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How ISIS genocide victims still face discrimination in Kurdistan

June 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jun 4, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Islamic State ravaged large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, religious minorities targeted for genocide fled into Kurdistan – but a new report alleges continued discrimination against them.

“We praise the Kurdistan Regional Government for sheltering and protecting these oppressed groups and urge it to continue to take steps to ensure that these communities realize their rights and fully participate in society,” said Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

He made his remarks in the wake of the release of the commission’s report on the situation for persecuted religious minorities in Kurdistan.

The report, “Wilting in the Kurdish Sun,” was prepared for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) between May and August of 2016 and released on June 1.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion around the world and making policy recommendations to the State Department on international religious freedom.

In their new report, USCIRF explains how religious minorities in Northern Iraq – Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, and Turkmen – fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 into Kurdistan. Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims were labeled by the U.S. as genocide victims of ISIS, while other minorities were said to be victims of “crimes against humanity.” They took shelter in Kurdistan, including around 70,000 Christians in Erbil.

This has added to the ethnic and religious diversity of the region, which had already become more diverse since the U.S. invasion in 2003 resulted in minorities moving to Kurdistan, the report explained.

However, despite the freedom of religion of these minorities being “comparatively robust” in Kurdistan to other areas in the region, they still face discrimination, violence, and restrictions upon their movement there, the report alleged.

Furthermore, the region’s “strained resources and security situation” threaten to contribute to future unrest and ethnic and religious conflict, the report warned.

Laws in Kurdistan are on the surface “favorable to religious freedom,” USCIRF said, and “senior religious leaders are frequently consulted by ministers and government officials.” Minorities are represented in the regional parliament as mandated by law.

However, “many religious groups complained to researchers that they remain second-class citizens compared with Sunni Kurds,” the report said. And while laws may be friendly to religious minorities, they may not experience such support from their neighbors in their communities.

Some Assyrian Christian lands have been seized or built upon by Kurds in the northern part of the region. In one case “involving Erbil International Airport,” Christian leaders claimed that “land owned by the Chaldean Catholic Church (and others) was built on by developers without permission.”

Although authorities have spoken out against the land appropriations, “Christians, however, are frustrated by a perceived lack of action by the authorities and a lack of recourse in the courts,” the report said. “They believe that encroachments are increasing.”

Christians who tried to demonstrate against the appropriations were prevented from doing so by Kurdish security forces in one instance in 2016.

Additionally, Yazidis have reported pressure that they be identified as ethnic Kurds, contrary to the opinions of some Yazidis that they are separate ethnically.

NGOs have also reported that, in the Sinjar region, there are “economic blockades” and “restrictions on freedom of movement and return, and the prevention of goods and supplies being distributed.”

Other countries surrounding Kurdistan feature abuses of freedom of religion, USCIRF reports.

USCIRF rates countries on how much they respect religious freedom in a tier system. Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) are those with the worst situations for religious freedom, with “severe” abuses of freedom of religion that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”

The State Department has followed USCIRF’s recommendations and has listed Iran as a CPC. USCIRF has also recommended that Syria be designated as a CPC.

Tier 2 countries represent the next level where the religious freedom situations are not as serious, but are still concerning. Iraq is a Tier 2 level country, according to USCIRF’s latest recommendation.

“Until 2017, it was also recommended that Iraq be included in the list of CPCs, but improvements in the country have led to USCIRF revising its assessment,” the commission explained. USCIRF has also listed Turkey as a Tier 2 country.

Yet despite its security for religious minorities that is comparatively better than surrounding areas, Kurdistan on its own “might well be considered a so-called ‘tier 2’ country, requiring close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by its authorities,” USCIRF stated.

This is concerning, the report said, because there is already a push for Kurdistan to be an independent country, and the pressure for such a state of affairs may only increase in the future.

