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Ohio Clergy Deliver Letter to DeWine Calling for Withdrawal from Immigration Lawsuit

March 12, 2015, 2:48 pm | Posted by

Nearly 200 Ohio religious leaders cite faith, family values in immigration letter to Attorney General Mike DeWine

Columbus, OH – Today, a diverse group of Ohio clergy delivered a letter signed by nearly 200 faith leaders from across the state to Attorney General Mike DeWine calling for him to withdraw from the lawsuit blocking executive action that would protect immigrant families.

The clergy appealed to Attorney General DeWine as a person of faith and prayed he leave the lawsuit.

“I am a theologically conservative evangelical. I’m here today because this is a spiritual issue,” said Rev. Dr. Carl Ruby of Central Christian Church in Springfield. “I believe that Attorney General Mike DeWine is a man of faith, but I believe that he is wrong on this issue and that his actions are hurting people that God loves.”

“For Catholics, immigration is not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. It’s a gospel issue and it’s a life issue. For us, immigration should not be another matter of politics, but only of faith,” said Sister Mary Wendeln of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in Cincinnati.

They asked Attorney General DeWine to instead work to protect immigrants and keep families from being separated.

“As religious leaders in Ohio, we are appealing to you Mr. DeWine. We are asking you to change your heard and mind and do the right thing – for all the children in Ohio and the United states whose families have been torn in two,” said Rev. Tim Ahrens of First Congregational Church in Columbus.

“As a pastor, I believe our immigration policies should reflect our values as a nation,” said Rev. Lynda Smith of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Athens. “Families are the foundation of our communities and should not be ripped apart.”

After praying with the member of Attorney General DeWine’s staff that received the letter, the clergy expressed hope that he would meet with them to discuss the issue and its importance to the faith community.

The text of the letter is below. The letter and full list of signers is available here.

Dear Attorney General DeWine:

As faith leaders committed to building a culture of life and family, we urge you to withdraw our state from the lawsuit seeking to block President Obama from using his executive authority to protect millions of immigrant and mixed-status families from being torn apart by deportation. The suit conflicts with pro-family values and the teachings of our faith.

Our nation’s inhumane and flawed immigration policies leave hardworking families, students and workers in constant danger of being separated indefinitely — and many in danger of deportation to countries rife with gang violence, murder and sex trafficking. To exacerbate these hazards, as the current lawsuit does, is to devalue the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Comprehensive reform, not politically motivated lawsuits, are necessary to protect our fellow children of God who have come here to seek the American dream.

We hope that as a pro-life Catholic you will consider the words of Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who said during a homily at the US-Mexico border last year: “We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.” Putting more and more families on opposite sides of this divide is something we cannot abide. Instead, we call on you not only to withdraw from the current lawsuit, but also to strongly support President Obama’s plan to defer deportation for immigrant families.

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Faith Leaders, Sen. Kaine Highlight Devastating Impact of Potential King v. Burwell Ruling

March 5, 2015, 5:24 pm | Posted by

Washington, DC – Today, prominent national religious leaders joined U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine to discuss the devastating potential consequences of a negative ruling in the King v. Burwell case that was argued before the Supreme Court yesterday.

“In his letter to the faithful on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis called us to be islands in the sea of indifference. The Affordable Care Act reaches into the lives of people who have been drowned in the sea of indifference,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. “We need to pray for the Supreme Court to have the wisdom to understand something that is very, very plain.”

The faith community played an integral role in organizing and advocating for the passage of healthcare reform – including many of today’s speakers. Now that the law is once again threatened in the Supreme Court, these leaders are working to raise awareness of the disastrous moral consequences of a negative ruling in King v. Burwell, as well as reaffirm their commitment to fighting for quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans.

“If every person is created in the image and likeness of God, doesn’t that mean they deserve access to healthcare? Millions of souls across the United States have found quality, affordable healthcare, and if the Supreme Court rules with the plaintiffs in this case, it will cause incredible suffering. This is a moral imperative,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The faith leaders stressed that the focus must remain the Americans whose healthcare and lives were at risk.

“This case is about more than six words. And while we might want to say that it is about just words, as a person of faith, I know this is about life and death,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby and Nuns on the Bus organizer. “This is a situation where the Supreme Court can choose life. This is really about the common good, so we are advocating and praying that the Supreme Court will choose life over death.”

“We hear often about the numbers involved with the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a human side to the equation, and those numbers have human faces. There’s 11.4 million stories,” said Rev. Norman Wilson, Senior Pastor at Freedom Hall Church of the Living God in Orlando, FL and a leader with PICO National Network.

