The National Religious Freedom Conference and Me

 

As usual, Deacon Greg Kandra has the story, even when it’s about me. 

I attended the National Religious Freedom Conference, which was organized by the American Religious Freedom Program, which is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. The conference was Thursday.

It was the reason for the trip to Washington that I mentioned in my earlier post lambasting the hapless news commenter who got on the wrong side of my Okie-ism.

If ever there was a reason for doing a back-to-back flight across the country, this conference was it. Except for the basic right to life, there is no human right that transcends our innate right to freedom of conscience and belief. Interfering with an individual’s religious beliefs is tantamount to a form of mind control. It goes to the core of their personhood, of what makes them tick as people.

America, this unique nation which was, as one of the speakers at the conference said, created from an idea, has always held that religion is a matter so intimate that the government may not interfere, either with its existence or with the free exercise of its practices. Freedom of religion is not and never has been freedom from religion.

This is not to say that those who do not believe in any god should have their clear right to their disbelief meddled with. Not at all. Each of us has the right to be wrong in one another’s eyes on questions of faith.

The troubling trend in this country by certain groups to attack and limit the freedoms of religious people has gone on unchallenged for far too long. It is time that people of faith insist that, whatever social changes may come down the road, none of them should trample other people’s rights to freedom of religion and faith.

There is much more at stake in this than my religious belief or your religious belief, or even your unbelief. What is at stake is the essential idea on which America was founded and on which all American freedoms exist. That is the idea that all human beings are created equal and that every single one of us has worth. Religious freedom, freedom of conscience, are the wellhead of how this idea is expressed in our government.

It was no accident that the first freedom America guarantees to individual citizens involves self expression through speech and religious belief. If you can’t believe according to your faith and say what you believe, then there is no freedom at all.

As a speaker at the conference, I attracted a small amount of attention, some of which resulted in an article by Dennis Sadowski at the Catholic News Service. From what I hear, I also got a shout out of some sort from the 700 Club.

Needless to say, I’m flattered by this. However, I am much more than flattered to have been part of this conference. I am deeply honored that anyone would think that I had something to contribute to such an august body of thinkers and all-around wonderful people. The American Religious Freedom Program is not designed to replace the efforts of groups like the USCCB or the Southern Baptists in the fight for American religious freedom. It will take a more focused and direct approach which does not involve specific moral issues and which seeks to protect the religious liberty of all faith groups.

The one and only issue for the National Religious Freedom Conference is religious freedom itself. I think this is a critical approach which has been lacking in the fight for religious liberty up to now. It is a position that no religious group can take, simply because every religious group has specific moral issues on which it must also take positions.

However, I believe that the freedom of all faiths and faith members to be who we are, with our doctrinal differences intact and fully respected, is something that all faiths can unite around. For instance, as a Catholic, I may not have a problem with eating pork or the social drinking of liquor, but if the government tries to force members of faiths which do have moral teachings against these things to violate their faith, then I will stand with them in the fight. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, I may not agree with what you believe. But I will fight with you to protect your right to believe it.

Here, from Deacon Greg’s blog, The Deacon’s Bench, is the article from CNS:

Meet a Pro-Life Democrat: Patheos’ Rebecca Hamilton Profiled by CNS

Behold: 

 

 

Oklahoma State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton 

sees no conflict between her pro-life views as a Catholic and being a stalwart Democrat who has served 18 years in the state Legislature.

 

Hamilton, who represents South Oklahoma City, told Catholic News Service during a break this morning in the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference

in Washington that her pro-life stance evolved over time after a “powerful religious experience” in the 1980s.

 

It helped, she said, that she became Catholic in 2002.

Hamilton has cemented her pro-life credentials in the Legislature in recent years despite vocal objections from fellow Democrats and other supporters of Democratic politics. She said one labor official told her to keep her beliefs in church and out of the state Legislature when she shepherded one pro-life measure to passage.

All this after Hamilton worked for a stint for the National Abortion Rights Action League in Oklahoma. Back then, she said, she was hardly religious.

These days, in addition to looking out for her district, Hamilton’s focus is on threats to religious freedom that she sees emerging nationwide. She said it will take the Catholic community — a small minority in Oklahoma — working side by side with people of all faiths to be vigilant about legislative attempts to marginalize religious practice and educate the wider community that any threat to religion poses a threat to all.

One of her priorities: helping form a religious freedom caucus with other like-minded legislators to stop incursions on religious practice.