“By strengthening institutions and encouraging reforms to promote and protect religious freedoms and minority rights now, (Kurdistan) and its population will ensure that these rights and freedoms are deeply ingrained in the makeup of any new nation and its social contract,” USCIRF said.

“On the other hand, allowing rights and freedoms to be eroded now risks setting a trend that will likely continue after independence.”

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Everything you need to know about Pentecost

June 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Jun 2, 2017 / 02:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This weekend, the Church celebrates Pentecost, one of the most important feast days of the year that concludes the Easter season and celebrates the beginning of the Church.  

Here’s wh… […]

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Illinois makes foster care workers support transgenderism

June 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Chicago, Ill., Jun 2, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) issued new standards that require its employees and potential foster parents to accept and encourage children who wish to alter their gender.

The new policies state that the department “will not tolerate exposing LGBTQ children and youth to staff/providers who are not supportive of children and youths’ right to self-determination of sexual/gender identity,” The Federalist reported earlier this week.

According to the standards, all children have a “right to self-determination of gender and sexual orientation” and to choose their “sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression” which should be viewed as “developmental milestones, not problematic behavior.”  

The role of social workers and foster parents is to “facilitate exploration of any LGBTQ matters through an affirming approach…by being open, non-judgmental, and empathic.”

The standards were created with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long championed extreme LGBT and transgender ideology, and targets any staff, volunteers or potential foster parents who are not sufficiently “LGBTQ-affirming.” Non-compliant adults face either “discipline” or “discharge.”

Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., criticized the new policies in an opinion piece in The Federalist last week, noting that the “fiat” to the new ideology now trumps biological facts.

“No matter that sexual difference is a scientific fact, or that billions of sane people across the world acknowledge it,” she said.

The standards also state that the agency will not contract with any private agencies unless their policies are “at least as extensive” as the department’s LGBTQ policies.

“…the state’s child welfare agency is a closed shop, populated with closed minds, and intends to keep it that way. No believers in the binary need apply,” Hasson said.

She also noted that because parents relinquish all responsibility and authority over their children when they are wards of the state, parents could not request that their child not receive transgender procedures. They would simply be informed if or when their child has started hormone therapy or other treatments.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Meg Kilgannon, executive director of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Concerned Parents and Educators, criticized the policy, saying that it is ultimately an “erasure of the human person.”

She noted that this policy illustrates deeper issues regarding transgenderism than the much-discussed “bathroom wars” that often make headlines.

“…when you really start to dig into this issue and you start to think about all of the ramifications that something like this means, you discover that gender identity compels speech” by coercing people to use compliant words and pronouns, she said.

“If a government entity is set to be the ultimate arbiter of someone’s truth, being or existence, then at what point do parents get left out of the equation?” Kilgannon asked.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against a similarly coersive transgender policy – the Obama administration’s mandate that health professionals must carry out gender reassignment surgeries, even if they have medical or religious objections.

“The regulation not only forces healthcare professionals to violate their medical judgment, it requires them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas said in a Dec. 31 decision granting a temporary injunction against the Obama administration.

“Tragically, the regulation would force them to violate those religious beliefs and perform harmful medical transition procedures or else suffer massive financial liability,” the judge added.

Many in the medical field have expressed serious concerns about encouraging transgenderism – particularly hormonal regimens and genital surgeries – in children.

In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” , last updated in May 2017, The American College of Pediatricians said that to encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.  

Plastic surgeon Dr. Patrick Lappert said during a conference earlier this year that one of the biggest problems with transgender sex change surgeries is that they are permanent and irreversible in any meaningful way, Dr. Lappert said.

“…it’s a permanent, irreversible mutilation of the human person. And there’s no other word for it,” he said.  

“It results in permanent sterility. It’s a permanent dissolution of the unitive and the procreative functions. And even the unitive aspect of the sexual embrace is radically hindered if not utterly destroyed,” he said.

This is not the first time that the Illinois DCFS has introduced controversial LGBTQ policies. In 2011, they became the first state to force the Catholic Church out of adoption and foster care services for their refusal to place children with same-sex couples.

