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Peace & Justice

Ruling on 'ministerial exception' has limits

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ANALYSIS

The Supreme Court of the United States, in its Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC opinion, upheld the “ministerial exception” that the U.S. circuit courts had long recognized. Basically, this exception states that churches cannot be sued over employment decisions regarding those whom the church hires to “preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The Supreme Court’s Jan. 11 decision is rooted in both the free exercise and the establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and is very fact-specific to the Hosanna-Tabor case. The decision gives no clear rule as to who is or is not covered by the ministerial exception. But clearly, from the language of the court, two things are required: The employer must be a church, and the employee must be an agent of the church, hired by the church to preach the church’s beliefs, teach its faith and carry out its mission.

Boeing closing could mean transition to civilian economy

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VIEWPOINT

A chill has descended on Wichita, Kan. Winter weather is not the culprit, aircraft manufacturer Boeing is. The company, a longtime fixture in the city, brought the chill when it announced the imminent closure of its big defense plant there. And Wichita is not alone.

In communities from Virginia to California that have relied on steady Pentagon payrolls, people are frightened. Military spending, which totaled $7 trillion over the past decade, is slated to dip.

Good jobs will disappear.

Last August’s bitterly fought Budget Control Act, passed by Republicans and Democrats, mandated cuts of $489 billion in defense spending over 10 years. Then came the failure of the congressional “supercommittee” to agree on deficit reduction. This triggered automatic cuts of more than $1 trillion -- half from the Defense Department, half from domestic programs. Unless Congress, the president and the top Pentagon brass find a way to block the automatic reductions, the military would have to shave a total of $1 trillion from its massive budget in the decade after 2013.

Activists express concern for imprisoned priest

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Activists and friends of an 83-year-old Catholic priest imprisoned for an act of civil resistance are expressing some relief after prison officials responded to concerns he was facing unfair treatment in prison. The priest has not eaten since Jan. 10 to protest his placement in solitary confinement.

Jesuit Fr. Bill Bichsel was serving a three-month prison term in the Federal Detention Center near Seattle, Wash., for a July 2010 action at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where a new nuclear weapons manufacturing facility is being planned.

Bichsel was moved Jan. 10 to a prison transition facility in Tacoma, Wash. He was sent back to the federal detention center in Seattle the next day because authorities said he had received an unauthorized visit at the transition facility.

Fellow activists say Bichsel has begun a fast since his return to prison, where he is being held in solitary confinement. The activists also were concerned that Bichsel, who suffers from blood circulation problems, was not receiving an adequate number of blankets to keep warm.

Marines urinating on Taliban corpses: Putting words to the picture

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COMMENTARY

A video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters has been circulating since last week. The story led the Jan. 12 edition of the PBS NewsHour, a normally cautious, even staid, news outlet. Moderated by NewsHour regular Judy Woodruff, the segment featured Andrew Exum, a former Army captain and now a fellow with the Center for a New American Security, and Washington Post reporter David Ignatius as guest commentators.

Judge rules against prayer banner in Rhode Island school

A federal judge ruled Wednesday in favor of a teenage atheist who sought the removal of a prayer banner from her Rhode Island high school.

Attorneys for Jessica Ahlquist, 16, argued that a banner on display in Providence's Cranston High School West's auditorium titled "School Prayer" and addressing "Our Heavenly Father" is a violation of the Constitution and the Supreme Court's 1962 decision banning state-mandated prayer in school.

Lawyers for the school district argued that the banner had hung in the school since the 1960s and was more secular than sacred.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux disagreed and ruled that the banner should be removed immediately. He also upbraided school officials for holding community meetings about the mural that "at times resembled a religious revival." At one meeting, several school officials read from the Bible or declared their faith. Ahlquist needed a police escort to leave one meeting.

"I am hopeful that this case can be looked back on in the future and encourage others to stand up for their rights as well," Ahlquist said from the Providence office of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented her.

Advocates say reproductive services 'important' for trafficking victims

This story is the fourth in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking. Check back with NCRonline.org every day this week for more stories.

WASHINGTON -- Longtime advocates for victims of human trafficking told a House committee that the government must ensure that females who are trafficked can access all reproductive health services including contraception and abortion.

Addressing the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Dec. 14, Florrie Burke, a consultant to anti-trafficking organizations, and Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls in Washington, said victims who are raped must be able to determine for themselves what services they need rather than facing restrictions on care imposed by others.

The hearing was requested by minority Democrats on the committee as part of the congressional probe into the process followed by the Department of Health in Human Services to award grants for services to trafficking victims.

North Carolina leaders urge repeal of death penalty

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- With death penalty foe Sr. Helen Prejean by his side, Stephen Dear announced Dec. 2 a statewide grassroots campaign to abolish capital punishment in North Carolina, the only Southern state that has not carried out an execution in more than five years.

Dear, younger brother of NCR columnist Jesuit Fr. John Dear, is executive director of the North Carolina-based group People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.

Dear, Prejean and other religious leaders from around the state held a press conference to announce the "Kairos Campaign" to repeal the state's death penalty. While executions were common in North Carolina in the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s, various legal entanglements have put executions on hold since the Aug. 18, 2006, execution of Samuel Flippen. North Carolina still has 158 people on death row, the sixth highest total in the nation. Forty-three executions have been carried out in North Carolina since executions resumed in 1984.

Debate fresh 25 years after 'Economic Justice for All'

WASHINGTON -- When the pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All" was published by the U.S. bishops in November 1986, its release was both the culmination of years of work and the beginning of a sometimes heated public debate.

That debate continues today, as proved during a panel discussion Dec. 6 marking its 25th anniversary.

In a round-table discussion convened by Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and the Governance Studies Program at Brookings Institution, self-described conservatives and liberals squared off over the merits of the pastoral letter, much as people did in 1986.

The five-part letter looked at the church's vision of economic life, beginning with a discussion of Christian principles and their role in economic matters. It offered proposals for employment, poverty, food and agriculture, and international development; outlined a "New American Experiment" and a "Partnership for the Common Good," and laid out a commitment for the future.

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