Hamilton was one of four panelists who discussed challenges to religious freedom during a conference session. She told the 150 people in attendance that her fear is that opponents of religion are becoming bolder in their attacks — verbal, through the courts and in state legislatures.

“You dehumanize a group enough, you marginalize a group enough, it becomes easy to do anything to them,” she said.

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Murder in the UK: Reflections on Terror

Jessica Hoff, who blogs at nebraskaenergyobserver, gives us the British-eye-view of what she described as “the atrocity” in her post Reflections on Terror.

The “atrocity” Jessica refers to is the cold-blooded murder of a British soldier by Islamic radicals. Jessica raises a number of questions in her blog post that I think deserve thoughtful discussion. I hope that Public Catholic readers can contribute to it in an equally thoughtful way.

Here, reprinted with permission, is what she has to say:

Reflections on Terror

MAY 28, 2013 BY JESSICAHOF

The media in the UK has been dominated these past few days by the atrocity in Woolwich. Thanks to the ubiquity of what we call mobile phones and you call cell phones, we know precisely why the murderers did what they did. They wanted to take revenge for the deaths of Muslims in Syria,Iraq and Afghanistan. As the main cause of death among Muslims in these places is the action of other Muslims, one might stop and wonder who educated these kids; and then, when one knows, it makes sense. They were educated by hate-preachers who batten like parasites on some mosques, and who preach a message which has nothing to do with love and everything to do with hate. They have a version of what has happened since 9/11 (and earlier) and they feed these impressionable kids with it. The questions which occur to me is why that version is so easily swallowed?

Part of the answer to that is our own MSM. It took against the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq and has preferred to peddle a narrative of blaming Bush and Blair rather than one of asking what those regimes were like and why their overthrow has been a good thing; let’s play politics, people, it isn’t as though there is anything bigger at stake.

Here, let it be said, Bush and Blair have not been helpful to their own cause. Whatever the truth of the WMD claim, it turned out to be wrong, and it may well have been an excuse to do something they thought needed doing; if so, they have both paid a heavy price for any misleading statements which may, or may not, have been made. Interesting that neither of them was prepared to make the real case – that these regimes were barbarous and needed taking down. Perhaps if they had left it with Afghanistan, where the Taliban were utterly repulsive and when Bib Laden was being sheltered, it would have been better. But what happened, happened, and the narrative in our MSM is manna from heaven to the fundamentalist Imams everywhere. They have no trouble pointing out that our own media does not believe our own Governments, which feeds into their own narrative – that there is a Crusade going on.

This is not just mendacious, it is the opposite of the truth. From Kuwait and Bosnia in the 1990s, and through to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the West has actually tried to save Muslims from being slaughtered by other Muslims. If there is a criticism of the West, it is that there is no crusade; there is an attempt to bring peace.

But here there may be a failure in geopolitical vision, albeit one which is understandable. Muslims are fighting each other because they unhappy with the way things are in their own countries. Their leaders, at least in the Middle East, have tended to be brutal tyrants who rule with a rod of iron – in that sense Assad in Syria is typical.  We assume that these people want what we want – peace and stability and democracy. But where, in the history of that region is there warrant for such a belief?  Take the Palestinian problem. The Arab world is plenty rich enough to have provided each displaced Palestinian with another home and money – it has chosen not to because it wishes to keep a grievance against Israel.  It is plenty rich enough to spend its money on development and not guns, but it chooses the latter.

I wonder if it has occurred to anyone in power in our countries that these people do not want what we want, and that far from thanking us for our help, they don’t want it. Not sure where that reflection leads, but thought it ought to be articulated. (For more great posts by Jessica Hof, go here.)

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Fortnight for Freedom 2013

 

Fortnight for Freedom 2013  is around the corner!

The Fortnight, which begins June 21 and ends July 4 is a call for both prayer and activity on behalf of our first American Freedom — Freedom of Religion.

From the USCCB website:

The Fortnight for Freedom, which we celebrated for the first time last year, takes place from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day.  Last year, we saw a great diversity of events promoting religious freedom across the country.  In 2013, we face many challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate; potential Supreme Court rulings that could redefine marriage in June, causing serious religious liberty issues for Catholic adoption agencies and many others; and religious liberty concerns in other areas, such as immigration and humanitarian services.

During the Fortnight, our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More.Through prayerstudy, and peaceful public action during the Fortnight for Freedom, we hope to remind ourselves and others all throughout the United States about the importance of preserving the fundamental right of religious freedom.

