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Pope Francis gives President Obama a copy of his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel”)

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, and Barack Obama, the first black American president, finally met today in an historic tête-à-tête inside the Vatican Apostolic Palace – and for nearly double the originally scheduled time.

Romans could peer inside the fortified Vatican walls via a special streaming set up on Vatican TV’s web site, where they saw a U.S. delegation (which included Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney) checking watches while waiting in earnest for the two world leaders to conclude their meeting.

It is no small secret that there is considerably high tension between the Catholic bishops of America and the Obama Administration, as the Catholic episcopacy has opposed Obamacare’s controversial mandates concerning the provision of contraceptive products, sterilizations and abortafacients.

The Bishop of Rome is, no doubt, on his American bishops’ side.

With the computer speakers on full blast, it was the closest thing to eavesdropping on the two men, or at least an honest attempt to do so. Though no shouting matches could be overheard, my own fantasy led me to envision the Holy Father “schooling” the President.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, March 27, 2014

Conscience as Sacred Property
Jeremiah G. Dys , Canon & Culture

Caesar has provided us with a lamentable choice. Today, it is not the coliseum, nor are Christians being driven to the catacombs under totalitarian persecution. The choice presented to us, however, is no less unjust.

A new crusade: Aid proposed to stop Christian persecution in the Middle East
Meredith Somers, Washington Times

The United States can help Christians being persecuted in the Middle East by using foreign aid to modify behaviors in countries where persecution is rampant, educating U.S. diplomats about the issue in their assigned regions and asking for help from Arab-Americans, a panel of religious freedom researchers said Monday.

Religious Freedom: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t
Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online

Conservatives have been divided over the best way to protect religious freedom: constitutional or statutory, legislative or judicial. Almost all conservatives have believed, at every point in the last few decades, that laws should avoid forcing religious believers into violating their consciences whenever possible.

The Quaker Exemption and Religious Liberty Today
Thomas Kidd, ERLC

As oral arguments begin in Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS abortifacient mandate, we might ask what the Founders would think about this case?

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Desecration of Churches in Yabroud
Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

Although the gunmen are gone, their sectarian fingerprint on Yabrud remains. All you have to do is visit St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church to see the destruction.

Antiochian Orthodox leader recalled as man with vision
Mark Zaborney, Toledo Blade

“As long as we are fragmented and known by Antiochians and Greeks and Serbians and Bulgarians and Russians, we will have no impact as a church on this country,” Metropolitan Philip told The Blade in 2003.

High Court Seems Divided Over Birth Control Rule
Mark Sherman, AP

The Supreme Court seemed divided Tuesday over whether employers’ religious beliefs can free them from a part of the new health care law that requires that they provide coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge.

Why Hobby Lobby’s HHS Lawsuit Matters
The Editors, National Catholic Register

Now, more than ever, Catholics need to support efforts to bolster religious freedom and explain why our experiment in ordered liberty requires robust protections for churches and individual believers. But it’s also important to remember that the fight for the “first freedom” is not an end in itself and is linked to a deeper truth.

TVliesOver at The Federalist, Gabriel Malor runs down some interesting “illusions” (okay, he calls them lies) regarding the HHS mandate and the Supreme Court. Here’s a quick run-down:

      1. The HHS mandate is all about women’s rights. Nope: women don’t lose a thing if Hobby Lobby et al. win. What will happen if Hobby Lobby and others like them win their case is that women who do not wish to pay for others’ birth control and/or abortions will not be forced to do so.
      2. The HHS mandate is about gay rights. Admittedly, this one was new to me. However, there are some who are saying that if business owners don’t have to pay for birth control, they can turn away gay customers as well, or as Malor puts it, if the government loses, it will “unleash an apocalypse of discrimination heretofore avoided.” No; every time there is a possible violation of religious freedom, our court system must weigh each case individually.
      3. These contraception cases are all about for-profit companies. Big business, bad business, you know. These companies, who are already pocketing millions, are looking for special treatment. However, there is no mention of the corporate form in the First Amendment. It neither includes nor precludes it.
      4. Corporations cannot exercise freedom of religion. People can (hopefully) but businesses can’t. This would be news to every Catholic diocese in the United States, as they all operate under corporate form.
      5. We can’t allow dangerous new rights for corporations/businesses. Um, since when has the federal government been allowed to tell business owners what types of insurance they have to provide? Oh, yeah…now.
      6. Our government has a compelling interest in forcing businesses to provide birth control. Legally, that is what the government has to prove. Of course, this is “bunk,” according to Malor, especially since Kathleen Sebelius has already granted 190 million exemptions. How can the government prove then a compelling interest?

