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Catholicism, freedom and the fate of health care reform



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


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


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'


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.

Editorial: Farm Bill is an opportunity to turn a broken system around


Every five years, Congress looks over the nation's agricultural, nutrition and food aid policies and passes a multibillion-dollar piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill. Since only a small number of Americans farm, the bill is shaped and debated without much media attention, yet it's an important piece of legislation because it provides food aid both here and abroad while forming and supporting our overall food and farming system.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has passed its version of the bill and it has gone to the Senate floor.

Vatican committed to universal health care coverage


Vatican City -- Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Holy See delegation to the 65th World Health Assembly, on Wednesday delivered an address before that gathering, which is being held in Geneva, Switzerland, until Saturday. Speaking English, the archbishop reaffirmed the Holy See's support for Resolution WHA64.9 on "sustainable health financing structures and universal coverage," which urges member States to aim for affordable universal coverage and access for all citizens on the basis of equity and solidarity.

Notre Dame's swing at Obama is, unfortunately, deserved



Four years ago, Notre Dame fought to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree.

This week, the Fighting Irish have effectively sued their honorary graduate in federal court.

When he arrived beneath the Golden Dome, the president had just finished a campaign inspiring hope for the "change we need" in which he swept the Catholic vote by unprecedented percentages in key electoral states. Within months of the Irish honoring him, Obama adroitly helped steady a nation that for all practical purposes had been economically defrauded by sharp bank and securities practice.

Obama complimented Notre Dame's chief executive, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, for "doing an outstanding job as president of his fine institution, and for his continued and courageous commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue." As laudatory as that compliment was, it was the least the new president could have said to a priest who in the months leading up to that day and every day since has borne criticism from virtually every American Catholic bishop and suffered a vicious anti-Notre Dame campaign aimed at scaring away donors.

24-year-old to head Obama campaign's faith outreach


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has tapped a 24-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office to head up its outreach to religious communities.

Michael R. Wear, who has worked in the White House for the past three and half years, will move to Chicago to become the campaign’s Faith Vote director in the coming weeks, White House officials confirmed May 14.

Obama 'accommodation' offers no fundamental change, USCCB attorneys say

WASHINGTON -- Although the Obama administration's proposed accommodation for religious employers to the mandate that contraceptives and sterilization be included in most health plans "may create an appearance of moderation and compromise," it does not change the administration's fundamental position, attorneys for the U.S. bishops said in comments filed Tuesday.



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