Peace in the womb

Carols outside abortion clinics.

It’s the result of creative thinking about how to be of help and service to people in need, women in abortion clinics.

Throughout December, Christmas carolers will gather outside abortion facilities across America, to draw attention to the unborn children at risk of abortion. The Pro-Life Action League’s nationwide caroling event, Peace in the Womb brings the Christmas message of peace and joy to the darkness of abortion clinics at over 80 locations in 30 states.

 

“It’s particularly sad to think of someone getting an abortion during the Christmas season, when we celebrate a new dawn of hope and joy coming into the world with the birth of a child,” explained Eric Scheidler, Executive Director of the Pro-Life Action League. “With our Christmas carols, we seek to remind those entering abortion facilities, and the entire community, that the Christmas message of salvation came through an unplanned pregnancy.”

 

The Pro-Life Action League calls for pro-life advocates to gather outside of abortion facilities across America throughout December to sing Christmas carols. Peace in the Womb caroling events take place nationwide, with multiple events and locations in some metro areas, including Chicago, Omaha and Philadelphia. December 2017 marks the fifteenth year that the Pro-Life Action League has coordinated caroling outside of abortion clinics.

 

Scheidler remarked, “The message of the Christmas angels is, Be not afraid. This is the same message our carolers are sharing with abortion-minded mothers. Whatever fear might be bringing them to the abortion clinic, we want to help, in any way that we can.” Scheidler noted that pro-life carolers throughout the country will be prepared to refer women to pregnancy assistance centers that offer a wide range of assistance to help women choose life for their babies.

I talked with Eric Scheidler on radio this week, and learned from him that many women have decided against abortion after hearing the pro-life carolers over the years. At least nine babies were saved from abortion during the 2016 nationwide caroling event alone. Women, girls, left the clinics after changing their minds. Some were smiling, one saying ‘We’re having a baby! We changed our minds!” The father thanked the carolers, saying, “Good job!”

Scheidler added

All they’d done was sing Christmas carols, and a life was saved.

‘What child is this?’ It’s a beautiful thing.

Women breaking silence on abuse start a movement

And end some abusers’ careers.

And collectively, they get honored as Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’. The Silence Breakers. They’re speaking out about “the whisper network”, the “culture of harassment” countless women have endured and feared for decades and longer.

These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day…

What started as a #MeToo social media campaign has become a movement that’s quickly provided “an umbrella of solidarity”.

When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former Today show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door. When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years.

 

The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.

It’s one of moments when a cultural phenomenon springs from a social media post that goes viral, then it’s out of anyone’s hands to control it. This one has been seized by the women who have long suffered fear, threats, bullying, disgrace, disrespect, depression, powerlessness and a range of other problems because of sexual misconduct or abuse committed against them in encounters usually with powerful men.

This was the great unleashing that turned the #MeToo hashtag into a rallying cry. The phrase was first used more than a decade ago by social activist Tarana Burke as part of her work building solidarity among young survivors of harassment and assault. A friend of the actor Alyssa Milano sent her a screenshot of the phrase, and Milano, almost on a whim, tweeted it out on Oct. 15. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she wrote, and then went to sleep. She woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used #MeToo. Milano burst into tears.

 

At first, those speaking out were mostly from the worlds of media and entertainment, but the hashtag quickly spread.

Interestingly, the women on Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ cover include one who’s only seen by her elbow in the right side of the photo. That was intentional, to carry a message subsumed in the overall story.

The mysterious elbow is a provocative artistic choice, and it’s no mistake. Its owner is meant to represent the millions of women (and all people) who suffer sexual harassment and assault in silence—the people who cannot publicly come forward, for fear of violence, loss of employment, familial rejection, or any other reason. This obscured woman represents women who anonymously—yet forcefully—shared their stories of sexual harassment in the past year.

 

Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal explained the photo crop today (Dec. 6) on NBC’s Today show: “The image you see partially on the cover is of a woman we talked to, a hospital worker in the middle of the country, who doesn’t feel like she can come forward without threatening her livelihood.”

He explained more:

“The galvanizing actions of the women on our cover … along with those of hundreds of others, and of many men as well, have unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s,” Felsenthal said in a statement.

 

The Silence Breakers emerged amid burgeoning allegations of sexual misconduct and assault by film executive Harvey Weinstein. As his list of accusers swelled, so did the number of people who spoke up to expose dozens of other famous individuals in Hollywood, politics, journalism and other industries as sexual predators.

 

Actor Kevin Spacey, journalist Charlie Rose, comedian Louis CK and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota were among the high-profile names snared in an ever-growing web of alleged sexual harassers. Last week, former TODAY anchor Matt Lauer was also accused of sexual misconduct.

 

The women, and men, who broke their silence to share their stories of victimization gave traction to the #MeToo campaign, which took off on social media and fueled a worldwide discussion on just how endemic sexual harassment has been.

Furthermore

Felsenthal noted the hashtag, which he called “a powerful accelerant,” has been used millions of times in at least 85 countries…

 

“The idea that influential, inspirational individuals shape the world could not be more apt this year,” Felsenthal said. “For giving voice to open secrets, for moving whisper networks onto social networks, for pushing us all to stop accepting the unacceptable, The Silence Breakers are the 2017 Person of the Year.”