The audio from today’s call is available here.


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Clergy Announce “Faith Week of Action” to Oppose Divisive “Religious Freedom” Bills

March 3, 2015, 11:43 am | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, a diverse group of Georgia faith leaders announced a Faith Week of Action in opposition to a controversial “religious freedom” bills that have been introduced in the state legislature. The Faith Week of Action is the latest part of an ongoing, clergy-led campaign against the divisive legislation. Since December, clergy have been writing op-eds, holding rallies and lobbying lawmakers, citing their concerns about the potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.

More than 200 clergy have now signed a letter opposing the bills. The letter will run as full-page ads on Thursday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Marietta Daily Journal, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Athens Banner-Herald. The ad can be viewed here, as well as on the coalition’s website.

In addition to the newspaper ads, the clergy have organized a call-in on Tuesday, as people of faith from across the state will call their state representatives and state senators to urge them to oppose the “religious freedom” bills.

“These bills are not about religious freedom. They are about the right to discriminate—against gays and lesbians, against women, against children, against African-Americans. As a Christian pastor, I don’t want that done in my name,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald, III, Pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church.

“As a Baptist, I know that religious liberty is critical for a healthy church and a free nation. That’s why I oppose the unnecessary, dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration bills,” said Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur. “Hundreds of faith leaders are speaking out against this ill-conceived legislation.”

“I’m proud to stand with 200 fellow clergy opposed to these unnecessary ‘Religious Freedom’ bills,” said Rev. David Lewicki, Co-Pastor at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. “Both the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution already secure our religious freedom.”

Rev. McDonald, Rev. Pennington-Russell and Rev. Lewicki are all available today for interviews to discuss the clergy campaign against “religious freedom” legislation in Georgia.

The clergy are part of a growing chorus of business leaders, legal experts and people of faith who are opposing these unnecessary and harmful bills.

The full text of the clergy letter is below. The complete list of the more than 200 Georgia faith leaders who have signed the letter can be found here.

As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others.

We oppose this proposed legislation. First, it would put an individual’s religious beliefs ahead of the common good. Second, it could unleash a wave of costly lawsuits that will add burdens to both the courts and taxpayers alike. Third, it is unnecessary because our freedom of religion is already guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution.

Fourth, a state RFRA could legalize discrimination by allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers based on religious objections. We believe that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic—from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nation’s core values of equality and justice.

We all have different views on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples, but we are united in condemnation of discrimination and in firm support of equal protection under the law.

We caution our elected leaders against supporting this unnecessary RFRA, which opens wide the door for exclusion and division. Instead, they must preserve the current protections already afforded to us through the Constitution.


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100+ Catholic Leaders to House: Immigration Reform is a Pro-Life Issue

January 21, 2015, 11:42 am | Posted by

 On eve of March for Life rally, prominent Catholic leaders challenge “pro-life” members of Congress to pass immigration reform

Washington, DC – A prominent group of Catholic leaders is sending a message to their fellow Catholics in the House of Representatives who identity as “pro-life” on the eve of a national anti-abortion rally in Washington.

“As Catholics committed to building a culture of life, we write to urge our fellow Catholics in Congress to support the U.S. bishops’ efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” more than 100 Catholic university presidents, priests, nuns, theologians and immigration policy experts write today in a statement released by the Washington-based organization Faith in Public Life.

“Our nation’s inhumane and flawed immigration policies leave migrant women, children and families abandoned by the side of the road,” the letter reads.

The statement will be sent to Catholics in the House, and will also appear as a full-page ad in Politico on Thursday. Nearly a third of all members of Congress are Catholic – the largest religious denomination represented on the Hill.

While the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, the House has failed to vote on a comprehensive package, and last week voted to block funding for President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. House Speaker John Boehner supported the measure to defund the president’s action to offer deferrals to immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The president of Speaker Boehner’s alma mater, Xavier University in Cincinnati, was among the signers of the statement. Other prominent signers included Helen Alvare, professor at George Mason University School of Law, an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a former USCCB pro-life spokeswoman; Father Larry Snyder, outgoing president of Catholic Charities USA; retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and retired Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., both former presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., President of the Jesuit Conference USA, Rev. James Greenfield, OSFS, President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and Sr. Sharon Holland, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

There are more than two dozen Catholics in the House who identity as pro-life, and some will attend the March for tomorrow in Washington. The statement directly appeals to them.

“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages,” the letter reads. “We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child.”

“We fail a basic moral test and will never build a true culture of life if we keep turning our backs on immigrants relegated to the shadows,” said Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. “Catholic lawmakers who are proud of their pro-life record but who fail to act on comprehensive immigration reform have a particular responsibility to consider their Church’s teachings on this urgent moral issue.”

