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“One More Card To Play”: How Religious Conservatives Plan To Regroup After Losing Marriage Discrimination

Last week was not a good one for Team Anti-Gay. The Supreme Court struck the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, and the nation’s largest state resumed marriages for same-sex couples. Nor is the future likely to be any better for opponents of equality. As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia complains in dissent, the Court’s opinion striking DOMA is riddled with language that can be used to attack anti-gay state laws. Moreover, two cases squarely presenting the issue of whether states must provide gay couples with the equal protection of the law are now ripe for review by the left-leaning United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The question of full, nationwide marriage equality could be before the justices in as little as two years.

And even if a majority of the Court does reject this final push for marriage equality, time is simply not on the side of discrimination. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans under 40 approve of the Supreme Court’s recent pro-marriage decision. The only age cohort where a majority oppose that decision are people over age 65. In twenty years, supporters of equality will run the country from top to bottom, and most opponents will be dead.

Religious conservatives, however, still have one more card to play in their efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT Americans. As the socially conservative writer Ross Douthat suggested shortly after the Court struck DOMA, the best way to continue to limit the rights of gay people is to “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.”

It’s clear that anti-gay leaders are already executing this contingency plan. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint claimed on Tuesday that marriage equality “means trampling First Amendment religious liberty protections along the way.” At least fifteen anti-gay individuals, ranging from wedding cake bakers to bed and breakfast owners to t-shirt makers, have claimed the right to discriminate against gay people — often in direct violation of the law — with many citing their religious beliefs as justification. The conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops claimed in a brief they filed in the Supreme Court that treating anti-gay discrimination permissively “protects the religious liberty of those employers with a religious objection to providing” health coverage to same-sex partners.

The Bishops’ brief may be the biggest window into how religious conservatives plan to construct a wall around their own right to discriminate. At the same time that the Bishops urged the justices to protect a special right to deny health care to gay people, numerous employers — with the enthusiastic backing of the Bishops themselves — are litigating the question of whether their religious objections to birth control give them the right to ignore a federal rule requiring them to include it in their employees’ health plans. Last week, a federal appeals court embraced a particularly aggressive reading of religious liberty that not only held that for profit companies may refuse to comply with the birth control rule, it also included language suggesting that a religious employer could refuse to comply with anti-discrimination law if they believed discrimination was compelled by their faith.

This, simply put, is the social conservative end game. They are not going to succeed in blocking marriage equality. But if they can exempt the very people who are most likely to engage in invidious discrimination against gay people from laws prohibiting such discrimination, then they can suck the life out of many pro-gay laws. Their exaggerated view of “religious liberty” can no more be squared with equality than it could when Bob Jones University claimed a similar religious right to engage in race discrimination.

Ultimately, social conservatives’ efforts to expand religious rights to the point where they devour other essential freedoms such as the right to be free from discrimination are likely to backfire. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court developed a workable framework for religious liberty. Such liberty is robust, but it does not include the right to engage in invidious discrimination, and it does not give businesses a right to “impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.” Then, in 1990, Justice Scalia blew up this framework with his majority opinion in Employment Div. v. Smith. Smith shrunk religious liberty far more than many Americans were willing to tolerate; Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) to restore the religious liberties lost in Smith almost unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Clinton.

Now, however, religious conservatives want to go far beyond the 1980s framework that RFRA restored. They claim both the right to defy anti-discrimination law and the right to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lee, which held that “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Religious liberties are rightfully enshrined in our Constitution, but they have not been understood as a sweeping right to deny equally important liberties to others. If religious conservatives insist upon the right to do so, the consensus that led to RFRA’s passage is likely to break down, and people of faith could ultimately wind up with fewer protections than they enjoyed before a small number of religious conservatives decided to overreach.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, July 3, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Incomplete Resume”: Should A Sarah Palin Adviser Speak For America’s Catholic Bishops?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced on Monday that it has hired Kim Daniels as spokeswoman for the USCCB president, currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Daniels, the USCCB announcement explains, is “an attorney whose practice has focused on religious liberty matters,” and she “brings to the USCCB her experience as director of Catholic Voices USA, an organization of lay Catholics that works to bring the positive message of the Church across a broad range of issues to the public square.”