This new intolerance of what was so long tolerated, enabled, covered up and hushed up is moving politicians into action faster now than print news can keep up with. This Wall Street Journal article about how a Roy Moore victory in Alabama next week would benefit Sen. Al Franken wasn’t two days old before Wednesday’s New York Times, among others, was reporting on the growing chorus of Democratic voices, mostly women in Congress – though joined by Sen. Chuck Schumer – calling for Franken’s resignation. Tuesday John Conyers retired immediately. Franken scheduled a Thursday announcement that should have happened Wednesday, minus the drama. It is likely he will have resigned by the time many readers see this.

Such are the times, and it’s about time. What started as a ‘moral moment’ is still growing into a – please God – historic cultural shift away from sub-humanism, with women and children seen as objects and commodities. That’s a much deeper, wider and larger story that needs the daylight sexual harassment is getting right now.

This should unite all people of goodwill, across all ideological, political and demographic divides. And it will be an ongoing story.

 

A cause that should bridge political, ideological divides

Stop the abuse of women and girls.

This is like the incidence of some sickness getting reported in different locations, which rapidly erupts into a wider outbreak, then quickly turns into a plague. Only this is man made and man caused. And it’s been going on for a very long time, but surfacing only recently. More every day, it seems.

Today, it was NBC’s Matt Lauer. As this Time piece concludes

Lauer was on his way to becoming a TV legend; instead, now, he’s just another name on a long list.

Long list of what, of whom? Abusers, men accused of sexual misconduct, taking advantage of women when they could and because they thought they could.

Women, girls, didn’t want to tell because they were ashamed, frightened, threatened, paid hush money, or didn’t think they would be believed. The men who abused them, of whom Lauer is the latest at this writing, (along with Garrison Keilor on the same day) were well known and powerful, in different ways. Some are Hollywood and media celebrities, some are major journalists, and some members of government. These men initiated unwanted sexual encounters of different sorts with females ranging in age from teenagers to adult women.

Judge Roy Moore.

Moore is the Republican Senate candidate. A series of women have said he sexually assaulted or pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Some of those women were under the age of consent at the time, as young as 14.

Democrat Al Franken.

…”the reason I want to say something is if someone sees that I said something, maybe it would give them the courage to say something, too.”

John Conyers, longest serving Democrat in the House of Representatives and a powerful one, made private settlements with women over a long period of time. This came out when news started breaking about him.

Last week the Washington Post reported that Congress’s Office of Compliance paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment. The Conyers documents, however, give a glimpse into the inner workings of the office, which has for decades concealed episodes of sexual abuse by powerful political figures…

 

One former staffer, who did not want to be named, said she was frustrated by the secretive complaint process.

“I don’t think any allegations should be buried…and that’s for anyone, not just for this particular office, because it doesn’t really allow other people to see who these individuals are,” said the former staffer. “When you make private settlements, it doesn’t warn the next woman or the next person going into that situation.”

When it was veteran television host Charlie Rose, eight women came out with allegations, after fearing to speak out individually. Rose was fired by CBS.

CBS News President David Rhodes said “What may once have been accepted should not ever have been acceptable.”

There it is. Buried in countless pages of news text, analysis and columns, endless broadcast news reports of correspondents and commentators, so simple a truism states the obvious. Once this all came out, everyone could finally see the stark, beastly truth about predatory behavior and degraded victims of it keeping quiet for fear of the consequences of speaking out. Rhodes’ message, simply put, is this: ‘What has until now been accepted should never have been acceptable’.

But it was, until suddenly, it wasn’t. All at once. Celebrities in Hollywood and Big Media swiftly got removed. Even the New York Times’ own White House correspondent.

We’re in a unique and very rare moment in our nation of nearly unanimous agreement on intolerance of all unwanted sexual encounters of any sort.

So this should be the time, finally, when cover ups of sex trafficking, especially of minors, is stopped. Reports of it are rampant. Live Action provides proof.

An encounter with any health care worker should be an opportunity for trafficking victims to get help to escape from slavery.

But abortion clinics are covering it up. And cover ups of other forms of sexual abuse of minors. Live Action President Lila Rose told me on radio that “the day for reckoning has to come soon” for the industry that has profited from women and girls in crisis or despair, many of whom are now suing abortion clinics that worsened their plight. And the lawsuits are providing revelations of abuse and illegalities in those clinics.

Congress has investigated Planned Parenthood and allegations of illegal activities committed by that taxpayer funded abortion giant, and how to shift federal dollars to comprehensive health clinics that provide better care for women and families. Now, some powerful members of Congress are part of the problem of abusing women.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, member of the House Judiciary Committee, said this:

“This is a watershed moment where, finally, the country seems to be waking up and realizing we need to have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. We cannot pick and choose. Democrats cannot lambaste Trump and Moore, and then turn a blind eye to our own who face credible charges against them.

