Category: News and Events

vietnamReligion & Liberty recently interviewed former German war correspondent Uwe Siemon-Netto. He’s also the author of Triumph of the Absurd, a book chronicling his time covering the war in Vietnam. One of Siemon-Netto’s recurring themes is the still propped up line in the West that North Vietnam’s aggression was a “people’s revolution” or an act of liberation. A people’s revolution doesn’t execute soldiers who have laid down their arms or force large segments of the population in South Vietnam into reeducation camps. After the fall of Saigon, hundreds of thousands of boat people died or drowned at sea trying to flee their communist tormentors.

One of those young boys at the time was Vinh Chung, whose family was rescued by a World Vision aid ship in 1979. His Vietnamese and American story is chronicled in the new book Where the Wind Leads. In Parade magazine, Chung talks about his return visit to Vietnam and the importance of Christian sacrifice, stewardship, and what it means to be an American:

When I was a student in ­medi­cal school in 2002, I returned to Vietnam for the first time, to visit my relatives who are still there. I was shocked by the poverty. Their houses were shacks, the walls plastered over with newspapers; bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling on electrical cords. My cousins slept on the floor. Visiting them was like walking into a parallel universe—the life that would have been mine had the wind blown our boat in a different ­direction.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (12:48 NLT). I used to wonder who Jesus meant, because I sure didn’t think it was my family. The way I saw it, we had been given nothing, entrusted with nothing. I hoped that rich and powerful people would read Jesus’s words and take them to heart.

But when I went to Vietnam, I finally understood: He meant me. I was the one plucked from the South China Sea. I was the one granted asylum in a nation where education is available to everyone, and prosperity is attainable for anyone. I worked hard to get to where I am today, but the humbling truth is that my hard work was possible because of a blessing I did nothing to deserve. And that blessing is something I must pass on, in any way I can.

My story is true for all of us, whether you arrived in this country by boat or by birth: Much has been given to us—and much is required. That, I believe, is what it means to be an American.

Sacrifice is increasingly a virtue we are losing in our contemporary American society. We’ve got the entitlement part down but our solely lacking in the requirement of being citizens department. That fact is attested to by just glancing at our bloated federal debt, our culture of entitlement, and the rise of the grievance industry. In the epilogue of Triumph of the Absurd, Siemon-Netto makes a prescient observation, “When a self-indulgent throwaway culture grows tired of sacrifice it becomes capable of discarding everything like a half-eaten doughnut.”

253877_5_Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, recently wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion about corporations and social justice activism. He warns that the religious left’s attempts to stifle free speech in corporate boardrooms  would certainly negatively impact our political life.

Every annual meeting season, we watch as a small group of activist groups on the left such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility submit proxy resolutions that demand disclosures of corporate public policy expenditures. This is done, these groups claim, in furtherance of a more “just and sustainable world.” In fact, such resolutions are designed to first bully corporations into disclosing lobbying activities and then promptly turn the tables by conducting aggressive campaigns in the press to shame them.

But the religious underpinnings for such arguments are spurious. The argument always goes that corporations have money and the poor and disadvantaged (always “disenfranchised” from the political process) do not. Therefore, according to this logic, it follows that it’s unfair that corporations are allowed to make public policy expenditures to unduly influence the political process. Curiously, opponents of such spending are often themselves corporate entities (albeit non-profit entities) that spend large sums of money to voice their own opinions. (more…)

Displaced Iraqis

Displaced Iraqis

The U.S. is beginning to bring much needed humanitarian supplies to victims of war in Iraq. Aleteia is reporting that

Cargo planes dropped parachuted crates of food and water over an area in the mountains outside Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi minority where sheltering, according to witnesses in the militant-held town, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

At the same time, U.S. military has begun airstrikes against the terrorists Irbil, a city in the Kurdish region of Iraq, an area controlled by ISIS, the Islamic terrorist group.

Director of Istituto Acton, Kishore Jabalayan, made this statement:

I’m glad to see that President Obama feels some sense of responsibility to protect Americans as well as the Iraqis who are the victims of ISIS,” said Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute, in an email exchange with Aleteia. “In the rush to pull American troops out of Iraq three years ago, we knew that such problems were likely to happen and would eventually require our return, if that’s what we want to call it.”

Read “Airdrops Bring Hope to Religious Minorities in Iraq” at Aleteia.

The 2014 proxy shareholder season is over, and left-of-center religious investment groups such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow are crowing about victories and announcing their plans for next year. For example, ICCR notes in its latest issue of The Corporate Examiner:

While virtually every company participates in lobbying of some sort, companies often make undisclosed expenditures to third-party trade associations which then use that money in ways that can run counter to a company’s publicly-stated positions. After sustained engagement with ICCR members, VISA left the controversial model legislation group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and has implemented board-level oversight of its lobbying activities. Amgen agreed to disclose its membership in trade associations along with the amounts the trade associations spend from its fees for lobbying. Accenture has significantly expanded its public lobbying disclosure. A resolution calling for lobbying disclosure at Emerson won 41.6%.

