Order in the Court: Supremely Important Decisions

June 26, 2012, 2:58 pm | Posted by

This week, several Supreme Court decisions will have profound effects on our nation’s future, and people of faith are speaking up.

Yesterday the court overturned key sections of Arizona’s SB 1070, the anti-immigrant law faith leaders fought because it subjects Latinos to harassment, discrimination and profiling. Unfortunately, the court didn’t strike down one of the most dangerous parts of the law – the “show me your papers” provision requiring law enforcement officers verify the immigration status of people they stop. Religious leaders responded by expressing disappointment that the ruling still allows racial profiling, but also commended the justices for striking down the other provisions.

Thursday, the justices will announce their verdict on the Affordable Care Act. The outlook isn’t good. In a survey of 21 top legal scholars last week, 19 said the law’s individual coverage mandate was constitutional based on legal precedent, but only eight thought the justices will uphold the law in its entirety. The potential consequences are grave. Access to health insurance for tens of millions of people, the stability of our healthcare system, and the fate of people with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses hang in the balance. If the law is overturned or weakened, Republicans who fought for repeal of “Obamacare” face an immediate moral responsibility to pass policies that ensure no one is harmed because of their partisan agenda.

During the healthcare debate of 2009 and 2010, Faith in Public Life and key religious partners mounted a multifaceted campaign to provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Within hours of the public launch of our effort, the conservative Family Research Council called it an “anti-faith, anti-family, anti-freedom agenda.” Throughout the debate Republican leaders and the Religious Right relentlessly distorted the legislation, calling it a “government takeover,” claiming that it included “death panels” and alleging that it provided taxpayer funding of abortion.

By the time the law finally passed, pro-health reform faith leaders had generated scores of vigils, hundreds of visits to Congress, thousands of media hits, millions of prayers, and crucial rebuttals to the Right’s dishonest rhetoric. It wasn’t in service of a partisan agenda, it was in accordance with our belief that all people, created in the image of God, deserve medical treatment for the illnesses and injuries we all face over the course of life. This conviction leads us to pray that the Supreme Court does the right thing on Thursday, and spurs us to action if they don’t.

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Does Oklahoma Catholic Archbishop Coakley Condone Inflammatory Imagery?

June 23, 2012, 2:06 pm | Posted by

As the US Catholic bishops launch their “Fortnight for Freedom” to protest the HHS contraception regulation, dioceses around the country are holding various events to join the campaign. One of the most enthusiastic dioceses is Oklahoma City, which held a rally at the city’s downtown convention center today organized by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and a group of lay Catholics called St. Peter’s Fellowship.

National Catholic leaders insist the Fortnight is a prayerful, educational event, but St. Peter’s Fellowship didn’t get the memo. Their website advertising the campaign features hyperbolic language about martyrdom and a photograph of a Catholic priest being shot and killed by Mexican soldiers in the 1920s:

Catholic Priest Shot by Mexican Soldiers

This same picture was the center of a similar controversy earlier this month when The Daily Advertiser, a Gannett-owned Lousiana paper, ran it in an advertisement from a far-right group comparing the Obama administration’s activities to the execution.

This kind of imagery echoes other extreme rhetoric being used by some Catholic leaders around this campaign, including the Bishop of Peoria comparing the Obama administration to Hitler and Stalin and the Bishop of Oakland warning of a descent to “despotism.”

St. Peter’s Fellowship says they’re operating with the blessing of Oklahoma City Archbishop Coakley. If the Archbishop doesn’t want to be seen as co-opted by right-wing extremists, he would be wise to exercise some more oversight with whom he partners.

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Catholic Bishop Repeats Right-Wing Smear About Islam in Health Care Law, Ctd.

June 18, 2012, 1:51 pm | Posted by

Bishop William LoriLast week we highlighted a question from Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz at the Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly in Atlanta repeating a right-wing smear that the Affordable Care Act contains a broad exemption for Muslims.

But just as shocking as the question itself was the response — or rather, non-response — he got from the session speakers, Baltimore Bishop William Lori and Catholic University of America President John Garvey. Lori joked that Bruskewitz “must have got a lot further in that act than I did” and Garvey said they should consult the lawyers.