 

“No one ever wants to believe that someone they respect and have regarded as a champion for civil rights issues would abuse their power to harm and harass women. On top of that, sexism colors everything. Women just aren’t generally believed. Period. Even more complicated is that sexual harassment is extremely difficult to prove in any court of law. That means that efforts to stop harassment must recognize that there will be gray areas. Women will come forward and men will deny. The question is: What is society’s response? To truly change norms and cultures, we need to start believing women from the get-go.

National Review online considers why it’s harder to hold politicians accountable for their misdeeds than other abusers.

The bottom line is that virtue — rightly understood — is hard. Defending a culture of integrity, respect, and honor means sometimes taking a short-term loss for the larger win. It means sometimes being willing to sacrifice for the greater good. It means that 51–49 is preferable to 52–48 if that one extra seat would have meant that a likely child abuser was in the Senate. Keith Ellison (or another progressive) is preferable to Al Franken if it means that our political culture is finally getting serious about respecting women. Alabama voters and Democratic senators are in control of an important moral moment. Are they serious enough about character and integrity to make even the smallest political sacrifice to shore up a fraying national culture?

This is a question for us all, far beyond Alabama. We are indeed in an important moral moment.

‘Thoughts and prayers’ are now political

Of course. Everything else is these days.

I remember when tragedies brought even political opponents together in what seemed potentially like a learning moment about our shared humanity being larger than the differences of opinions, beliefs and ideas that divide us. Certainly that happened after 9/11, and it seemed that whatever renewed sense of unity and solidarity members of government shared with locked arms in appearances before the nation in those days soon after, and complete strangers shared with bowed heads and tear streamed cheeks on the steps of churches and cathedrals as the crowds poured out the doors for days after that horror, would last long enough to change our nation for the better. It didn’t last that long.

Nor did it when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot in a Tuscon, Arizona supermarket parking lot in January 2011 during a routine gathering of citizens meeting their congressional representative. One of the six people who died in that shooting was a nine year old girl who was born on September 11, 2001. President Obama referred to her several times in his speech at the Together We Thrive: Tucson and America memorial on January 12, 2011.

Preparing for that speech, Obama conferred with a Pentecostal clergyman, the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. White House staffers conferred with religious advisers about biblical passages the president might use in the speech to speak to a nation jarred to the core. But at the core there was still – at that point in our relatively recent history – the need to connect worldly events with spiritual aspirations.

Obama decided to quote from the Book of Job and Psalm 46.

And he did so to acknowledge and grieve the occasion when six people were killed and Rep. Giffords was shot in the head while “gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.” That is clearly close to the occasion of the Texas massacre last week when people were gathered inside a church to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

In his remarks after the tragedy in January 2011, Obama remarked that people were seeking to make sense out of the senseless by debating issues like gun safety laws and the breakdown of the mental health treatment system.

He urged that the polarized national debate be conducted “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Quoting the Book of Job 30:26, Obama said “terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.” Urging Americans to avoid using the tragedy as “one more occasion to turn on one another”, he called for a new civility in the nation and political and public discourse. He recommended humility, empathy and especially reflection, urging people to consider whether they have “shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives”.

Obama said “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

And he closed the speech with a blessing.

This is good to remember as we go through tragedy after mind-numbing tragedy, and political discourse is growing more unkind, uncharitable, accusatory, harsh, intolerant, divisive, and scornful of religion.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn sees it, for many politicians in President Obama’s party, and media sympathizers, GOP leaders offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ after the Texas massacre is ‘deplorable’.

“Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP,” wrote the Massachusetts Democrat. “We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait.” In short, if you are a Republican praying instead of passing gun control, you’ve got blood on your hands.

 

The Huffington Post devoted an entire piece to the phenomenon, under the headline “People Fed Up With ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Demand Action After Texas Church Massacre.” It featured tweets from celebrities and gun-control advocates who believe they had discovered something big: Prayers aren’t always answered…

 

Surely it is possible to make the case for gun control without mocking prayer. But as with Mrs. Clinton and her infamous remarks about Trump voters—not only deplorable but irredeemable—those denouncing Messrs. Trump and Ryan’s offer of prayers don’t really want an argument. They want to express their feelings of moral superiority.

 

Michael Brendan Dougherty said something similar in his National Review Online piece, asserting that prayer is not a distraction. But the outrage expressed by progressive politicians is.

The effect is increasing the ambient background level of contempt and hatred in American society.

This is precisely what we need less of, especially right exactly now.

In the moments after a tragedy, the fact is we have no idea whether the killer would have been deterred by stricter gun-control laws, whether he broke existing ones, or whether he would have sought to circumvent them the way mass killers do in other countries. We often have no idea how any particular gun-control policies we would like to see implemented would have changed these events. And so attacking the prayers of politicians in fact substitutes for thought and reflection. It is a way for those who favor more gun control, as I do, to express a sentiment about gun violence, without actually putting forward a policy that addresses the issue at hand. If anyone is using “prayer” as a distraction in the wake of a mass shooting, it is those who want gun control but have no idea how their policy preferences could be implemented, and how those policies would have changed the events.

