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Politics

Catholics around the country rally for religious freedom

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WASHINGTON -- Catholics in dioceses across the country made their stand for religious freedom in a series of rallies Friday.

Organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, based in Michigan, the rallies took place on the same day in an estimated 145 cities and all together drew about 63,000 participants.

Archbishop: Religious liberty campaign not meant to 'throw' election

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Catholic church's challenges to the federal government's contraceptive mandate under the health care law is not an attempt to "throw" the presidential election in favor of one candidate or against another, said the chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom.

California Senate passes ban on therapy to change sexual orientation

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state Senate has passed a bill banning psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health practitioners from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation of any patient/client under 18 regardless of the teen's willingness to undergo that therapy or the willingness of a parent, guardian or other person to authorize such efforts.

The bill now moves to the Assembly, which has until Aug. 31 to send the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Supporters of the bill say so-called reparative or conversion therapy is harmful to minors and that the ban provides needed protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

The ban does not extend to psychotherapies that aim to provide acceptance, support and understanding of clients who are attracted to a person of the same sex or who are exploring sexual identity as long as there is no effort to change orientation or reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions.

Editorial: Bishops overreach in HHS conflict

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Early this year, NCR called out the Obama administration for overstepping a boundary by issuing through the department of Health and Human Services a mandate that required insurance coverage for contraceptives, with a too narrow exemption for religious institutions. We took this stance based on the principle that government should not define what a religious institution is and what religious ministry is.

The principle we sought to defend was clear: “Our faith is not confined to a building. Aiding the poor and marginalized, educating people, taking care of the sick are not add-ons to our religious convictions. They are core religious activities; they are who we are as Catholics.”

Our stance was not popular with a good number of NCR readers because many construed defense of the principle to mean agreement with another issue to which it had become inextricably linked -- contraception.

Lawsuits against HHS rules come with risk, win or lose

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Analysis

WASHINGTON -- Since May 21 -- when 13 Catholic dioceses and at least 30 other church organizations joined in lawsuits across the country (see Page 10) to overturn new federal Health and Human Services regulations requiring many Catholic institutions to provide or allow free contraceptive coverage in employee health care plans -- it has become increasingly clear that, whatever the constitutional merits of their case, the path these organizations have chosen is fraught with deep peril, legally and politically.

On the legal front, in a battle likely to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs could win and establish a clearer constitutional precedent on the extent of religious freedom.

A win could require HHS to recognize rights of conscience and religious liberty that cannot be infringed for a much wider variety of religiously run institutions, among them Catholic (and other religiously sponsored) universities, elementary and secondary schools, hospitals, charities and other social service agencies that are excluded from the current HHS religious exemption.

Bill on sex-selection abortion fails to get needed two-thirds in House

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WASHINGTON -- A bill that would have prohibited abortions motivated by the gender of the unborn child failed Thursday to gain a needed two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.

The vote to suspend the rules and pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and known as PRENDA, was 246 in favor and 168 against.

In addition to banning sex-selection abortions, the legislation would have prohibited the coercion of abortions based on gender, the solicitation or acceptance of funds for such abortions and the transportation of a woman into the U.S. to obtain such an abortion.

In a statement after the vote, Franks expressed confidence that "this is not the end, but merely the opening salvo in ensuring the words, 'It's a girl,' are no longer a death sentence for so many unborn girls."

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said sex-selection abortion "is cruel, it's discriminatory and it's legal. It is violence against women."

"Most people in government are unaware that it is part of a deliberate plan of population control," added Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. "This is a real war on women."

Catholicism, freedom and the fate of health care reform

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Viewpoint

The fate of federal health care reform may well rest on how the U.S. Supreme Court addresses a philosophical problem: Is human freedom more or less a capacity to choose, no matter the context or purpose of the choice? Or is human freedom best considered a capacity to choose inescapably rooted in a context and always for some purpose?

A big brain teaser, to be sure, but one that has very practical consequences. If human freedom is just a capacity to choose, then the individual mandate at the heart of health care law is obviously an arbitrary exercise of government power that should be struck down. As this line of thinking sees it, people should be free to choose, whatever their choices are. The mandate contradicts such freedom by compelling the purchase of health insurance for an already defined purpose: to serve the overall efficiency of the national health care market. Thus this critical view of the mandate thinks: Today the government will compel people to buy health insurance; tomorrow it might be broccoli; the next day, cell phones (to draw on examples used by conservative justices during the health care arguments before the court).

Kansas bans Shariah; Muslims eye legal fight

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Muslim civil rights groups are calling a new Kansas law that bans Shariah in state courtrooms an expression of Islamophobia that is vulnerable to a legal challenge.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday, does not specifically mention Shariah or Islamic law but forbids state courts from basing decisions on foreign laws that contradict rights granted by the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions.

But the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups called the law little more than anti-Muslim propaganda.

"It's obvious, based on the Islamophobic rhetoric of the sponsors of the bill, that the target was Islam and the Kansas Muslim community," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. "This type of bigoted legislation should be repudiated not only by Muslims but by Americans of all faiths nationwide."

When asked whether the law would be challenged, Hooper said, "Stay tuned."

Races for Congress feel super PAC influence

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This is the first election in which the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 will dramatically affect the funding of campaign efforts. In that case, the Court held that the First Amendment right to free speech meant that campaign finance laws could not bar corporations, unions or individuals from contributing unlimited sums of money to campaigns that were “independent” of the official campaigns of candidates for federal office. Just as the 1976 Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo unintentionally created the first Political Action Committees, or PACs, in the nation’s history, Citizens United has given birth to new SuperPACs, organizations able to take unlimited sums of money.

Activists gather to plot defense of 'religious liberty'

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Catholic bishops have used the Obama administration's contraception mandate as Exhibit A in their high-stakes defense of "religious freedom." But it's not just the bishops who are fuming, and it's not only over contraception.

Like-minded religionists of several denominations -- including Southern Baptist leader Richard Land and Baltimore Archbishop William Lori -- gathered in Washington on Thursday to organize a response to what they see as the sorry state of religious freedom in America today.

"We must all be willing to stand up and tell the government 'no,'" said Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Secularists don't like people of faith because the ultimate authority for us is not the state. The ultimate authority is God."

Sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program, the daylong summit attracted conservative Catholics, Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, Mormons and others, almost all of whom painted a dismal picture of religious freedom.

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August 1-14, 2014

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