The bishops left a few things off her résumé, says Grant Gallicho at Commonweal. Notably, the announcement “does not mention two of Daniels’s previous employers: Sarah Palin and the Thomas More Law Center,” a conservative legal organization at which Daniels fought for the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning-after pill. She spent nine years, from 2000 to 2009, at the Thomas More Law Center, established in 1998 by its president, Richard Thompson. Thompson and his center increasingly tend to “make news by making provocative comments about Islam.”

The more eyebrow-raising job is Daniels’ work as a paid adviser to Palin and her political group, SarahPAC. Daniels signed up to work with Palin after doing some legal work for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, at a time when “the former Alaska governor tried to remodel herself” after McCain’s loss, says David Gibson at Religion News Service. Daniels was described as “Palin’s personal domestic policy czar,” and that association leaves an open question for the bishops about “whether Daniels will deflect controversies or become a lightning rod herself,” says Gibson.

Palin has continued to alienate herself from all but her most loyal fans on the movement’s right flank, and it is not clear where Daniels’ relationship with Palin stands today. [RNS]

Yes, Daniels worked for Palin, says Kathryn Jean Lopez at Patheos, but “I wouldn’t read too much into the political significance of this as a bishops’ conference matter.” As Daniels has explained it, she “felt a call to work with this most prominent pro-life mother who was giving voice to issues close to her heart in the public square.”

Her heart belongs to her family and the church, and her work with Palin was an outgrowth of that…. One of the key questions the church is confronted with today is: How do we teach and share the Gospel effectively?…. How Catholics in the pews hear and what they hear plays a major role in that. But the media in all its mainstream and social forms is where most people’s views of the church is formed. How do we engage there clearly, as Christians, lovingly and responsively? Kim has been devoting her time to just that question as a director of the Catholic Voices USA project. So I really can’t think of a better person to be joining Cardinal Dolan and the bishops’ conference in that effort to address that question. [Patheos]

What role Daniels will fill remains an open question, however. Her position is a new one, separate from the USCCB’s official press office. “Kim Daniels is not in the Communications Department,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB’s longtime spokeswoman, tells Religion News Service. “As head of the USCCB Office for Media Relations I speak to the media in that capacity.” That makes this “new territory for everyone,” says RNS‘s Gibson.

Daniels’ hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan’s goal of finding an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to help recast the hierarchy’s image… because, as he put it, “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.” Yet Daniels, a mother of six, will also have to be credible, which means she would need to have a clear mandate. [RNS]

Whether Daniels has that mandate isn’t clear, since not all the bishops are comfortable with one spokeswoman speaking for all of them. Will she be the public face of Dolan’s policies, or a rival to Walsh’s media shop, or a behind-the-scenes policy shaper? We’ll find out. But there’s also “a final wrinkle,” Gibson says: “Dolan’s three-year term as USCCB president ends in November, and a new president may want to use Daniels in a different capacity, or not at all.”

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, April 30, 2013

May 2, 2013 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Motivation Via Laicization”: Milwaukee Archdiocese, Under Cardinal Dolan, Paid Sex Abusers To Leave Priesthood

Laurie Goodstein reports in the New York Times:

[A] document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.

A spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed on Wednesday that payments of as much as $20,000 were made to “a handful” of accused priests “as a motivation” not to contest being defrocked. The process, known as “laicization,” is a formal church juridical procedure that requires Vatican approval, and can take far longer if the priest objects.

Timothy Dolan, now a Cardinal and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but at the time the Archbishop of Milwaukee, authorized the payments. He did not respond to several requests for comment, according to the Times.