Please join our Facebook Page so you can stay up to date on the latest Fortnight for Freedom 2013 news!

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Cancer Drug Costs Could Skyrocket Under Obamacare

 

Containing health care costs is a little bit like trying to stuff an elephant into an old-fashioned telephone booth.

You push one part in, and another part comes busting back out.

The Affordable Health Care Act was supposed to control health care costs and make health coverage available to all Americans. It was also supposed to provide conscience exemptions and to not fund abortions.

So far, things are working out too well.

The HHS Mandate, which is a government regulation designed to implement the Affordable Health Care Act puts the promises of protecting conscience to the lie. Massive block grants for “sex education,” i.e., indoctrination in sexual disorders, to Planned Parenthood put the promises about not funding abortion to the lie.

We’re down to the “affordable” part of the Affordable Health Care Act, and it’s not looking so good, either. 

The main problem, (surprise!) is profiteering by drug companies and how elected officials in the various states respond to this.

Let me give you a hint: If the drug companies can buy the FDA and the United States Congress, do you seriously think they can’t also buy the various state legislatures?

If other legislatures are like the one here in Oklahoma, all they really need to flat-out buy is three people: The Speaker of the House, the Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Governor. They can then spread a little money around (in the form of legal campaign donations and dinners) to all the munchkin/puppet legislators sitting behind desks on the floor and the deal is done and done.

They win. The people — or at least those who get cancer — are bankrupt.

Oklahoma is a state where the House leadership adjourned the legislative session for several days a couple of years ago, so the leadership and a few hand-picked legislators could go on a junket. Rumor has it that the Senate has done the same thing not so very long ago.

So …. you fill in the dots about where the people stand in all this.

The Affordable Health Care Act may not turn out to be all that affordable for little guys who are trying to chug a serious illness. It has already proven to be a dreadnought that is blasting away at freedom of conscience with the full force of the federal government. As for not funding abortions, if Planned Parenthood was speaking candidly, all they would say is, ka-ching, ka-ching.

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cancer patients could face high costs for medications under President Barack Obama’s health care law, industry analysts and advocates warn. 
Where you live could make a huge difference in what you’ll pay. 
To try to keep premiums low, some states are allowing insurers to charge patients a hefty share of the cost for expensive medications used to treat cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other life-altering chronic diseases. 
Such “specialty drugs” can cost thousands of dollars a month, and in California, patients would pay up to 30 percent of the cost. For one widely used cancer drug, Gleevec, the patient could pay more than $2,000 for a month’s supply, says the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 
New York is taking a different approach, setting flat dollar copayments for medications. The highest is $70, and it would apply to specialty drugs as well. 
Critics fear most states will follow California’s lead, and that could defeat the purpose of Obama’s overhaul, because some of the sickest patients may be unable to afford their prescriptions. 
“It’s important that the benefit design not discriminate against people with chronic illness, and high copays do that,” said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a data analysis firm catering to the health care industry and government. 
Avalere’s research shows that 1 in 4 cancer patients walks away from the pharmacy counter empty-handed when facing a copay of $500 or more for a newly prescribed drug. 
“You have to worry about a world where if you happen to contract cancer or multiple sclerosis, you are stuck with a really big bill,” Mendelson said. “It’s going to be very important for states to take a long, hard look at their benefit design.” 
Although the money for covering uninsured Americans is coming from Washington, the heath care law gives states broad leeway to tailor benefits, and the local approach can also allow disparities to emerge. 
A spokesman for Covered California said state officials are trying to balance between two conflicting priorities: comprehensive coverage and affordable premiums. 
“We are trying to keep the insurance affordable across the board,” said Dana Howard, the group’s spokesman. “This is just part of trying to manage the overall risk of the pool.” Covered California is one of the new state marketplaces where people who don’t get coverage on the job will be able to shop for private insurance starting this fall. Coverage takes effect Jan. 1. 
Insurers are forecasting double-digit premium increases for individual policies, as people with health problems flock to buy coverage previously denied them. The Obama administration says the industry warnings are overblown, and that for many consumers, premium increases will be offset by tax credits to help buy insurance. And officials say it’s important to realize that the law sets overall limits on patients’ liability, even if those seem high to some people. Still, a full picture of costs and benefits isn’t likely to come into focus until the fall. 
Howard said California officials are aware of the concerns about drug costs and are trying to make medications more affordable. 
Meanwhile, he said consumers will be protected because the law limits total out-of-pocket costs — the deductibles and copayments that policy holders are responsible for, apart from monthly premiums. In California, the annual out-of-pocket limit for an individual is $6,400, although it can be as low as $2,250 for low-income people. Once that limit is reached, insurance pays 100 percent. 
That’s still a lot of money, and such reassurances haven’t dispelled the concerns. (Read the rest here.)

