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Catholic college sues over contraception mandate

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Belmont Abbey College is suing the federal government over a new regulation that requires employer health insurance plans to provide free coverage of contraceptives and sterilization, even if it may be contrary to their religious beliefs.

The civil lawsuit was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Washington by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing the Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont.

In its lawsuit, Belmont Abbey College argues that the contraception regulation forces it to violate its religious beliefs or pay a severe fine.

Named in the suit are the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury and their respective heads: Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis and Timothy Geithner.

"A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government would force the same monk to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounces," said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund, in a statement issued Nov. 10.

After defeat, what's next for 'Personhood'?

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WASHINGTON -- The failure of the "personhood" initiative in Mississippi on Tuesday intensified what appears to be a growing divide in the anti-abortion movement.

Some backers of the initiative, which aimed to make abortion illegal by defining a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, are pointing fingers at major anti-abortion groups that stood on the sidelines during the Mississippi debate.

"What you have is a few organizations that are moving in the wrong direction on the issue of life," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a leading conservative law firm that provided advice to the initiative's sponsors.

Staver said he blames Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) -- two of the nation's largest and most established anti-abortion groups -- for an "impasse" in the movement that contributed to a loss at the polls.

"The split is not good," Staver said of the divide between more established groups and more confrontational groups that backed Personhood. "They want to be too conservative, too cautious. We need to move forward with a direct challenge to Roe (v. Wade)."

NH Republican makes his mark

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Ovide Lamontagne rejects the title “kingmaker” in New Hampshire’s Republican politics. The state’s voters, he said, are too independent-minded to take directions from anyone.

But by the time he sat for an interview with NCR at his law office in downtown Manchester in late August, he had hosted seven GOP presidential candidates in his home for meet-and-greet parties, each attended by as many as 300 Republican activists.

Voters have say on 'personhood,' labor rights

WASHINGTON -- Voters in Mississippi and Ohio confronted such traditional Catholic issues as abortion and labor rights on Election Day, but the Catholic bishops in those states remained neutral on the specific ballot questions raised.

In Mississippi, Proposition 26, known as the Personhood Amendment, was defeated, with 42 percent of voters supporting the measure and 58 percent opposed. It would have defined life as beginning at the moment of conception.

But Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, Miss., said that although he and other Catholic leaders "admire the goals" of the proposed amendment, "we do not believe a Mississippi Personhood Amendment is the best means to pursue an end to abortion in Mississippi and our nation."

In Ohio, more than 60 percent of voters supported an effort to repeal a law that limited the right of public employee unions to collective bargaining and prohibited them from striking. The state's Catholic bishops had taken a neutral stand, saying the issue "involves a prudential judgment where people of good will may differ as to their vote."

Church's role in helping immigrants indispensable, says Texas bishop

SAN ANTONIO -- A Catholic bishop told a San Antonio audience that "as a leaven in the wider community of peoples" and the bearer "of conscience and of hope," the church must work in favor of the immigrant, preach the Gospel and focus on the youths.

After outlining the changing dynamics of immigration and violence and addressing some of the effects on the local communities, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville offered his "pastoral perspective and some thoughts about the indispensable role of the church in facing the current reality on the border."

He emphasized the need "to call attention to the plight of the innocent who suffer," and to the "urgent task" of connecting youths to the life of the church.

"We must raise a call to conscience for the people of our two great nations to see how a culture of violence and death is destroying a people and a culture that has endured and flourished on both sides of the border for many generations," he said. "This destructive blight affects us in different ways on the two sides of the (Rio Grande) River, but they are interrelated ways."

Bishops: Uphold Defense of Marriage Act

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. bishops have urged the Senate Judiciary Committee not to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, calling it important for human rights and the common good.

"DOMA advances the common good in a manner consistent with the human dignity of all persons," Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to committee members.

DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and gives states the authority to reject same-sex marriages that may have been legally recognized in other states.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began debate Nov. 3 on legislation to repeal the law. Called the Respect for Marriage Act, the legislation would end what its supporters consider illegal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples.

However, advocates for traditional marriage said the Senate bill, S. 598, and an identical House bill, H.R. 1116, would open the door to redefining marriage and would eventually force states where same-sex marriage is illegal to recognize such unions.

Catholics urge civility in politics

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WASHINGTON -- Responding to fresh controversy over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, a group of Catholic elder statesmen on Wednesday called for more civility in politics, saying Catholics have been subjected to similar scrutiny.

Speaking as "Catholic citizens of different political persuasions," the signers urged "not only (that) civility be maintained in the public discourse but that all inclinations to raise the issue of personal religious affiliation be avoided."

The statement comes in the wake of a Dallas megachurch pastor and Rick Perry supporter who called Mormonism a "cult" and said Christians should give preference to Christian candidates.

"Catholics in the U.S. have experienced a long history of discrimination in the political life ... and so as a result, understandably, we Catholics are particularly sensitive to the issue," said Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at the Catholic University of America and an outspoken supporter of President Obama.
The 37 signatories of the statement included several former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican, retired lawmakers and university presidents.

Occupy Wall Street, false idols and a moral economy

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Commentary

Even as some pundits and politicos dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as a fleeting burst of activism from the far left, Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said last week that the "basic sentiment" behind the protests aligns with mainstream principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.

"Wall Street is considered to be a big engine house -- a big financial structure whose power extends all over the world," the cardinal told Catholic News Service after the release of a new Vatican document that calls for more robust regulation and ethical grounding of the financial sector.

"People who suffer from the way the financial markets currently operate have a right to say, 'Do business differently. Look at the way you're doing business because this is not leading to our welfare and our good,'" he said.

This is the spirit animating Occupy Wall Street -- also called the "We are the 99 percent" movement -- that includes a significant presence from the faith community.

Lawyer charges Catholic University with violations

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WASHINGTON -- A famously litigious lawyer has filed charges against the Catholic University of America (CUA) for not providing Muslim students with prayer rooms that are free of Catholic iconography.

John F. Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University who had earlier filed charges over CUA's switch to same-sex dorms this summer, filed the new 60-page complaint with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights.

"It shouldn't be too difficult somewhere on the campus for the university to set aside a small room where Muslims can pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus," Banzhaf told Fox News.

Banzhaf complained that CUA does not sponsor a Muslim student association, even though it sponsors a Jewish one. He also claimed the single-sex dorm policy discriminates against female students.

The university, whose Arab student population swelled from 56 in 2007 to 122 this year, sponsors an Arab American Association, founded this fall by Muslim student Wiaam Al Salmi.

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