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Iowa religious freedom bill sets ‘highest standard’ for government, backers say

February 27, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- An effort to restore strong religious freedom protections in Iowa has the backing of the state Catholic conference and others who say there should be a high threshold for any state interference with the free exercise of religion.

While the legislation does not mention LGBT issues, LGBT advocates have tried to portray it as harmful and discriminatory.
 
“We support the bill and have supported similar proposals for several years,” Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 26. “Our view is that the bill provides a standard of review for the court when there’s a conflict between the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion and a law.”
 
“This is not a license for anyone to discriminate. It doesn’t grant anyone any new rights,” Chapman said. “It simply gives people and institutions an argument in court.”
 
Iowa’s proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, numbered S.F. 436, would allow the government substantially to burden religious exercise only if it can prove that there is a compelling state interest and that this burden is “the least restrictive means of furthering that government interest.”
 
“What it does is it says that government must be held to the highest standards before it can infringe on a person’s free exercise of religion,” Republican Sen. Dennis Guth, the bill sponsor, told KCCI News.
 
“I want all people in the state of Iowa to be able to live and work according to their free conscience without having ideas being censored,” he said. “During this time of kind of the cancel culture, I think the problem is not so much that people of faith are trying to push their religion on someone else, but that the secular world is trying to force their thoughts on people of faith.”
 
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed by Congress and enacted into law in 1993, receiving unanimous bipartisan support in the House and passing the Senate by a vote of 97-3. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation.
 
The act was supported by leaders in both parties as a response to the 1990 Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith, in which the court upheld the government in a case involving two Native Americans fired after testing positive for peyote, which they argued they had ingested as part of a religious ritual.
 
The act has played a role in the coronavirus epidemic, with federal courts taking a more sceptical view of public health rules that treat religious gatherings and venues more strictly that similar non-religious activities. The Little Sisters of the Poor have also cited the act in their objections to a federal mandate requiring them to provide employee health coverage of sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion, in violation of their religious beliefs.
 
While the federal legislation attempted to require states to have stronger religious freedom protections, the Supreme Court blocked that section of the law. States which desire to return to a high threshold for government burden on religion must pass their own religious freedom legislation.
 
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts have passed in about 20 states.
 
If the Iowa bill becomes law, when a person’s free exercise of religion is burdened by state action, he or she may cite the act as a defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.
 
“Under current law, a court is not required to apply heightened scrutiny when reviewing a law that burdens a person’s exercise of religion when such law is generally applicable,” said the bill’s explanation section.
 
The bill would require courts to apply the “compelling interest” test of Supreme Court precedents like the 1963 ruling Sherbert v. Verner and the 1972 ruling Wisconsin v. Yoder.
 
While religious freedom had strong support in the U.S. in the late twentieth century, the principle has become contentious with the rise of LGBT advocacy and some abortion rights advocacy.
 
Stronger anti-discrimination laws and policies protecting sexual orientation or gender identity have been invoked to shut down Catholic adoption agencies that only place children with a mother and a father or to compel people working in the wedding industry, like florists, photographers, and bakers, to provide their services for same-sex ceremonies.
 
Some Catholic hospitals have come under fire from critics for declining to perform abortions or gender reassignment surgeries. Critics say such refusals constitute discrimination against women or the self-identified transgendered.
 
The Iowa bill does not mention LGBT concerns or abortion.
 
However, Damian Thompson of the group Iowa Safe Schools, which claims to represent 10,000 LGBTQ youth across the state, characterized the bill as “anti-LGBTQ.”
 
“It’s very distressing for many of our students,” he told KCCI News, claiming that mental health problems, risk of suicide, and self-harm have been accelerating “because we’re seeing problematic pieces of legislation like these ran all the time.”
 
Mark Kende, a constitutional law professor at Drake Law School, contended that the law “allows for discrimination against an already vulnerable group.” He said people would assert religious freedom “while hurting people who might want something or a service from those individuals.”
 
Kende told KCCI that some states that passed religious freedom bills faced corporate boycotts that cost states millions of dollars in revenue.
 
“Iowa can’t afford in the middle of the COVID crisis and the economic downturn to be losing all that business,” he said.
 
Notably, in 2015 then-governor of Indiana Mike Pence faced threats of boycotts from CEOs, celebrities, major sports events, and leaders of some city and state governments over a state religious freedom restoration act that mirrored the federal legislation.
 
The proposed federal Equality Act has come under criticism for concerns that it would strip religious freedom protections from people and institutions accused of discrimination.
 
“Instead of respecting differences in beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the Iowa Catholic Conference said in Feb. 21 comments about the federal bill.
 
As CNA has previously reported, various advocacy groups like the ACLU and the Center for American Progress and even some academic centers like Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights and Religion Project are part of a multi-million dollar social and political change patronage network aiming to limit religious freedom protections where thy conflict with LGBT and abortion rights concerns. Major funders of this network include the Ford Foundation, the Proteus Fund, and the Arcus Foundation.


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News Briefs

Supreme Court rejects California county’s continued ban on indoor worship

February 27, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a California county’s continued ban on indoor worship services due to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing the praise of a local bishop. 