The full statement and list of signatories can be found here. The Politico ad can be viewed here. Signers’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.


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What if Pope Francis gave the State of the Union address?

January 20, 2015, 12:58 pm | Posted by

Pope Francis is arguably the most compelling leader in the world today. Unless you’re one of those hyperventilating Fox News pundits or a certain American cardinal pining for the good old days of pray-pay-and-obey Catholicism, chances are you stand in awe of how quickly Francis has resuscitated an ancient institution nearly on life support after decades of clergy abuse scandals and the first resignation of a pope in six centuries.

The pope isn’t a traditional politician, but he is a savvy global leader who understands optics and the art of diplomacy. Simply put, this is a man with political and moral capital to burn. His decisive role in helping President Barack Obama strike a historic rapprochement with Cuba was the latest signal that the Vatican is back as a formidable geopolitical player. The Catholic church, of course, began navigating political currents, both secular and ecclesiastical, centuries before our American republic was a glimmer in the eye of Thomas Jefferson and Co. In traditional Catholic teaching, “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains. Or, as Pope Francis phrased it a bit more colorfully in one morning homily: “A good Catholic meddles in politics.”

As Obama prepares to give his State of the Union address tonight, I can’t help wondering what Pope Francis would say to Congress and the American people if handed the microphone. The idea is not as crazy as it might sound. House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, invited the pope to address a joint session of Congress during his visit to the United States in September. If Francis accepts the offer, which news reports this week suggest he will, it would be a first for a pope. Aware of the obvious chutzpah needed to try and channel this enigmatic and eloquent pope, here’s my take on what Francis might say to a polarized Congress and a nation in desperate need of moral vision.

Good evening!

I ask that you forgive my English. I know some of you speak Spanish, so if I have trouble, perhaps I even mix up my fútbol with your football, I will revert to my mother tongue, no? I am filled with joy to be in this beautiful country, a nation born of hope and ideals. All men are created equal! Through the fire of a civil war, your country held to that promise first given in faith by God and shed blood to overcome the sin of slavery. I think of the hands worn down by chains that built this magnificent Capitol building. Could those slaves have imagined someone with their skin color as president? The American story is about striving and struggle, of being lost and then finding a way through darkness. This is our human story. We are all on a journey. God gives us a destination and affirms our sacred dignity — even when we doubt it.

My brothers and sisters, our world is broken. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen knows this. We sometimes prefer to be blind and deaf to this reality. So many people discarded, thrown away into vast oceans of indifference. We no longer weep! On my drive here tonight, I saw men and women — also children — bundled in the cold. The sidewalk is their bed. The same is true in Rome. In Buenos Aires. In Bombay. A homeless woman dies in the gutter. Do we stop? The stock market moves an inch, and that is front-page news. These upside-down priorities tell us our culture is sick. How do we heal the wounds of loneliness, alienation and injustice? All of us in this chamber tonight are privileged. Let us use whatever power we have not to glorify ourselves or weave cocoons of comfort around our lives, but risk going out to the margins, to the peripheries where there is pain, anger, disillusion. It is good to be made uncomfortable.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws,” the prophet reminds us. Please do not forget the migrant who crosses the desert. She has a family and holds tight to dreams. Do not abandon the unborn in the womb. Justice and human rights are not served by defacing the image of God. Do not discard the elderly or think the dying are served by the false mercy of euthanasia. I beg you to use the great influence and wealth found in this mighty nation to serve the common good. Say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Building a culture of life is impossible if workers can’t earn a living wage, pregnant women are denied the support they need, and families lack good health care. Some expect that wealth in the hands of the few will trickle down. This is a fantasy. The poor are still waiting! The market must serve human beings, not the other way around. The moral measure of your nation, any nation, is not judged by the stock value of corporations or the billions spent on weapons of war. Wealth is a gift, and that can be a good, but not when profit is made a god. 

I ask you with special urgency: Do all that you can to protect the gift of creation! Human beings are destroying our environment. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2010 World Day of Peace message, said: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers …” The growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees,” he said, must awaken our conscience and lead us to take action. We often speak today of rights. What about our responsibilities to each other? So many worship at the altar of individualism that we forget that human beings only flourish in community. Solidarity is a good word to remember. Listen again to one of your American prophets, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” 

As I leave you, I give my sincere appreciation for your commitment to public service. This is a true vocation. I pray that you will live up to its noble calling.

This essay originally appeared in the National Catholic Reporter on Jan. 20, 2015

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