National Catholic Reporter

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HHS action draws religious liberty protests

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When it comes to issues of religious freedom, Bill Donohue thinks the Obama administration has put religious employers between a rock and a hard place.

Commenting on the Department of Health and Human Services' Aug. 1 announcement that contraceptives and sterilization will be among the mandated preventive services for women under the new health reform law, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights recalled that as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said faith-based programs that receive government aid should not be allowed to hire only members of their own faith.

"If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them -- or against the people you hire -- on the basis of their religion," Obama said in a July 1, 2008, speech in Zanesville, Ohio.

Now, HHS is proposing that only religious employers meeting four criteria would be exempt from providing contraceptives and female sterilization through their health plans. Those requirements are that the organization "(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization" under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.

Cardinal criticizes contraceptive mandate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Department of Health and Human Services' proposed "religious exemption" to the requirement that new or significantly altered health insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization for women is "so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and health care providers," according to the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston criticized the Aug. 1 announcement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that she had accepted the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine on eight "preventive services" that must be included in any health plan under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Faith leaders to Obama: protect the poor


As congress and the president take talks about the budget and deficit reduction to the final hour, there's one topic that is swept under the rug, religious leaders say: How will cuts in the budget affect the poor and vulnerable in the U.S.?

Leaders and representatives of faith organizations met with President Obama July 20 to discuss the ongoing budget and deficit talks. They urged the president not to forget to protect the poor and vulnerable in the budget talks.

"We're not interested in which party wins the current political battles but we are worried at who is likely to lose: the families trying to feed their kids, the jobless looking for work, children who needs healthcare, the hungry, sick and hopeless," Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of La Cruces, N.M., said in a conference call with other meeting attendees July 21. Ramirez is a member of the bishops' conference committee on domestic justice and human development.

The president and Congress must raise the country's debt limit by Aug. 2 or risk defaulting on that debt. To raise the ceiling the parties must reach a budget agreement, and Washington has seen deep divisions between some who want deep cuts in government spending and those who want to see increased revenues.

Defense of Marriage Act repeal gets hearing

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Legislation pending in both houses of Congress would repeal the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, allowing legally married same-sex couples to take advantage of the same benefits married heterosexual couples receive under federal law.

Called the Respect for Marriage Act, the legislation would end what its supporters consider illegal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples.

Bachmannís church defends anti-Catholic views


WASHINGTON -- The Lutheran denomination that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann quit in June sought to explain its belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ after reports questioned whether Bachmann is anti-Catholic.

Six days before Bachmann officially launched her presidential campaign last month, the Minnesota Republican and her family left Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

Synod spokesman Joel Hochmuth said Thursday (July 14) the Bachmanns had been members of Salem Lutheran for more than a decade, but had not attended the church for at least two years. They did not request a transfer to another congregation, he said.

The denomination says on its website: “We identify the Antichrist as the papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture.”

Bachmann’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Job creation should take precedence over deficit reduction



The current budget debate has deep implications for both the unemployment crisis and the increasing concentration of wealth in American society.

Not long ago, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.; and Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, framed the issues in two succinct sentences: “Despite a weak economic recovery and persistent, unacceptably high unemployment, Washington is prematurely pivoting from job creation to deficit reduction. Worse yet, many of the budget proposals flooding Washington are nothing but reverse Robin Hood plans to redistribute wealth from working families to the most privileged among us.”

Catholic social teaching vs the cult of individualism



As the budget battle approaches its climax, the political worldview of Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has increasingly come under the microscope, as politicians and pundits attempt to discern how much of the House budget chairman’s stance is based on his core principles and how much is driven by political calculation.

Justices rely on 'standing'

WASHINGTON (RNS) -- As the U.S. Supreme Court ends its 2010-2011 term this week, legal scholars say a decision issued two months ago is likely to resonate within church-state debates for years to come.

On April 4, the justices rejected a challenge to an Arizona school tuition credit program that largely benefits religious schools, saying taxpayers did not have legal grounds to challenge a tax credit as government spending.

At the heart of the decision was an arcane yet essential legal term -- "standing," or a plaintiff's right to sue. Critics say the court increasingly relies on standing to dismiss church-state challenges without addressing the merits of the complaints.

Religion may play crucial role in 2012 campaign

WASHINGTON -- As seven Republican candidates for president prepared for a June 13 debate in New Hampshire and others waited in the wings, there were signs that religion will play as big a role in the 2012 election as it has in other recent campaigns.

Many of the declared or potential candidates lined up in Washington June 3-4 to address a "strategy briefing" sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, an organization headed by Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, and to pledge their commitment to the coalition's views on abortion, same-sex marriage and similar social issues.

Charges dropped against anti-Obama protesters


An Indiana prosecutor May 5 dropped trespassing charges against nearly 80 anti-abortion activists who protested President Obama's 2009 commencement address and honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame.

Because Obama supports legalized abortion, some Catholics -- including dozens of bishops -- accused Notre Dame of tacitly endorsing his views and violating church teaching.



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