He zeroes in on the point.

The anti-prayer tweets aren’t encouraging a debate about gun control; they are discouraging expressions of shock, sympathy, and mourning. That is, they are discouraging statements about the inherent value of the lives lost that address the real grief of the bereaved. Often that is the only thing we can sensibly offer in the minutes after awful news breaks across our screens. By discouraging these expressions, they are also inadvertently boxing pro-gun-control politicians into talking about the victims of mass shootings in a purely instrumental way, a less human way — thereby reducing such deaths to having no other public meaning beyond another reason to pass legislation that these politicians already wanted to pass. Without being able to offer a plain expression of sorrow and anger, even pro-gun-control politicians are deprived of a means of offering human respect before engaging in politics. This opens them to the charge of disrespecting the dead by using their deaths to promote views to which the dead would object.

 

So even if you are frustrated with America’s permissive gun rights, it isn’t the prayers offered to the dead that are the problem. Let people mourn the dead. Let them say the human thing first. And then engage in vigorous political debate afterward.

Columnist Bill McGurn reminded us that

…Barack Obama offered his “thoughts and prayers” as often as any president, such as after a 2013 shooting in Washington when he said, “We send our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who’ve been touched by this tragedy.” No one complained then, either because they were comfortable that Mr. Obama didn’t really believe in prayer or his faith in gun control was absolute.

 

Over the next few weeks, the surviving members of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs will wrap their fallen in love and lay them to rest. What these survivors may individually believe about gun control is anyone’s guess. But it’s hard to believe that the way to their hearts is by mocking offers of prayer, even from Republicans.

For the most part, the right to life has become an extremely partisan issue over the past few decades. That battle will continue to be fought in the legislature, the courts and the arena of public ideas. In the Texas massacre, one of the victims authorities included among the dead was an unborn child, and naturally so.

Let prayers be offered in peace and goodwill, by all who claim to care the most for the true good of humanity. As President Obama urged, in a time of tragedy, conduct public debate “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” And Democrats would do well to remember his words” “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

US aid will finally go to persecuted Christians

So declares a resolute Vice President Mike Pence.

It probably comes as news to most people that the US wasn’t sending relief to Christian and Yazidi survivors of genocide these past many years they’ve been so endangered. Especially since a lot of money was directed to aid persecuted minorities during President Obama’s administration, which continued through the first year of President Trump’s. Where did it go?

Leading human rights expert Nina Shea has taken every opportunity possible to tell that story, enfolded within the greater narrative of the unfolding disaster in the Middle East.

An example, from late last month:

Since fiscal 2014, the U.S. has provided $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq, but very little of it has reached the beleaguered Christian and Yazidi communities. This is because the Obama administration decided to channel most of it through United Nations refugee and development agencies, a practice the new administration has continued. There is no protection for religious minorities in the U.N.’s overwhelmingly Muslim camps, and Christians and Yazidis are terrified of entering them. The U.N. doesn’t operate camps in Iraq for displaced Christians, and the international body has enough resources to shelter only half the Yazidis who congregate around Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. U.N. programs also exclude the local churches that struggle to care for these minorities, forcing them to raise aid on a piecemeal and insecure basis from other sources.

This has been the remarkably bad, sad truth about their plight. Furthermore…

Far lower percentages of Christians and Yazidis are returning from displacement to their homes in the devastated Nineveh Plains and Sinjar, respectively, compared with the larger religious groups in Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul. The prior (Obama) administration decided to have U.S. reconstruction assistance, now at $265 million since fiscal 2015, also flow through the U.N. The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, started only last month and has not yet moved to change this policy.

(As of the end of September.)

USAID lacks direct oversight in Nineveh and relies heavily on U.N. Development Program reports that claim progress in Christian towns. One local church authority told me the U.N. reports “grossly overstate the quality and substance of the actual work” and their projects’ influence is “minimal or nonexistent.” A representative from the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, a unified church group, told me earlier this month that the only major projects under way are its own. These are supported by Hungary and the Knights of Columbus. Samaritan’s Purse and Aid to the Church in Need are planning projects in Qaraqosh, also without U.S. government assistance. These private charities can rebuild houses, but large infrastructure projects need government aid.

 

The U.N. acknowledges that most of the displaced minorities have not returned home and have shown “a reluctance to return without guarantees of their security and the stability of their towns and villages.” Church leaders close to the displaced are excluded from U.N. and Iraqi government committees that decide stabilization projects, track progress and ensure locals are hired for them.

And yet, administrative foot-dragging continued.

Earlier this year, Congress allocated more than $1.4 billion in funds for refugee assistance and included specific language to ensure that part of the money would be used to assist Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims—all groups the State Department deemed victims of genocide in 2016. Over the summer, Tillerson affirmed his belief that these religious minority groups in Iraq are the victims of Islamic-State genocide.

 

Lawmakers who passed the bills providing the funds, as well as human rights activists and Catholic charities, were encouraged by Tillerson’s affirmation of the genocide declaration, but they say his statements have done nothing to change the situation on the ground. The Yazidis and Christians are still not getting the necessary money to help them rebuild their lives and communities in the Northern Iraq’s Ninevah province, where they have thrived for thousands of years.

