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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

Spain to permit feminist marches, while restricting worship services

February 26, 2021 CNA Daily News 1

Madrid, Spain, Feb 26, 2021 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- While maintaining restrictions on transit, gatherings, and worship services amid the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish authorities will allow marches for International Women’s Day next month.

Various feminist organizations are already calling for demonstrations in various parts of Spain March 8. In Madrid, marches of up to 500 persons have been authorized.

The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, advises against the marches, saying, “there’s no place” for them because “the epidemiological situation would not allow nor make sense to hold these events.”

However, Fernando Simón, director of the Health Emergencies and Alerts Coordination Center of the Spanish government, has been in favor of the feminist events and said that they’re less risky than Holy Week processions.

Simón said,”it’s not the same to be under a litter carried by many people during Holy Week, than to be in a demonstration of 500 where distances can be maintained.”

The delegate of the Spanish government in Madrid, José Manuel Franco, told Onda Madrid public radio that the requests for a permit to hold marches they have received in the Spanish capital “have not been prohibited because they maintain the parameters required right now in this pandemic situation.”

In various autonomous regional governments in Spain, restrictions have already been announced for Holy Week celebrations and other celebrations associated with the Church, such as the “Sanfermines” in Navarre, which will not be held this year.

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Luis Losada, campaign director for CitizenGO in Latin America, said that “it’s outrageous that (while we have had to) give up the Fallas of Valencia and San Fermin festivals, as well as Holy Week, the feminists insist on their own celebration.”

Fr. Juan Manuel Góngora, a Spaniard, said, “these days we are watching with astonishment how in the middle of the pandemic, the Government Delegation in Madrid is going to authorize the 8M demonstrations with ridiculous measures.”

“Allowing these demonstrations is a farce for all of us citizens who are complying with the imposed measures and it constitutes a shameful double standard,” Góngora noted.
“At the same time we are already hearing 24/7 that this year we must act as if ‘Holy Week does not exist,'” he added.

The priest said that “if on Easter Sunday I go out through the door of the church that I administer holding the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament while the parishioners accompany me duly separated, what authority does (the government) have to impose a fine on me?”

“We Catholics must stop being timid before sectarian rulers, we should act with courage and claim our right to express publicly our faith while respecting sanitary measures, those that truly respond to the requirements of healthcare but which others are using under that guise to restrict freedom,” Góngora said.

Fr. Francisco José Delgado, another Spaniard, charged that “all this time we have been enduring a real ‘demonization’ of Catholic worship, despite the fact that there is no known source of infection associated with worship activities in Spain.”

“At the same time, we see how the public events of the state religion, since the March 8 marches are nothing else, are shamelessly promoted by Podemos in the government,” he said.

Delgado said, that “the Ministry of Health advises against these marches, shows this is more about the political confrontation between the political parties in the government than from a real concern for the health of the people, which has been missing in the decisions that have been made since the pandemic started.”

“In our case, as a Church it is difficult to distinguish what part of our self-imposed restrictions belongs to prudence and what part corresponds to posturing before the world. We have to obey, and in most places we won’t have processions, obeying the bishops,” he said.

“But perhaps the task of spiritual reconstruction should be planned that must come after all this, because the world’s ideological agenda is not going to back off a millimeter, while we seem to be in retreat,” Delgado lamented.

Spain has had more than 3 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 68,000 deaths. Per 100,000 people, it has had 6,802 cases, and 147 deaths.


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News Briefs

Who might be Cardinal Sarah’s successor?

February 25, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 04:44 pm (CNA).- After Robert Cardinal Sarah’s retirement as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, the big question around the Vatican is who will take his place.

Informed sources say that Pope Francis would be looking at three possible options.

The first would be that Pope Francis would raise Archbishop Arthur Roche, 70, from the congregation’s secretary to its prefect.

Archbishop Roche was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Benedict XVI in 2012. Before, he was president of the British International Commission on Liturgy from 2002 to 2012. He also served as auxiliary bishop of Westminster from 2001 to 2002, coadjutor Bishop of Leeds from 2002 to 2004, and Bishop of Leeds from 2004 to 2012.

During Pope Francis’ pontificate, he has been a go-between Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah in liturgical issues. He was entrusted with writing a commentary to the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which shifted the responsibility of translating liturgical texts to bishops’ regional and national conferences. The comment came out along with the publication of the motu proprio.

In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Roche as a member of the team to examine the appeals on delicta graviora, the gravest crimes dealt by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which includes the sexual abuse of minors.

The second option is Bishop Claudio Maniago of Castellaneta. Maniago, 62, has been president of the Italian Bishops Conference’s Commission on liturgy since 2015. In that position, he oversaw the new translation into Italian of the Roman Missal, which included a new version of the Our Father.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Maniago as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and in 2016.

The third option would be Bishop Vittorio Viola of Tortona. A member of the Order of Friars Minor, Viola, 55, has been a bishop since 2014.

Pope Francis picked Viola as bishop, raising him from his position of president of the Assisi Caritas. He had also been the Custodian of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. He got to know Pope Francis during the pope’s visit to Assisi on Oct. 4, 2013, when he sat next to him during a lunch with the poor.

Viola was ordained a priest by Bishop Luca Brandolini, one of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini’s closest collaborators.

Viola is also a good friend of Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who was secretary of the Congregation for the Divine worship from 2003 to 2005.

Pope Francis reportedly appreciated how Bishop Viola handled the parishes’ re-organization in Tortona, and he showed strong decision-making skills. Bishop Viola was among the candidates to take over the position of Archbishop of Genoa. Pope Francis opted for a Conventual Franciscan in Genoa, Fr. Marco Tasca. But rumors insist that the pope had already decided to call Viola to the Vatican.


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