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Martyrs of Otranto: An Entire Village that Chose Death Rather than Renounce Jesus

The Holy Father canonized the 800 Martyrs of Otranto today.

These 800 people chose death rather than renounce Christ. Their courage and the resistance of their fellow citizens saved Rome from the fate of Constantinople, which had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

These videos tell about their sacrifice then and canonization in Rome today. The second video also describes the canonization of two other saints.

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Students Stand Up to Christian Bashing in Public Schools

This video was produced by Reach America, an education organization based in Coeur d”Alene, Idaho.

Gary Brown, founder of the organization, said that one of the factors that inspired him to create this video, which is named The Thaw, happened last year when a public school teacher asked students to write an essay title, “I Believe,” without using the names God or Jesus in their papers.

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Pope Will Canonize 800 Martyrs of the Ottoman Wars

Pope Francis will canonize 800 martyrs this Sunday. The 800 martyrs were killed at the hands of Ottoman soldiers in Otranto, in Southern Italy in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam.

Pope Benedict XVI recognized them as martyrs “killed out of hatred for the faith” in 2007. According to an article in the Telegraph, the Archbishop of Otranto was cut to pieces with a scimitar before the 800 were murdered.

The Hagia Sophia; largest Christian church in the world before the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453. It was converted to a mosque, and is now a museum. There is discussion about turning it back into a mosque. 

The Turks were sent to capture Rome and thus complete what they had begun in with the sack of Constantinope. When his fleet landed in Oranto, the citizens held out, despite a siege and Rome did not fall.

What we owe these martyrs. Rome did not fall. 

Various media reports seem to want to make a political statement out of what is a religious ceremony. I do think that it’s important for Christians to insist on a more balanced and accurate reporting of such events as the Crusades. But it is equally important that we remember those who died rather than turn their backs on Jesus.

From CatholicHerald.co.uk:

Pope Francis is preparing to canonise an estimated 800 Italian laymen killed by Ottoman soldiers in the 15th century. The canonisation service will be on May 12 in St Peter’s Square and it will be the first carried out by the Pontiff since he was elected in early March.

The killing of the martyrs by Ottoman troops, who launched a weeks-long siege of Otranto, a small port town at the most eastern tip of southern Italy, took place in 1480.

When Otranto residents refused to surrender to the Ottoman army, the soldiers were ordered to massacre all males over the age of 15. Many were ordered to convert to Islam or die, but Blessed Antonio Primaldo, a tailor, spoke on the prisoners’ behalf. “We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and for Jesus Christ we are ready to die,” he said, according to Blessed John Paul II, who visited Otranto in 1980 for the 500th anniversary of the martyrs’ deaths.

Primaldo inspired all the other townspeople to take courage, the late Pope said, and to say: “We will all die for Jesus Christ; we willingly die so as to not renounce his holy faith.” There were not “deluded” or “outdated,” Blessed John Paul continued, but “authentic, strong, decisive, consistent men” who loved their city, their families and their faith. (Read the rest here.)

 

 

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Tyndale Publisher Wins Again on HHS Mandate


Tyndale Publishers won by default at the Appellate Court level on a case against the HHS Mandate  Friday.
The victory was automatic when the Obama Administration withdrew its appeal of an ruling by a lower court.

The publisher, which specializes in publishing Bibles, won a preliminary injunction in November from a lower court. The injunction prevented the government from enforcing the HHS Mandate against Tyndale, at least until the Supreme Court decides how to rule on the issue. The Obama Administration filed an appeal to this decision, which it withdrew on Friday, May 3.

The HHS Mandate forces religious businesses such as Tyndale pay for insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs. 

Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a legal group, has made statements that the reason the Obama Administration withdrew its appeal is that “The government dismissed its appeal because it knows how ridiculous it sounds arguing that a Bible publisher isn’t religious enough to qualify as a religious employer.”

Perhaps the person who said this has inside knowledge as to what the administration’s motives were for withdrawing the appeal. I am guessing that the administration thought they were going to lose the appeal, but I don’t know. 

Tyndale, functions as a Christian organization. It’s states that one of its “corporate goals is to honor God.” It holds weekly chapel service for employees, opens business meetings with prayer, and sends employees on Christian missions projects that are paid for by the company. Tyndale’s trustees must affirm a statement of faith says “there is one God, eternally existent in three persons.”

