchburg, Va., at Dr. Falwell’s request.
‘Nuns on the Bus’ take on Paul Ryan By Mary C. Curtis — Washington Post, On Faith
“Nuns on the Bus” tour to spotlight issues of social justice – across nine states, including Ryan’s Wisconsin — is perfectly in line with Catholic teaching. “We’re sticking with the bishops on this one.’’
Nuns’ leader seeks dialogue with Vatican to plead case By Ann Rodgers — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sister Janet Mock, a Pittsburgher at the center of the dispute between the Vatican and an umbrella group for nuns, is perplexed at the order for an archbishop to oversee her work.
Government is the solution By E.J. Dionne Jr. — Washington Post, Opinion
Let’s turn Ronald Reagan’s declaration on its head: Opposition to government isn’t the solution. Opposition to government was and remains the problem. It is past time that we affirm government’s ability to heal the economy, and its responsibility for doing so.
Tea party preps for other Big Labor state battles By Robin Bravender and Anna Palmer — Politico
Fresh off last week’s seismic victory against Big Labor, conservative activists are revving up their ground game in key presidential swing states where unions have long dominated.
Virginia student graduates from high school, braces for deportation By Eli Saslow — Washington Post
In the election-year debate over immigration reform, the situation Mejia is in has become one of the most debated of all. What should the United States do with illegal immigrants who come to the country as children, grow up here, break no laws and want to remain?
A lesson in tolerance for Arizona By Los Angeles Times, Editorial
If the state’s lawmakers are worried about growing resentment among its Latino residents, they have no one but themselves to blame.