Here are some things Dolan has commented on lately:

He suggested New York’s marriage equality bill was akin laws in totalitarian societies;

He compared gay marriage to “polygamy, adultery, forced marriages;”

After the Obama administration declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, he accused it of “hostility” toward “traditional marriage,” and a “new, more aggressive position” on gay marriage that would “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions;

He found President Obama’s support for marriage equality “deeply saddening;”

He said the White House is “strangling” the church with the contraception coverage requirement;

He wrote that the contraception coverage is “un-American;”

He worried that by inviting HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak, Georgetown University showed it was moving to a more “secular model, where they would take their cues from what’s happening in contemporary events instead of the timeless wisdom of the church.”

Pertinent to the payments made to abusive Milwaukee priests—one, Goodstein reported, had sexually assaulted 10 minors—in March the National Catholic Reporter noted how Dolan was echoing the words of Bill Donohue, the vitriolic head of the Catholic League, calling the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), David Clohessy, a “con artist:”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, posted a link on his blog this afternoon to a statement from Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League, which suggests the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests may be a “con artist.”

The post comes as the victims’ advocacy group and its director, David Clohessy, have found support in recent days on the editorial pages of several national papers in light of attempts by attorneys representing priests accused of abuse to obtain 23 years of the group’s documents.

Dolan’s post came on his “The Gospel in the Digital Age” blog at the New York Archdiocese website. It quotes in full three paragraphs of a statement by Donohue before providing people a link to read the rest.

Donohue’s statement, titled “SNAP Unravels,” is a long rehash of some of the facts surrounding the attempts by priests’ lawyers, which resulted last January in Clohessy’s deposition in a case involving a priest accused of abuse in Kansas City, Mo.

After making numerous references to the transcript of that deposition, which was released March 2, Donohue asks: “So is David Clohessy a sincere man driven by the pursuit of justice? Or is he a con artist driven by revenge? It may very well be that the former description aptly explains how he started, while the latter describes what he has become.”

This week, according to Goodstein, SNAP sent a letter to the Milwaukee archdiocese, asking, “In what other occupation, especially one working with families and operating schools and youth programs, is an employee given a cash bonus for raping and sexually assaulting children?”

Kathryn Joyce published an extensive interview with Clohessy at RD in March about efforts by the accused Kansas City priest and the Archdiocese of St. Louis to subpoena confidential records from SNAP. There, she wrote:

While the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has denied that there is a national strategy for the Church to fight sex abuse cases more aggressively, even the Church’s staunchest defenders see the pattern. As William Donohue, the pugilistic president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told the New York Times this week, bishops are going after SNAP because “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.”

Clohessy told Joyce that the recent escalation against SNAP showed that the dioceses were attempting “to discredit, derail, bankrupt, and silence SNAP. And to scare anyone—police, prosecutors, victims, concerned Catholics—from contacting us and reporting crimes and exposing corruption.”

 

BY: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, May 31, 2012

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Church | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Catholic Spring”: The Battle Among Catholic Bishops

There is a healthy struggle brewing among the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. A previously silent group, upset over conservative colleagues defining the church’s public posture and eagerly picking fights with President Obama, has had enough.

The headlines this week were about lawsuits brought by 43 Catholic organizations, including 13 dioceses, to overturn regulations issued by the Obama administration that require insurance plans to cover contraception under the new health-care law. But the other side of this news was also significant: The vast majority of the nation’s 195 dioceses did not go to court.

It turns out that many bishops, notably the church leadership in California, saw the litigation as premature. They are upset that the lawsuits were brought without a broader discussion among the entire membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and wanted to delay action until the conference’s June meeting.

Until now, bishops who believed that their leadership was aligning the institutional church too closely with the political right had voiced their doubts internally. While the more moderate and liberal bishops kept their qualms out of public view, conservative bishops have been outspoken in condemning the Obama administration and pushing a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign aimed at highlighting “threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad.”