Currently, the DCFS is also embroiled in another controversy regarding the death of Semaj Crosby, a foster child under their care. It was announced Wednesday that current DCFS director George Sheldon has resigned in the face of the ethics probe. In the last five years, the DCFS has gone through eight directors or acting directors amid various failures in leadership, the Chicago Tribune reports.

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Lawsuit says farmer’s market wrongly barred Catholic farmer

June 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lansing, Mich., Jun 1, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic farmer Steve Tennes says the city of East Lansing, Mich. illegally barred his family-run farm from the city farmer’s market because of his family’s religious beliefs about marriage.

“We have attended the City of East Lansing Farmer’s Market for the past seven years. We have always lovingly provided everything we grow and make at our farm to customers of all beliefs and backgrounds,” Tennes’ Country Mill Farms said on its Facebook page May 31.

“We enjoyed a great working relationship with the City of East Lansing up until 2016 when city officials learned about our family’s religious beliefs that we stated on our Facebook page.”

The farm, based outside the city in Charlotte, Mich., charged that city officials’ new policy bars them from the market “solely because we publicly stated beliefs that they do not like.”

Tennes’ farm has filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan with the aid of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, explained the complaint.

“This lawsuit simply asks the court to uphold that freedom for a Catholic farmer, who should be free to sell his produce without coercion, discrimination, or intimidation by the government because of his beliefs about marriage,” Tedesco said.

“The city must respect Steve’s constitutionally protected freedom to express his religious beliefs on social media sites without being forced to surrender his right to participate in the marketplace.”

The lawsuit charged that the city policy violated free speech, freedom of religion and equal protection. It asks the federal court to halt the policy and award nominal and compensatory damages.

The farm has hosted wedding ceremonies in its orchard, but reconsidered its policy last year. On Aug. 24, 2016, Tennes posted on the farm’s Facebook page saying that due to the owners’ personal religious beliefs any requests to celebrate he would refer any requests for a same-sex ceremony to another nearby orchard.

After an East Lansing official saw the post, officials told Country Mill Farms they did not want it to be present at the farmer’s market scheduled the following Sunday. According to the lawsuit, officials said that they had received complaints about Tennes’ post and that protests against the market would occur. They urged the farm to withdraw from the market immediately.

Tennes nonetheless took his farm’s produce to the market. There were no protests.

Another Facebook post in December 2016 said that wedding ceremonies would resume at the farm’s orchard, explaining: “It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.”

The message also said its religious beliefs include that all people should be treated with respect and dignity.

That post caused East Lansing officials to think Tennes’ views conflicted with the city’s view of marriage and sexual orientation, expressed in its Human Relations Ordinance. The ordinance could not be enforced against the farms. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, officials then made a new policy requiring vendors to comply with the ordinance and anti-discrimination policy “while at the market and as a general business practice.”

The new policy bars making a statement that “indicates that an individual’s patronage or presence at a place of public accommodation” is “unwelcome or acceptable” for certain classes, including sexual orientation or gender identity.

When Country Mill Farms applied to participate in the 2017 farmer’s market, a city official sent a letter telling Tennes that he was prohibited from participating because he was not in compliance with the new policy. It included an attachment of his December Facebook post.

In a May 31 statement responding to the lawsuit, the City of East Lansing said Country Mill Farms “advertised that their business practice is to prohibit same-sex couples from holding weddings at their orchard,” in violation of the city policy.

“Their business practices violate the City of East Lansing’s long-standing ordinance that protects sexual orientation as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling that grants the right for same-sex couples to be married,” the city claimed.

Alliance Defending Freedom charged that the new policy exceeded the city’s jurisdiction and did not define “discrimination” or any key terms relevant for enforcement.

“All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him,” said Kate Anderson, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

“People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood. If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook – by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people – then no American is free.”

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