 

The Knights of Columbus, a global Catholic charity helping with the housing, feeding, and medical care of thousands of Yazidis and Christians, has stated that a much larger rebuilding plan is needed to save them from extinction in Iraq.

 

Stephen Rasche, general counsel of the Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq, applauded the State Department’s assistance to the Rohingya community in Burma. However, he and other Catholic leaders remain “deeply concerned” that the U.S. government has still directed “little or no aid” to the Christian community in Iraq despite its clear declaration that ISIS committed genocide against Christians.

Then Congress intervened, especially four key members of the House of Representatives.

The urgent push comes amid dire warnings from lawmakers and human rights activists that Christians and Yazidis, already victims of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, are on the verge of extinction in Northern Iraq, their home for thousands of years.

 

The lawmakers also point to new evidence of corruption in the United Nations’ process for stabilization projects in Iraq.

That came just days before In Defense of Christians‘ annual Summit in Washington D.C., featuring dozens of international human rights leaders, clergy, members of government, and Vice President Mike Pence representing the Trump administration.

Pence revealed President Trump has ordered the State Department “to stop ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID.”

 

In a statement likely intended as a wakeup call to the global diplomatic community, Pence added, “We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups.”

 

Instead, Pence said, federal agencies “will work hand-in-hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith.”

Some Christian media called it a “bombshell”. The Atlantic report it, in grand understatement, as a shift.

Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is specifically focused on protecting Christians as part of its national-security agenda. “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” the vice president said. “Across the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.”

The ‘international religious freedom as national security issue’ message is one experts have been emphasizing for years. In his address, Pence signaled that the administration got the message.

Since the president took office, he has been promising to eradicate terrorism and eliminate the “beachhead of intolerance” created by radicalism. What was different here is that Pence promised a policy shift to accompany the rhetoric: Based on claims that the United Nations often denies funding requests from faith-based organizations and provides only “ineffective relief efforts,” the administration will now “provide support directly” through USAID.

 

Conservative religious-freedom advocates have long pushed for money to be redirected away from the UN. “I am overjoyed,” said Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “The [UN] projects that are taking place are superficial and cosmetic projects—coats of paint rather than a renovation or a reconstruction.” This funding shift, she said, is “a battle won.”

The author attempts to diminish the importance of the shift in funds late in the piece, calling it “misleading”, but it is she who is misled. Yes, the money will go to private NGOs on the ground doing the person to person relief work. But they are the best groups, like the Knights of Columbus, Aid to the Church in Need, and others which apply the full funding to the intended recipients and take no portion for their own costs. They are professionals, they know the people and the specific needs, and apply their full resources to addressing them.

In December, when Pence visits the Middle East, “one of the messages I will bring on the president’s behalf … is that now is the time to bring an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities,” he said on Wednesday. The Associated Press reports that he will visit Israel and meet with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt. While “the Trump administration came in saying they don’t want to do nation building,” said Shea, she argued that this focus on persecuted Christians is something different: “It’s a moral obligation and a legal obligation to, in a broad sense, help them recover from the genocide.”

It’s long overdue.

America’s abortion extremism

Hard to be the shining beacon of human rights and dignity with this record.

Somehow, Planned Parenthood has remained powerful, heavily funded and very influential among the power brokers of politics and culture: government, media, academia and Hollywood. Somehow, the abortion mentality has pervaded even believers in religion and absolute truth and moral order, convincing roughly half of them to accept the decades long, slick marketing slogans that it’s about empowering women and respecting women’s rights and protecting particularly their right to choose.

Choose what? Planned Parenthood gives women, particularly in minority neighborhoods, a lack of choice but easy access to abortion.

Having frequent conversations with expert guests on radio covering these issues –  especially lately with congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, the abortion giant’s social media campaign in reaction and response to the possibility of losing federal funds, the recent vote in Congress to ban abortions of five month old babies in the womb, and the administration’s move last week to roll back the HHS mandate requiring birth control pill coverage in health insurance plans for Christian and particularly Catholic groups like Little Sisters of the Poor – the point has come up more than once that the U.S. is among the seven countries in the world with the most lax and extreme abortion laws.

The Washington Post editors must have found that hard to believe, and so submitted it to their well known ‘fact checker‘. This is how it opened:

Seven out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
statement of Trump administration policy, Oct. 2, 2017

 

The House approved a ban on 20-week abortions this week, and this dramatic statistic caught our attention…

It’s about time. What brought it to WaPo’s attention now? That House of Representatives ban on the ‘Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’, which prompted this response from the White House, which included the attention grabbing statistic contained in this fuller snip than WaPo led with:

The United States is currently out of the mainstream in the family of nations, in which only 7 out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Worse still, the United States is in the top (or worst) four:

Here’s a look at the seven countries. We sorted them from the most liberal on gestational limits to the least:

 

North Korea and Vietnam: No specified gestational limit, though regulatory mechanisms vary.