But in recent months, a series of events — among them the Vatican’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, encouraged by right-wing U.S. bishops — have angered more progressive Catholics and led to talk among the disgruntled faithful of the need for a “Catholic spring” to challenge the hierarchy’s shift to the right.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., broke the silence on his side Tuesday in an interview with Kevin Clarke of the Jesuit magazine America. Blaire expressed concern that some groups “very far to the right” are turning the controversy over the contraception rules into “an anti-Obama campaign.”

“I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into [a] political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops,” he said. “I think our rhetoric has to be that of bishops of the church who are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel, that our one concern is that we make sure the church is free to carry out her mission as given to her by Christ, and that remains our focus.”

Clarke also paraphrased Blaire as believing that “the bishops lose their support when the conflict is seen as too political.”

Blaire’s words were diplomatic. But in a letter to the national bishops conference that has not been released publicly, lawyers for California’s bishops said the lawsuits would be “imprudent” and “ill-advised.” The letter was not answered by the national bishops group before the suits were announced.

Already, there are reports that some bishops will play down or largely ignore the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, scheduled for June 21 to July 4, in their own dioceses. These bishops fear that it has become enmeshed in Republican election-year politics and see many of its chief promoters, notably Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, as too strident.

The irony in the current acrimony is that Catholics were broadly united in January across political lines in opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ initial rules on contraception because they exempted only a narrow category of religious institutions from the mandate.

Facing this challenge, the president fashioned a compromise under which employees of Catholic organizations such as hospitals and social service agencies would still have access to contraceptive services but the religious entities would not have to pay for them. This compromise was accepted by most progressive Catholics, though many of them still favor rewriting the underlying regulations to acknowledge the religious character of the church’s welfare and educational work.

But where the progressives favor pursuing further negotiations with the administration, the conservative bishops have acted as if it never made any concessions at all. Significantly, Blaire identified with the conciliatory approach. As Clarke wrote, “Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored.”

For too long, the Catholic Church’s stance on public issues has been defined by the outspokenness of its most conservative bishops and the reticence of moderate and progressive prelates. Signs that this might finally be changing are encouraging for the church, and for American politics.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unjustified And Wrong”: The Poor Should Not Bear The Burden Of A Deficit They Didn’t Cause

GOP leaders in Congress who can’t stop talking about family values are proposing an array of deep cuts to food stamps, child tax credits, healthcare for the poor, and even block grants that help states with daycare and adoption assistance. Left untouched are military spending that has ballooned over the last decade and tax breaks for the richest Americans. This isn’t courageous or pragmatic. It’s fiscally irresponsible and morally wrong.

Religious leaders are not letting Rep. Paul Ryan—architect of the GOP budget proposal—get away with the fiction that this budget reflects the values of his Catholic faith. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a series of letters to GOP-controlled House committees arguing that these cuts are “unjustified and wrong.” Bishops wrote this week that “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons” and bluntly conclude that “the proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test.” Catholic leaders have called for “shared sacrifice,” putting “unnecessary military spending” on the table and—in a pointed critique of Republicans’ fiscal fantasy that we can balance the budget by cuts alone—reference the need for “raising adequate revenues.” When Representative Ryan recently spoke at Georgetown University, almost 90 professors and priests at the Catholic university urged him to stop distorting Catholic social teaching to advance his radical ideological agenda. Expect faith leaders to keep challenging budget proposals and economic policies that undermine bedrock principles of justice, compassion, and the common good.

We should not pit national security against economic security. An effective military and a responsive government that doesn’t turn its back on vulnerable families are both achievable if we move beyond false choices. The working poor struggling in minimum-wage jobs, the elderly, and a squeezed middle class did not cause our deficits. They should not be asked to bear the greatest burden.

 

By: John Gehring, Washington Whispers Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 10, 2012

May 11, 2012 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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