“I join all Catholics and people of faith in Santa Clara County in expressing our satisfaction in tonight’s U.S. Supreme Court decision,” said Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, in Feb. 26 statement. 

“Banning indoor worship and yet allowing people to gather at airports, personal services establishments, and retail shopping is unconstitutional—and the Supreme Court has said so several times.”

The court ruled by a 6-3 vote on Feb. 26 that Santa Clara County must allow indoor worship services up to 20% capacity effective immediately. The decision affects all parishes, missions and chapels in the Diocese of San Jose. 

Cantú said parishes in the Diocese of San Jose will continue to follow all masking, social distancing, and sanitizing protocols. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will still be in effect, and parishes will continue to offer outdoor and livestream Masses for vulnerable parishioners. 

The court lifted California’s ban on indoor religious services in a Feb. 5 unsigned order. The order said the total ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional, and the state of California may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal. 

Santa Clara County ignored the Feb. 5 injunction, and said indoor worship would continue to be banned until further notice. The county claimed its rules to mitigate coronavirus spread were “fundamentally different” from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order because they treated all indoor gatherings similarly.

The Feb. 26 decision concerned a challenge brought by Gateway City Church and The Spectrum Church in San Jose; The Home Church and Orchard Community Church in Campbell; and Trinity Bible Church in Morgan Hill. The five churches had sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Diocese of San Jose worked with Becket Law to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Cantú praised the churches for their efforts “to uphold our right to worship in Santa Clara County, as guaranteed by the US Constitution.”

“Let us move forward in hope, continuing all necessary safety precautions and receiving the vaccine when it is our turn as we seek to protect life in our communities,” Cantú said. “Let us pray for all those suffering from the effects of the pandemic and its aftermath.”


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House passes COVID relief, pro-life groups warn it funds abortion

February 27, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The House passed a massive COVID relief bill early on Saturday morning, without protections against abortion funding.

 

After debating the bill on Friday evening and voting on early Saturday morning, the House passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021 by a largely party-line vote of 219 to 212. The bill funds vaccines, testing and tracing, and provides economic relief including stimulus checks to American families.

 

It does not, however, include prohibitions on funding of abortions, something that pro-life groups—including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—have warned would increase abortion funding.

 

The Hyde Amendment, enacted into law each year as part of appropriations bills, prohibits funding of elective abortions. “Hyde” language was included in the COVID relief bill that passed Congress last year, the CARES Act, and the bill also included provisions blocking Planned Parenthood affiliates from accessing emergency loans. Planned Parenthood affiliates were still able to apply for, and receive, around $80 million in emergency loans from the CARES Act.

 

However, the current package includes neither of those pro-life protections. Pro-life groups have warned that global health funding, health insurance subsidies, and funding of the Title X program could go to elective abortions, abortion coverage, and pro-abortion groups.

 

In his remarks on the House Floor on Friday evening, the co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), called the exclusion of pro-life language “a radical departure from all previous COVID-19 relief laws,” and one which “mandates taxpayer funding of abortion-on-demand.”

 

On Friday, several members unsuccessfully tried to insert Hyde language through an amendment while the bill was considered by the Rules Committee. The amendment was cosponsored by 206 members. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.)

 

The amendment sought to prohibit funding of abortion coverage for unemployed persons through the COBRA program, as well as in tax credits for health premiums. It also sought to apply pro-life protections to funding of the Title X family planning program.  

 

Rodgers and other Republicans tried to insert pro-life amendments to the legislation as it was considered in various House committees, but the amendments were rejected. The measures included redirecting Title X funding to support child suicide prevention, as abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood are expected to once again be eligible for Title X grants during the Biden administration.

 

Two Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill—Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine).

 

The American Rescue Plan also mandates a $15-per-hour minimum wage, although that provision is expected to be struck by the Senate Parliamentarian before the chamber considers the legislation.

 

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini stated on Friday that the bill includes “billions of dollars in subsidies for abortions, not only here in the U.S. but also abroad.”

 

In his floor remarks, Smith noted that President Biden once supported pro-life protections against abortion funding.

 

“Mr. Biden once wrote constituents explaining that his support for laws against funding for abortion by saying it would ‘protect both the woman and her unborn child,’” Smith noted. 

 

“Unborn babies, Madame Speaker, need the President of the U.S. and members of Congress to be their friend and advocate, not their adversary,” Smith said.


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News Briefs

Courage offers virtual Lenten reflection

February 27, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 03:48 am (CNA).- As pandemic restrictions continue to affect in-person events, a pair of ministries for people with same-sex attraction and their loved ones is hosting a free, virtual Lenten reflection to foster spiritua… […]

pope john xxiii leads the opening session of the second vatican council in st. peter's basilica at the vatican oct. 11
Essay

How should we think about Vatican II?

February 26, 2021 Douglas Bushman 39

Editor’s note: The following essay was originally delivered on January 8, 2021, as the Convocation for Spring 2021 Semester at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. ——- Introduction There is an old story […]