I want to emphasize that, while this victory is a good thing, it is not final. All roads in this case lead to the Supreme Court and what it decides.

From the Baptist Press:

WASHINGTON (BP) — A leading Bible publisher won another court victory against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate Friday (May 3), thanks in part to the administration’s own partial retreat in the case.

The publisher, Tyndale House, had won a preliminary injunction in November from a lower court that prevented the government from enforcing the mandate, which forces businesses such as Tyndale to cover contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions. The drugs often are called “emergency contraceptives” and can act after conception and implantation, and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella.

The administration appealed that injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but eventually asked that the appeal be dismissed. The three justices on Friday granted the administration’s request and dismissed it.

The injunction will remain in place while the case itself, Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius, moves forward. The lower court judge, Reggie B. Walton, had said in his November injunction ruling that Tyndale likely would win the overall case.

The legal group Alliance Defending Freedom says the government’s desire to withdraw its own appeal is a good sign for religious liberty. ADF is representing Tyndale.

“Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish,” said ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman. “The government dismissed its appeal because it knows how ridiculous it sounds arguing that a Bible publisher isn’t religious enough to qualify as a religious employer. For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court.” (Read the rest here.)

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Vocations, Conversions and Preaching Christ Crucified

 

Deacon Greg Kandra has the story.

Remember Father Greg Shaffer?

He’s the priest at George Washington University who is under attack by a couple of homosexual activists. The reason? Father Shaffer told them that homosexual people are called to celebacy.

It turns out that people are attracted to this simple formula of preaching Church teaching. The parish at the Newman Center where Father Shaffer is assigned has grown from 100 parishioners to 400 in the time he’s been there.

Perhaps even more amazing, this small parish now has four young men who are entering seminary.

I’ve been saying for a long time that all the Church has to do is preach Christ and Him crucified.

The Church cannot approach its ministry from a social work/business model. It’s as clear as anything I’ve ever seen that God does not honor that approach. Vocations fall. Parishioners drift.

People do not get out of bed on Sunday morning week after week to hear a watered down version of the Gospels that are shorn of their life-saving power. They go for Christ.

Christ’s followers have been willing to lay down their lives throughout the 2,000-year history of our faith. They are doing it now all over the world. But they will not do this for a vague politically-correct, weak kneed sham Jesus. They will follow and die for the real Jesus; the one who said “no” to the kingdoms of this world, and by so doing set his foot on the pathway that led to the cross.

The jesus that fits in with polite dinner party conversation among the politically correct is a sham and a lie who cannot save anyone and does not attract followers of any sort. You cannot dilute Christ to make Him socially acceptable among those who want to walk down the wide way that leads to destruction. When you try to do that, you are not diluting Christ. You are denying Him.

It takes courage to follow the real Jesus Who was sent to the cross. I would guess that it also takes courage to preach Him. The attacks on Father Shaffer are an example of why it takes courage. But the results he’s seen in his parish are what happens when you do it.

Preach Christ, and Him crucified. Do that, and the vocations and fallen away Catholics problems will take care of themselves.

From the National Catholic Register:

by JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND

WASHINGTON — Father Greg Shaffer, the Catholic chaplain at George Washington University, learned early that a good pastor can defy the odds and lead the young to embrace a priestly vocation. Growing up in Bethesda, Md., Father Shaffer was inspired by the example of Msgr. Thomas Wells, a charismatic figure in the archdiocese who possessed a deep and infectious love for the Eucharist. Msgr. Wells brought many young men to the priesthood before he was murdered during a 2000 robbery at his Maryland parish; he was 56 years old. Now, 13 years later, that beloved pastor remains a source of inspiration for Father Shaffer, who has revealed a knack for fostering vocations at a secular university better known for jump-starting careers in government. Since the priest’s arrival four years ago, Sunday Mass attendance at the campus Newman Center has increased from 100 to about 400 people — and, this year, four men will enter the seminary.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/george-washington-chaplain-leads-four-men-to-the-priesthood/#ixzz2SWOzg2VP

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Missionary Sister Talks about Christians in the Holy Land

I have friends who spent a long time in Papua New Guinea, working as missionaries for Wycliffe Bible Translators.

It is true that God calls special people for this work. They don’t look different than the rest of us. The differences are inside, but they are profound.

In this video, a missionary sister in the Holy Land talks about the challenges Christians who live there must face.

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