 

China: “Abortion is virtually freely available in China, and there are no defined time limits for access to the procedure,” according to Pew Research Center. China now has a “two-child” policy, and human-rights advocates have criticized China’s population and family planning laws.

 

United States: No federal ban on gestational limit, but 43 states have prohibitions on gestational limits, from 20 to 24 weeks, or the point of “viability,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group. There are some exceptions made, usually for the life or health of the mother.

Then come Canada, Netherlands and Singapore.

Only North Korea, Vietnam and China are ahead of the United States in abortion extremism.

“Our nation does not belong in that disgraceful club”, the Susan B. Anthony List declared in a statement after the House vote.

The 20 week abortion ban bill now goes to the Senate for a vote, and SBA List is running a grassroots campaign in states with vulnerable pro-abortion senators up for re-election in 2018 in states favorable to common sense restrictions to otherwise liberal abortion laws.

My home state of Illinois just got a major setback of unprecedented proportion when Governor Bruce Rauner broke his promise to pro-life leaders and voters, state clergy and even Chicago’s Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich and signed into law the first binding legislation passed by an elected state official, ensuring that abortion will remain legal in the state of Illinois even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and that state taxpayers’ dollars will pay for abortion, violating consciences, and religious and other deeply held beliefs of citizens who have no say now.

At least, until the next election.

HHS mandate rolled back, Little Sisters exempted, government overreach revealed

“The new rule is a victory for common sense.”

Last Friday, the Trump administration issued new HHS mandate interim rules finally giving relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and many other religious and faith based groups and institutions burdened by the Obama era mandate to provide contraception in their health care plans, or pay prohibitively heavy fines if they didn’t.

They have been in courts on all levels in many states and at the federal level for the past five years secure protection from coercion to violate their consciences over a ‘contraception delivery scheme’ made up under the guise of ‘women’s preventive health care’. The only thing it prevented was a healthy woman’s natural reproductive cycle.

Becket Law has represented many or most of those cases, and provided ‘HHS Central’ info updates for years. Friday’s new rule changes provided the latest welcomed victory in a string of many.

The rule aligns with the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last year protecting the Little Sisters in Zubik v. Burwell protecting the Little Sisters, which says the government cannot fine the religious groups for following their faith. The contraceptive mandate issue went to the Supreme Court five times, and each time the Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting religious groups.

 

“The new rule is a victory for common sense,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket. “The previous administration pursued a needless and divisive culture war. It was always ridiculous to claim you need nuns to give out contraceptives. This new rule shows that you don’t.”

That it took a government administrative rule to override a previous administrative rule to prove the obvious is a sign of how far the dictatorship of relativism has reached in its grasp of public consciousness, or at least the control of public opinion by government, media, social media and entertainment media, all of which work together often to advance based more on ideology than science and fact.

For facts, this is the best one stop source I’ve found so far, but I’m a footnote reader and you have to read the footnotes to appreciate the scope of research it covers.

In brief, it counters everything the Obama administration claimed in the original ‘federal fiat’ known as the HHS mandate, based on nothing demonstrable.

1) The HHS Mandate is ineffective, even counterproductive.

2) HHS has no meaningful data to support its claims that free contraception causes
improved women’s health.

3) The mandate is unconstitutional.

4) The Mandate is misleading and irresponsible regarding women’s health.

5) The Mandate is demeaning to women…

Each of those points has sub-points, deeply grounded in footnoted source documents, so everyone has access to the full truth to engage in robust public debate.

Becket Senior Counsel Mark Rienzi declared:

“It should be easy for the courts to finalize this issue now that the government admits it broke the law. For months, we have been waiting for Department of Justice lawyers to honestly admit that fact, like the President did in the Rose Garden five months ago,” said Rienzi. “Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution so the Little Sisters can stop thinking about lawyers and mandates and return to spending all their energies caring for the elderly.”

 

With an interim rule now in place, the ongoing court battles between religious groups and the federal government may be resolved soon. The interim rule acknowledges that the earlier mandate violated the Little Sisters’ religious liberty and that there are many other ways to obtain contraceptives.

And that’s another statement of the obvious. The Little Sisters of the Poor, and all the other groups defending their rights to religious liberty guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, have not intended, nor tried, to take birth control away from women nor keep women from obtaining it in the myriad ways available to them before the Obama HHS mandate was issued 2011. (The fact sheet tells the fuller background story.)

That’s common sense. So is this comment from a woman following coverage I provided on radio Friday with a Becket Legal Counsel about the new HHS rules restoring religious freedom and conscience rights to the Little Sisters and others by exempting them from having to provide birth control and other potentially abortifacent drugs, under the guise of health care.

I’ll never understand why insurance companies want to pay for medication that is not used to treat a disease or disorder but is given to try to “fix” something that works perfectly! Most contraceptives are elective and should not be covered. Women take them because they want to, not because they are sick.

Another said this, echoing many such expressions over the past five to six years.

What about the struggling mother who needs blood pressure meds, antibiotics, or other medication? Why mandate free birth control and no other meds? It doesn’t treat illness, but is a carcinogen that thwarts nature. There were just two reasons for the HHS mandate: population control and the elimination of freedom of conscience.