Political spending by corporations is also an issue for investors. Hess committed to fully disclosing its trade association memberships and the names of the tax exempt organizations to which it makes contributions, as well as the portion of those payments that is used for political activities. EQT adopted a political contributions transparency policy. A resolution on contributions at Emerson won 47% of the vote. (more…)

Yazidi children

Yazidi children

The Yazidis are a tiny religious minority, Kurdish by ethnicity, who are facing extinction by the Islamic State in Iraq. While there are about 700,000 Yazidis worldwide, more than half a million were living in Iraq, although many have fled the violence in the nation. The Yazidis trace their religious roots back to the 11th century, when an Ummayad sheik broke off from mainline Islam. Their ancient religion is a blend of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Islam.

Yazidis believe that a supreme God placed the earth under the custody of seven holy beings, the most exalted of which is the Peacock Angel. For this, Yazidis are sometimes labeled as heretics or devil worshippers.

The Islamic State justifies the killing of Yazidis due to their heretical beliefs. (more…)

autocamA few weeks ago, Hobby Lobby made waves when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain in its lawsuit against the Health and Human Services Contraception Mandate. West Michigan manufacturer, Autocam, has been engaged in a similar legal fight. John Kennedy, owner of Autocam, stated that his and his family’s Roman Catholic faith “is integral to Autocam’s corporate culture” and the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide contraceptives and abortifacients was a violation of their beliefs.

Late last year, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied Autocam’s lawsuit against the HHS department. The company’s claim was denied on the grounds that, according to that court, engaging in for profit business is  separate from any religious beliefs of owners.

On Monday August 4, The Supreme Court officially reversed the decision from the Sixth Circuit. Tom Ciesielka from the Thomas More Society, who represents the company, gave a statement:

Today, the United States Supreme Court officially vacated the 6th Circuit’s decision that denied Autocam Corporation and its owners, protection against governmental violation of Constitutionally protected religious freedoms. The case has now been sent back to the lower court, following the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, argued on comparable merit. (more…)

Peter Johnson, External Relations Officer at Acton, recently wrote an article for the Institute for Religion and Democracy’s series of commentaries on social justice. This series explains what social justice is and examines what it means for Christians in light of the Gospel and natural law. Acton’s Dylan Pahman wrote the first article in this series by defining social justice. Johnson’s piece, Checking On My Privilege (And, Yes, It’s Still There) is the second in the series:

The suggestion that the Church has abandoned its calling to hospitality was demonstrated by my own church only a few Sundays ago. From the pulpit, the pastor exhorted the congregation to sign letters that had been prepared for us in the church narthex. We were told that the letters were part of a campaign designed to “end hunger forever.”

Curious (and I admit it: doubtful) about how the Church was going to end hunger through a letter-writing campaign, I asked for a copy of the prewritten letter. It was written by an organization called Bread for the World, which lobbies Congress for an end to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement. Wanting to learn more, I visited the Bread for the World website, which is written in the tone of so many “Christian” lobbying organizations: It manages to patronize even as it panders. The tone is that of a Postmodern thinker who believes that privileged Presbyterians will never truly understand hunger issues from their comfortable, bourgeois lives. Perhaps this is why the letters are prewritten: Privileged folks could never write such a letter on their own. (more…)

immigration pledgeIn a commentary for the National Catholic Register, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg considers the topic of immigration, specifically the current U.S. border crisis. Gregg views the border crisis through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, which he says gives us a principled and thoughtful (as opposed to emotional) framework.

We also have a rich tradition of teaching about political questions that embodies principles based upon the Gospel and the natural law: principles that lay Catholics have the primary responsibility, as Vatican II underscored, to apply to complex subjects such as immigration.

Catholic teaching on immigration contains many exhortations to be merciful. Indeed, the commandment to love our neighbor often means we’re required to go beyond the strict demands of justice, albeit not in ways that violate justice. At the same time, the Church articulates a framework for thinking — rather than merely emoting — through the immigration issue in a manner consistent with Catholic concerns for liberty, justice, human flourishing and the common good. And part of this involves affirming that there is a right — albeit not an unlimited right — to migrate.

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picedenAs reported by the Wall Street Journal, Iraq’s largest oil refinery for domestic use has been overtaken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the radical jihadi terrorist group aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in these two nations. As Iraq’s most lucrative resource is now siphoned off by a radical organization, the global oil market risks destabilization while financially empowering ISIS. Economic stability facilitates greater religious freedom – establishing an ISIS controlled government as detrimental to Iraq’s advances toward a stable and secular democratic state. The Christian population has been a primary target of this fundamentalist movement, with ISIS demanding they must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face “death by the sword.” It was in here, in ancient Babylon, where political and economic institutions took stead; today these have been condemned while the Biblical story of Exodus is being retold with 50,000 Christians fleeing their homes.
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SurveillanceAs surveillance technology continues to cost less, we live in a world in which our activities are being increasingly monitored. And it’s not just the NSA doing it–even employers are utilizing surveillance technology in the workplace. The basis for this surveillance has been to catch employees abusing work time (e.g. scrolling through Facebook posts), to protect against sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and to discover if any company secrets are being leaked. It also helps deter workers from breaking the rules if they know they are being watched. Workplace surveillance is something that all employers will have to carefully consider. Take Ryan Tate, for example, the CEO of a Christian publishing firm who fired 25 employees over an anonymous email. In a recording of a business meeting that was leaked, Tate can be heard threatening to use electronic records to discover those involved.

Could employers, even Christian ones, be going too far in some cases? What happens if your employer discovers personal information that doesn’t have anything to do with work? And is this surveillance even legal, or is it an invasion of privacy rights? (more…)