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Catholic bishops support praying football coach in Supreme Court case

March 3, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Joseph Kennedy, a former high school football coach, says he lost his job for refusing to stop praying on the 50-yard line after his team’s games.  / Screenshot from Daily Signal YouTube video

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2022 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) submitted an amicus brief Wednesday in support of Joseph Kennedy, a Christian who lost his job as a high school football coach for refusing to stop praying at the 50-yard line after games.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, sometime in April.

Kennedy’s case dates back to 2015 when Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, placed him on administrative leave It did not renew his contract for the following season.

Kennedy filed suit to vindicate his right “to act in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs by offering a brief, private prayer of thanksgiving at the conclusion of BHS football games,” according to his brief.

Becket, a law firm dedicated to religious liberty, filed the new brief on the USCCB’s behalf. It criticized school officials for saying Kennedy’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution.

“The Constitution exists to protect public expressions of faith, not to stop Americans from praying in public,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, stressed in a press release on March 2. “The idea that high school football players can handle a tough game, but not the sight of someone kneeling in prayer at the end of the night, is ridiculous.”

“If there’s one thing more American than football, it’s religious freedom,” Windham added. “We hope the Supreme Court confirms what everyone with common sense knows: when a Christian coach kneels in prayer, or a Sikh schoolteacher wears a kirpan, or a Muslim principal fasts for Ramadan, they are expressing their faith, not establishing a religion.”

The Bremerton School District’s brief complains that Kennedy prayed “while on duty” and claimed that the practice “could be coercive.” The district claimed that it tried to “accommodate” Kennedy by suggesting, among other things, that he pray in the press box away from the rest of the team.

The case centers on two questions: “(1) Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection; and (2) whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the free speech and free exercise clauses, the establishment clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.”

In the brief filed March 2, the USCCB states its interest in the “protection of the First Amendment rights of religious organizations and their adherents, and the proper development of this Court’s jurisprudence in that regard.”

“Respect for diverse religious exercise, including religious exercise by public employees, is in the best of our national traditions and ought to be celebrated, not punished,” the brief reads.

The brief reviews history and Supreme Court precedent to make the case that forms of religious expression — like Kennedy’s — are protected by the Constitution.

“The versions of endorsement and coercion that have been used to justify the school district’s actions here would exclude many religious people from public employment,” the brief warns. “Americans of many different faiths — including many government employees — pray during the workday, follow religious grooming requirements, or wear religious emblems.”

“Any such activities might make someone who encounters them feel discomfort, or provide the basis for a vague notion of government endorsement,” the brief adds. “But a proper Establishment Clause analysis, one based upon historical practices and understandings, does not lead to this result.” 

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Coalition to protect, advance Catholic health care launches

January 20, 2022 Catholic News Agency 0
Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (second from left), speaks during a press conference Jan. 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C. announcing the formation of the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance. With him in the photo are other members of the alliance’s board of directors: Dr. Steven White of the Catholic Medical Association (far left), Douglas G. Wilson, Jr., CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association (third from left), and Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation. / Shannon Mullen/CNA

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2022 / 16:38 pm (CNA).

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and the leaders of five Catholic medical or professional associations on Thursday founded the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance, meant to support the reception and provision of health care in accord with Church teaching.

“This Alliance brings together the best minds in medicine, law, business, and theology. I look forward to working with CHCLA and my brother Bishops to guide and support CHCLA in this important work that will not only bring faithful medicine to our people, but bring our people to a deeper relationship with God,” Conley, chair of the group’s episcopal advisory board, said in a statement.

He added that it will “serve as a reliable and trustworthy resource for bishops to turn for assistance, information, and support; so that bishops can properly and more effectively exercise their pastoral office in overseeing health care ministry in their diocese. They will be better equipped to help facilitate an atmosphere of mutual understanding, fruitful collaboration, and ecclesial communion with the health care leaders in their dioceses.”

The alliance’s inaugural event was held at the Washington, D.C., campus of Hillsdale College, a liberal arts college founded by Free Will Baptists but which has now has no affiliation with an ecclesial group.

The alliance’s board is composed of representatives of the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Catholic Benefits Association, the Catholic Bar Association, and Christ Medicus Foundation.

Franciscan Health, a healthcare system operating in Indiana and Illinois, is the alliance’s first system member.

Sister Jane Marie Klein, O.S.F., chair of the board of Franciscan Health, commented that “Our sacred obligation to attest to and uphold the moral teachings of the Church concerning the sanctity of life throughout its natural progression from conception until natural death is being challenged by those who wish to secularize all health care providers. CHCLA is being formed to be a beacon of light and truth, an organization that will defend the right of faith-based providers to deliver care in concert with their religious beliefs.”

“A disproportionate number of people in our country, the poor and the elderly, the marginalized, and those without a voice struggle to receive adequate care. CHCLA wants to be their advocate. Franciscan Alliance is proud to be a part of an advocacy forum that defends both the dignity of all persons and religious freedom,” she added.

Dr. Steven White, president of the alliance, said that “to uphold the truth of the Catholic faith in the practice of medicine there is an urgent need for a clear, strong, and united voice to promote and defend medical care practiced in harmony with the mind of Christ and the long-standing tradition of His Church.”

A pulmonologist and director of respiratory Care at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, White called the coalescing of the alliance’s member organizations “an inspiration of the Holy Spirit” that comes at a time when Catholic health care is facing an “existential threat.”

“It’s so necessary that we come together, as I like to refer to it, as the Body of Christ,” White said. “We can’t stay in our silos any longer.”

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said the alliance’s formation comes a “providential time when ethical challenges in health care are growing, and it gives a voice to many organizations and individuals who strongly support Catholic values in health care, by having an alliance of national organizations to represent them.”

The founding president of the Catholic Bar Association, Joshua M. McCaig, said it is hoped that “this Alliance, and the expertise brought by its members in the areas of medicine, law, policy, advocacy, education, and bioethics, will serve as a unique resource to health care providers, patients, the Church, and our country. It is imperative that the dignity of those called to serve the sick is protected and defended so they may practice their profession in accordance with their conscience, their faith and their beliefs, as well as for patients who seek out providers who share the faith and expect treatment options consistent with their beliefs and values.”

Douglas G. Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, spoke Thursday about the recent disclosure in a federal lawsuit, reported by the National Catholic Register in November, that the U.S. Department of Health (HHS) is developing sweeping new regulations that would require U.S. health care providers to provide abortion and gender-transition services, without any religious exemptions.

Such extreme regulations, said Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health sharing network, “would in effect make Catholic health care illegal in the United States.”

Brown said the fight to preserve religious exemptions for faith-based health providers to offer “pro-life care” promises to become “the biggest pro-life battle” in the nation.

More information about the alliance is available on its website, catholichealthalliance.org.

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