As courts have ruled, and the administration has now agreed, government had no right to compel people, groups, organizations or institutions to provide those birth control and emergency birth control medications. And as Mark Rienzi echoed, the new interim rule was a victory for common sense.

Don’t use the flag and national anthem to protest

Tis the season to protest in America. The president and sports celebrities take it too far.

How this all started and how it escalated is less important than the weekend blowup that engulfed America, when average folks count on taking a break from tensions of the week at work and in the news and enjoy the diversion of sports events. Now it’s all blurring together and social tensions have invaded the sporting arena.

Sports have become more political for a long while now, but this is that on steroids (which is another story altogether).

The case of Donald Trump vs. the players of the National Football League is emblematic of our political moment: At its heart is a very serious issue, but that issue is wrapped in so many layers of celebrity, stupidity, opportunism, social-media hysteria, and crassness that it is nearly forgotten.

What is that issue? It’s embedded in the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge to ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. And in the National Anthem, focusing on the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ yet waving ‘O’er the land of the free’…

One very serious issue is how indivisible we really are, and how we use the freedom we have. But overarching that two-part concern is the thick-as-blood honor we pay to those who have fought for generations, paid a great price or the ultimate sacrifice, to preserve the rights and freedoms of the United States. And the flag and National Anthem represent that. The flag drapes the coffins of Members of the Military Services killed in action, it flies at half staff in memory of those who gave their lives in service, it famously was captured in an iconic photo as it was being raised at Iwo Jima by six Marines in World War II. Which turned into the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington DC.

Most Americans probably don’t know how the National Anthem even came to be the opening of major sporting events. In fact, as a Chicagoan, I didn’t even know the Chicago Cubs were part of that history. It’s edifying to see a nation united in that respect for its shared history, rough as some of it had been. Rough as it is now.

So is it the flag athletes are disputing, or the anthem? No. But they’re using that ceremony at the start of major sporting events to protest other grievances and injustices, and that has all of a sudden become a national big deal. Because President Trump posted some jabbing tweets that baited both his opponents and his base into reactionary behavior that would play to visceral emotions already deeply felt. Alas,

This fad may have petered out naturally after a few more months; Trump’s all but guaranteed that we’ll get it through the 2020 election.

After the weekend of ‘national anthem protests’ across the nation and the National Football League, everyone was wondering how the nationally beloved Monday Night Football game would handle it. It was pretty amazing to see, when it played out. Just before the National Anthem, a gigantic American flag was unfurled from one side of the football field to the other, cover the whole playing field. Kind of hard to protest that. And the players and owners didn’t want to, after all.

“I made my mind up on this issue,” (Dallas Cowboys Owner and General Manager) Jerry Jones said…”that I wasn’t going to comment other than I am very proud of the fact that the Dallas Cowboys and our players have always stood for the flag and the recognition for the flag always. What is important is to figure out that to show the kind of respect and the perception of respect. How can (the team) in front of a national audience show unity and a statement of equality. (The team) wanted to do that. It evolved throughout the organization, particularly over the last two days, and it was executed.

 

“I can’t say enough about the understanding and the awareness of our team and these young men, if you will, that basically said, ‘You know, that makes sense.’ There’s no need for us to talk about unity and equality and have 60 percent of this country mad at you because you’re not being perceived as honoring the flag. And this was a way to do both.”

As NRO editors figured this…

Of course football players and other professional athletes should stand for the national anthem. Not, as the critics so often put it, because America has been good to them, but because America is good. That the American way of life generates so much prosperity that young men can grow vastly wealthy playing a children’s game is not the least of the nation’s virtues, but it is not the most important of them, either. The United States of America has been, and continues to be, a force for liberty, decency, justice, peace, and prosperity both within its own borders and around the world. “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be an infamously difficult song to sing, but the sight of the flag it celebrates has meant liberation — and life itself — to millions of people around the world, from those looking through the fence at Buchenwald to those looking over the railing of a ship at Ellis Island. That is why you stand for the national anthem…

 

We have no doubt that most of those kneeling in protest during the singing of the national anthem are sincere in their concerns, and that they mean to use their high-profile positions in the service of the public good as they perceive it. Goodness knows professional athletes have been in the news for worse reasons. But making a spectacle of themselves during the national anthem disrupts an all too rare moment of civic comity, a time to meditate on our blessings rather than our grievances. There are a dozen different ways athletes and other celebrities might be of good service and bring attention to the issue at the center of this controversy…

 

Of course athletes have the right to protest. Their employers also have the right to set standards of professional conduct, and football fans have the right to change the channel. The president has the right to tweet. This is not a question of rights but a question of judgment, which was, unhappily, in short supply over the weekend.

Let’s get back to the business at hand. The president needs to work on national issues and geopolitical affairs and North Korea especially. Celebrity athletes need to play sports to the best of their abilities. And the rest of us have our assorted family and work obligations to fulfill, and community and charitable needs to address, especially in the ongoing need for relief in disaster struck areas hit by back to back hurricanes and earthquakes.