Greg Metzger draws out the real trouble with these responses:

Here are the two men at the forefront of the bishops’ efforts to convey competence and compassion to the Catholic community and the broader public. They regularly trumpet the notion that the bishops’ efforts are for the common good of all Americans. And yet in the face of a question advancing the supposition that an entire religious group is receiving the exemptions the Catholic community is supposedly being denied, they have nothing more to say than “we don’t know”? This is beyond absurd, it is scandalous. Bishop Lori–you really don’t know if the document you have spent the better part of the last 18 months criticizing does or does not allow for an entire religious group to exempt itself from its reach? Then why should we trust your judgments about the President’s actions on religious freedom? Why should we trust your stated commitment to represent religious freedom for all, when you are ignorant of even the most basic facts related to a major religious group and its standing before the very law that you have made your reputation upon criticizing?

Thankfully, as Mollie Wilson O’Reilly notes at dotCommonweal, Bishop Pates set the record straight with the answer to the question before his remarks in the next session.

As O’Reilly also notes, however, there’s a further question that needs to be asked. Given that the Bishops’ professed standard is that any entity that objects to federal mandates on moral grounds should be exempt, why would a Muslim exemption be objectionable?:

A straightforward answer to Bruskewitz’s question might force the bishops into an uncomfortable position. After all, based on their reasoning about the HHS contraception mandate, if Muslims did object on moral and religious grounds to buying health insurance, shouldn’t they be allowed to refuse? Wouldn’t that make this an unjust law, and therefore no law at all, where they are concerned?

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Catholic Bishop Repeats Right-Wing Smear About Islam in Health Care Law

June 14, 2012, 12:01 pm | Posted by

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.

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EXCLUSIVE: Lay Catholics Buck Bishops’ Overreach on Religious Liberty Campaign

June 8, 2012, 2:00 pm | Posted by

Shrine of the Blessed SacramentA group of Catholics in the nation’s capital has released a letter speaking out against the Bishops’ recent escalation of their fight against the HHS contraception ruling.

The authors, a longstanding community of parishioners at The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, an influential Washington church, specifically identify the lawsuits by 13 Catholic dioceses (including their own Archdiocese) and the extreme rhetoric that has been used to describe genuine policy disagreements on this issue.

In the letter, the parishioners express concern that they are “in danger of becoming pawns” in a political feud and lament the enormous church resources being dedicated to this issue “in this time of worldwide economic distress and suffering”:

We are deeply concerned that, under cover of a campaign for religious liberty, the provision of universal health care–a priority of Catholic social teaching from the early years of the last century–is being turned into a wedge issue in a highly-charged political environment and that our parish, and indeed the wider church, is in danger of being rent asunder by partisan politics. We, as a group, may have differing views as to the wisdom of the details of the Health and Human Services mandate, against which our archdiocese has now announced a lawsuit in federal court, but we are united in our concern that the bishops’ alarmist call to defend religious freedom has had the effect of shutting down discussion.

It is a step too far. We, the faithful, are in danger of becoming pawns and collateral damage in a standoff between our church and our government.

While HHS may have been tone-deaf and stubborn in its handling of the mandate, we believe that the points of disagreement have been grossly overstated by the bishops.  In no way do we feel that our religious freedom is at risk. We find it grotesque to have the call for this “Fortnight” evoke the names of holy martyrs who died resisting tyranny. And we are concerned that the extremist rhetoric used to describe the “threat to our freedoms” both undermines the credibility of our church and insults those in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who are truly suffering for their faith.

Furthermore, we find it incomprehensible that, in this time of worldwide economic distress and suffering, and with the church still reeling from the child abuse scandal, our bishops have chosen to focus the spiritual and material resources of our church on this issue, at the expense of the gospel injunction that we serve the poor and attend to the needs of the “least of these”.

The letter echoes the critique made by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California who recently publicly challenged the tactical wisdom of the lawsuits and warned of right-wing groups trying to co-opt the bishops’ efforts for partisan ends.

It also reflects the feelings of Catholics across the country, 57% of whom do not believe religious liberty is threatened in America today and about 60% of whom believe religiously affiliated social-service agencies, colleges, hospitals, and privately owned small businesses should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception.

Add in the Vatican’s controversial campaign to reform American women religious and renewed attention to top bishops’ handling of the sexual abuse crisis, and it’s clear that Catholic leaders who ignore the concerns raised in this letter risk creating serious division among faithful Catholics in the pews.

