As the Pope’s address to the US Congress drew to a close, France 24 Television turned to Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, for a reaction to Francis’ message. You can view his analysis below.
Speaking on The Steve Malzberg Show on Newsmax TV on Friday, Rev. Robert Sirico addressed questions regarding the new papal encyclical, Laudato Si’, which reportedly will be released this week.
Sirico commented on Pope Francis’ tendency to speak “off the cuff,” saying this may be exploited by the press or others who simply want to push their own agenda regarding the environment and climate change. Sirico also expressed trepidation regarding the pontiff’s plan to address a joint session of Congress during his U.S. visit in September.
Had I been asked, and I wasn’t, on whether the Pope should address the joint session of Congress, I would’ve said no,” Sirico said.
Why? Because it lends a whole political atmosphere to whatever he’s going to be saying to the Congress.
There’s no way the Pope is going to come out of that chamber without people putting a political spin on it whether to the right or the left,” Sirico said.
The Pope is visiting us not as the head of Vatican City State, not as a politician, not as a monarch, but as a pastor, as a bishop.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has issued its 2015 annual report on religious liberty around the world. In their report, the USCIRF documents religious freedom abuses and violations in 33 countries and makes county-specific policy recommendations for U.S. policy. One country worthy of particular attentions is Afghanistan.
For the past nine years USCIRF has designated Afghanistan as a country of particular concern, a country where the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and are characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. As the report notes,
Afghanistan’s legal system remains deeply flawed, as the constitution explicitly fails to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief, and it and other laws have been applied in ways that violate international human rights standards.
Notice that the country has been on the list since two years after the adoption of their new constitution—a constitution that the U.S. helped to create.
In 2004, after U.S. military and allied forces overthrew the Taliban, American diplomats helped draft a new Afghani constitution. Many people around the world were hoping the result would be similar to the constitution of Turkey—or at least be distinguishable from the constitution of Iran. Instead, what was created—with the help of the U.S. government—was an Islamic Republic, a state in which “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.”
While the White House issued a statement calling it an “important milestone in Afghanistan’s political development,” the USCIRF had the courage to admit what we were creating: Taliban-lite.
In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,
“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.
Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.
Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. First Things, whose first publisher Richard John Neuhaus was a founding ECT member, is hosting a variety of reflections on ECT’s two decades, and in its latest issue published a new ECT statement, “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage.”
The first ECT statement was put out in 1994. But as recalled by Charles W. Colson, another founding member of ECT, the foundations of evangelical and Roman Catholic dialogue go back much further. The Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a major influence on the thinking of Colson, and as Colson argues, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which created such controversy, was launched actually by Kuyper a century ago. It is not new.”
Colson made this bold claim in a speech in 1998, at a conference at Calvin College (co-sponsored by the Acton Institute), on the legacies of two great modern representatives of these traditions, Kuyper and Leo XIII.
A federal court of appeals has rejected an atheist group’s lawsuit seeking to strike down a 60-year-old tax provision protecting ministers, notes the Becket Fund. The ruling allows ministers of all faiths to continue receiving housing allowances. “This is a great victory for separation of church and state,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund of Religious Liberty. “When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows. The court was right to send them packing.”
Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?
To answer the question we must first consider how taxation of church property, including clergy housing, has historically been considered.
Last week was a busy one, news-wise, and this may have slipped by you. Suddenly, 4.5 million people in the 5 U.S. territories (American Somoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are now exempt from Obamacare. Just like that.
What’s the story? Obamacare costs too darn much, and insurance providers were fleeing the U.S. territories, leaving many without insurance or at least affordable insurance. These territories have spent the last two years begging to get out from under this law, only to be told the Department of Health and Human Services
has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”
Laws, let us remember, are made by Congress. Unless they’re not. For instance, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said they’d reviewed the situation and
the territories will now be governed by the “state” definition that excludes the territories for both the subsidies and now the mandates too. But the old definition will still apply for the public-health spending, so the territories will get their selective exemption after all.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, there seems to be some elasticity in the White House’s definition of “state.” And, may I add, some elasticity in the democratic process, the Constitution and rule of law. Perhaps a review via Schoolhouse Rock will help.