It’s humbling – or should be – that for people who survived such devastation, who are subsisting on absolute basics, having lost most of what they had with little to sustain them until substantial relief arrives and relief workers help to rebuild their lives, homes and communities, the American flag on the arm patch of the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers, on the helicopters and trucks delivering supplies and flagpoles left standing after the storms, represents hope. It’s up to the American people to deliver on that.

We are at our best in disaster relief

Nature keeps sending disasters. People keep sending relief.

We’re still learning the extent of the damage Hurricane Irma did to the homes, neighborhoods, communities and fundamentally the people of the state of Florida from the Keys to Jacksonville in the north, with access to some areas cut off for days, and therefore, delivery routes of relief. Irma devastated Barbuda.

Now, Hurricane Maria threatens destruction in Puerto Rico.

The Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph (281 kph) will smash into the Virgin Islands Tuesday night. It has already obliterated parts of Dominica and killed at least one person in Guadeloupe.

 

Puerto Rico will get hit hard Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and the storm could be catastrophic…

 

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled from other Caribbean Islands during Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for devastation.

 

“This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic,” (Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo) Rosselló said. “Our only focus right now should be to make sure we save lives.”

That has been the focus for weeks now of people across the United States. When Hurricane Harvey was still beating down on Houston, whatever had been dividing Americans politically or culturally dissolved or got sidelined by the force of nature and the ‘force more powerful‘ than destruction, love and charity impulsively and instinctively passing from person to person.

Numbers of people beyond counting have been showing up in this ‘army of compassion’ descending on sites of destruction even while they’re still being battered. Especially then, which shows the real magnanimity of regular Americans. Houston’s ‘Mattress Mack‘ is emblematic of this spirit of unity and generosity, and the humility that, to a person, seems to define the motivating impulse driving people from their comfort zones to the place they’d rather be in an emergency: with the people under siege. They have offered what they have to those who need anything.

Magdalena Marez, 27, and her fiancé Zachary Gasser, moved into their apartment a few months ago. They went furniture shopping at a handful of Houston-area stores, but they’d never stepped foot into a Gallery Furniture store until early Tuesday morning. They wandered in, soaking wet, just after evacuating from their apartment.

 

Floodwaters were ankle deep, and they struggled to make the drive.

 

When they arrived at the showroom volunteers handed them dry clothes, toothbrushes, soap, shoes — and a mattress still covered in plastic. Marez is moved by McIngvale’s generosity.

 

“We never stepped foot in (one of his stores) and now I’m just like, wow, I mean, they opened up the doors. Like nothing. He didn’t even second guess it,” she says. “He was just like, ‘Let me help you.'”

 

McIngvale is also paying for portable showers so evacuees can have their first hot shower in days.

 

Marchione, the employee, says his boss has opened the store to evacuees and is providing meals because it’s his way of giving back to a community that has brought him success over the past 36 years.

 

“This is Houston,” Marchione adds. “That’s how Houston rolls.”

Jim McIngvale was my guest on radio, because he answered my call with the generosity he shows to all calls on his time and attention. Media had descended on ‘Mattress Mack’, he agreed to brief exchanges with them while working, mainly to put the word out that all help for evacuees was needed and welcomed. He told me that a reporter for some big media outlet asked why he was doing all this work in his big company store, housing and feeding so many people. He said “because I have to”, but the reporter replied “no you don’t”. He quickly corrected “yes I do”. It’s what he knows, it’s what he lives.

“I was raised as a Catholic,” he told the local KENS5 news in Houston. “I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing and hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.”

His Gallery Furniture business is still helping, in the cleanup phase and beyond.

The Miami Herald editors published a fervent wish for such charitable goodwill for Floridians before Irma hit: “Be kind, send help, rebuild“.

 

Nerves are frayed, to say the very least. But South Floridians have always risen to the occasion during difficult times, extending a generous helping hand, with no hesitation, with no expectations of reciprocation.

It is one of the Editorial Board’s most fervent wishes — but only one — that in the pre-disaster hunt for plywood, water, gas, and hotel rooms, we remain civil, empathetic. Remember Connect Miami? April’s successful community-wide initiative to encourage residents to engage with people unlike them? To hear their stories? To find commonality? Irma will be put this initiative on steroids.

People from everywhere have been quick to step up, show up and reach out, not even knowing they’re part of a national rapid response team. They didn’t ask what identity group the afflicted belonged to, nor what political party,nor how they voted in the last election. The only questions they asked and are asking are ‘What do you need?‘ and ‘How can I help?

 

I’ve had several guests on radio these past two weeks somehow involved in disaster relief and recovery, charitable organizations and government aid, professionals, spiritual directors, people trying to help people and connect with the best ways to get things done.

Some of them said something I’ve been thinking, hoping, saying on my show, that we should be able to keep this going. See ‘the other’ as a person to engage, to serve, to share a vulnerable moment with and find ways that encounter can benefit both. And build or rebuild the nation that’s made up of people, known to be fiercely independent, but who are remembering how interdependent we truly are.