UPDATE: The group now has a website: http://www.familiesunitedinfaith.blogspot.com/

Read the full letter below:

Religious Liberty, Health Care, and the Catholic Faithful

We are a group of thirty parishioners at The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, DC. Our group, formed into a small faith community in the 1960s, has been active in and deeply committed to our parish for all the intervening years. Blessed Sacrament is our parish community, and we have loved and served it to the best of our abilities. We have helped to build and strengthen its institutions, participated in every aspect of its spiritual and social life, seen our children educated in our parish school, and received the sacraments in our church. Our views and actions on issues of social and economic justice, war and peace, and the dignity of all peoples have been in great measure determined by our life in this faith community.

Situated in Washington, our parish community is a complex one, reflecting and bringing together the political diversity of the nation’s capital, with leaders in government and media joining each Sunday in prayer. We have been through trying times together–war, civil strife, scandals in the church, terrorist attacks on our nation, contested elections, and controversial legislation–but we have remained a community, with our parish serving as our refuge. For all of us, whatever our political philosophy, our church has been a welcoming home.

This, we fear, may be changing.

On two recent consecutive Sundays, our parish bulletin has included rather alarming inserts from the Archdiocese speaking of a grave threat to religious freedom in America. The first of these was entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom,” while the second closed with the dire warning that Catholics must “Act on Your Beliefs While You Still Can.” All of this, we understand, is part of a buildup to mobilize Catholics to participate in the “Fortnight for Freedom”–a two-week long demonstration planned by the bishops chiefly as a protest against the Affordable Care Act.

We are deeply concerned that, under cover of a campaign for religious liberty, the provision of universal health care–a priority of Catholic social teaching from the early years of the last century–is being turned into a wedge issue in a highly-charged political environment and that our parish, and indeed the wider church, is in danger of being rent asunder by partisan politics. We, as a group, may have differing views as to the wisdom of the details of the Health and Human Services mandate, against which our archdiocese has now announced a lawsuit in federal court, but we are united in our concern that the bishops’ alarmist call to defend religious freedom has had the effect of shutting down discussion.

It is a step too far. We, the faithful, are in danger of becoming pawns and collateral damage in a standoff between our church and our government.

While HHS may have been tone-deaf and stubborn in its handling of the mandate, we believe that the points of disagreement have been grossly overstated by the bishops.  In no way do we feel that our religious freedom is at risk. We find it grotesque to have the call for this “Fortnight” evoke the names of holy martyrs who died resisting tyranny. And we are concerned that the extremist rhetoric used to describe the “threat to our freedoms” both undermines the credibility of our church and insults those in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who are truly suffering for their faith.

Furthermore, we find it incomprehensible that, in this time of worldwide economic distress and suffering, and with the church still reeling from the child abuse scandal, our bishops have chosen to focus the spiritual and material resources of our church on this issue, at the expense of the gospel injunction that we serve the poor and attend to the needs of the “least of these”.

And finally, to return to the subject of our own parish, we are anguished by the threat of its being drawn into the vortex of partisanship. This destructive process has already begun.

One of our group recounts being disturbed and deeply hurt by an incident that occurred recently at a parish-sponsored lecture featuring a diocesan official speaking about the health care controversy.  The lecture itself contained references to what was repeatedly referred to as “Obamacare”–a term that elicited more heat than light. During the question-and-answer period the atmosphere became even more charged, until finally one person arose and spat out: “I have seen cars in our parish parking lot with Obama stickers on them. They are complicitous in all this.”  Since the member of our group had such a sticker on her car, she felt unwelcome and left the event before it ended.

This is what we fear: that our church becomes tragically reduced to a partisan player in an election-year campaign and that our parish community becomes a battleground and no longer a source of spiritual strength.

Given our opposition to the misguided and costly “Fortnight for Freedom we are heartened by recent reports that the bishops are not in full unity on the question of how to respond to the Affordable Care Act and that at least some of them may be disposed to reconsider the overwrought statements that have been made concerning threats to our religious liberties.

And so we pray that our bishops, the clergy, and Catholic laypeople in our parish and across the land will join hands to pull us all back from the brink before it is too late. We pray also that we can come together as a community of faithful, and as a country, with renewed resolve to address the broad range of critical social, political, and economic issues affecting our nation and the world.

Our Group:

Marie and Paul Barry; Tony and Judy Carroll; Joy and Jerry Choppin; James and Jean Connell; Christa and Richard Cross; Larry Carter and Odelia Funke; Kathleen and Richard  Hage; Timothy and Marilyn Hanlon; Ann and Ray Hannapel; James and Elizabeth Kane; Anne Kilcullen; Marion and John McCartney; John and Betty O’Connor; Ivo and Patricia Spalatin; Eileen and James Zogby

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