Read “Six Lies The Leftist Media Tells About The Contraception Mandate Cases” at The Federalist.

speak for themselvesI won’t bother reviewing all the details of the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court regarding the HHS mandate (you can do more reading here, here and here.) I’d like to talk about why this issue is of particular interest for women, and why the voices of all women need to be heard.

The organization Women Speak For Themselves has been vocal in the fight against the HHS mandate. They want to make it known that the call for universal access to birth control and abortion via employee health insurance is not supported by all women, and that women from every walk of life deserve to be heard.

We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Many, at some point in our careers, have worked for a Catholic institution. We are proud to have been part of the religious mission of that school, or hospital, or social service organization. We are proud to have been associated not only with the work Catholic institutions perform in the community – particularly for the most vulnerable — but also with the shared sense of purpose found among colleagues who chose their job because, in a religious institution, a job is always also a vocation. (more…)

hobbylobby1On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, both of which will have a profound impact on the future of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America.

Thus, Hobby Lobby supporters across the country have been invited to offer their prayers in support of the company, and I encourage you to participate. You can help spread the word by changing the avatar on your social media accounts and posting with the hashtag #PrayForHobbyLobby. Although the Court will be hearing arguments tomorrow, I would encourage us to begin our intercession today.

Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission explains:

The government is telling the Hobby Lobby owners, the Green family, that their free exercise rights aren’t relevant because they run a corporation. They’re telling these Anabaptist woodworkers and the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor and ministries of all sorts all over the country that what’s at stake is just the signing of some papers, the payment of some money.

Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress … (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, March 20, 2014

fieryfurnacebw2I have been known to make certain comparisons between the punitive HHS mandate and King Nebuchadnezzar’s infamous power trip — an analogy that casts the Green Family and others like them as the Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos of modern-day coercion subversion.

As I wrote just over a year ago:

As we continue to see Christian business leaders refusing to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image—choosing economic martyrdom over secularist conformity—the more this administration’s limited, debased, and deterministic view of man and society will reveal itself. Through it all, even as the furnace grows hotter and hotter, Christians should remember that a Fourth Man stands close by, offering peace and protection according to a different system altogether.

Having already connected such dots, it’s worth noting that, in a recent profile, Hobby Lobby’s CEO seems to be sniffing the same stuff:

Lately, it’s the Book of Daniel that comes often to [Steve Green's] mind. In Chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would rather face a fiery furnace than bow to an idol at the command of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Green said, “They told the king ‘Our God is able to deliver us.’” (more…)

John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam

John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam

In today’s National Catholic Register, reporter Joan Frawley Desmond talks to John Kennedy, a Grand Rapids-based business owner of Autocam, a company that makes both precision auto parts and medical supplies. Kennedy (who is a board member of the Acton Institute) speaks candidly about his faith, his company’s future and the HHS mandate battle.

The Obama administration has sought to dismiss the merits of HHS lawsuits filed by business owners like Kennedy, arguing that free exercise and statutory religious-freedom protections only apply to individuals, not “corporations.”

While Kennedy and other HHS for-profit plaintiffs have gone to court to obtain a reprieve, Planned Parenthood has framed their legal fight as an effort to stop a threat to women’s reproductive rights. “The bosses want to deny your birth-control coverage,” announced one story on the Planned Parenthood’s website that has sparked editorials and commentary echoing its claim.

But Kennedy contends that his faith is integral to Autocam’s corporate culture and that the country actually needs more business leaders inspired by strong ethical and moral values and guided by Catholic social teaching that affirms the fundamental dignity and rights of every worker.

“I went into this with some trepidation, knowing how it was going to be painted,” he acknowledged.

“But I am more convinced now that we have absolutely done the right thing by standing up for religious freedom.”

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The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, continue to express their views as to why the HHS mandate violates their faith. This short video highlights Green family members discussing their faith and how it informs all their decisions.

Nun-aids-Civil-War-soldier-620x320Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently discussed Catholicism and healthcare over at Crisis Magazine. In his article, he asks “Must Catholics favor socialized medicine?” Gregg begins by addressing whether or not “access to healthcare may be described as a ‘right.’” He asserts that Catholics should agree it is a right based on a 2012 address Pope Benedict XVI made to healthcare workers, in which he unambiguously spoke of the “right to healthcare.” Gregg continues:

But the real debate for Catholics starts when we consider how to realize this right. Rights are a matter of justice, and justice is a primary concern of the state. Indeed Benedict XVI noted in his 2012 message that healthcare is subject to the demands of justice—specifically distributive justice—and the common good.

Some Catholics may believe this implies we’re obliged to support a more-or-less socialized healthcare system such as Britain’s National Health Service. Yet nothing in Benedict’s message or Catholic social teaching more generally implies this is the only possible path forward. (more…)