Mar 03

With over ninety lawsuits in courts for over two years contesting the government’s violation of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, this one may be emblematic.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and order of nuns founded in the 1800′s to care for the elderly sick and the poor, have to go to court again to fight for the right to continue to do so. As Congressman Jeff Fortenberry told me on radio Monday, “they were already providing affordable care!” And doing so long before the president’s law by that name required compliance in providing drugs and services that violate consciences.

Understand the basics here, because the Little Sisters’ case starkly reveals them.

Under RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act], the government must establish it has a compelling interest to infringe upon the religious liberty of its citizens. The HHS mandate asserts that the government has a compelling interest to require that all employers provide health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The government claims such coverage is on par with preventive medical practices such as immunizations and cancer screening.

From a medical perspective this is ludicrous. Preventive medicine prevents disease and maintains health. Pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a disorder.

Full stop here. Because enough said. The Little Sisters – and all the other groups pursuing lawsuits to defend their right to continue doing their work and providing the healthcare coverage they were providing and applying their principles and moral beliefs to their work and services – are not trying to change what has already been easy access to birth control and morning-after pills. They’re trying to preserve their rights as they stood before the HHS mandate came out of nowhere and required coercion in a birth control delivery scheme that made these drugs part of the federal healthcare plan, masquerading as ‘women’s preventive health’.

And though this is an ‘aside’ to the main argument of government coercion to violate consciences, the HHS slipping in these drugs under that umbrella term bears scrutiny. So consider this aside:

Rather than maintaining health, contraception takes a perfectly healthy reproductive system and renders it non-functional. The methods used to achieve this state of sterility are fraught with health risks. The government’s own information page on contraceptives indicates they are associated with substantial risks including blood clots, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer. Recent studies have demonstrated the use of hormonal contraceptives double the risk of transmission of the AIDS-inducing HIV. Women who use hormonal contraceptives increase their risk of the most aggressive form of breast cancer by at least 100 percent. The increase in breast cancer risk is greater the younger women are when they begin using hormonal contraceptives.

Some women choose to accept these risks and utilize hormonal contraception in order to be sexually active and avoid pregnancy. This is an elective lifestyle choice and not a necessary medical intervention. The government should have no more interest in whether or not women are accessing contraception to avoid pregnancy than whether or not women are using Lasik to improve their vision or using Botox to get rid of their wrinkles.

So, getting back to the two-prong test of RFRA, the first one was just addressed, that the government does not have a compelling interest to infringe on the religious liberty of its citizens.

However…

Even if we were to allow that there is some government interest in ensuring all women have access to highly risky elective medical procedures, the HHS mandate fails to meet the second demand of RFRA that the government utilize the least restrictive means to satisfy its compelling interest. Since 1970, the federal government has funded contraception through a program known as Title X. When the HHS mandate was first introduced, supporters were quick to claim that virtually every American woman utilized contraception and supported their assertions with data from the Guttmacher Institute. There were many problems with their analysis of the Guttmacher Institute statistics, especially when it concerned the number of Catholic women utilizing contraceptives, but the information did indicate that access to contraception is not a problem for American women. Title X funding of women’s health clinics is working as intended. Therefore, the push to force all insurance policies to include coverage for contraception is addressing an access problem that does not exist. The least restrictive course of action would be to continue the current Title X funding mechanism and avoid infringement upon anyone’s religious liberty.

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in two key cases challenging the constitutionality of the government’s HHS mandate.

In the meantime, all sorts of injunctions have been granted to employers and organizations to stave off the harsh impact of this mandate until it’s settled by the high court. That includes the New Year’s Eve injunction granted the Little Sisters by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Followed by the full Supreme Court ruling continuing that relief until the 10th Circuit took up the case again.

Now the Little Sisters have gone back before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking justice.

“We are thrilled the Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from having to violate their conscience or pay crippling IRS fines. We are hopeful the Tenth Circuit will give them more lasting protection,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for Little Sisters of the Poor. “The federal government is a massive entity that has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force the Little Sisters to participate.”

The injunction from the Supreme Court provided the Little Sisters short-term protection from being forced to sign and deliver the controversial government forms authorizing, ordering, and incentivizing their health benefits administrator to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and drugs and devices that may cause early abortions. Instead, the Little Sisters simply had to inform HHS of their religious identity and objections.

In a USA Today column in the midst of this ongoing struggle, Kirsten Powers – who believes in government mandated birth control delivery on the face of it – called on the administration to give the Little Sisters of the Poor a break.

This is a very strange case. The government has argued that signing the form is meaningless because the nuns’ insurer, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, is exempt from the mandate. Yet it has fought the Sisters all the way to the Supreme Court to make them sign it. What’s going on?

The government’s brief to the Colorado court provides a clue. It drips with contempt. The Obama administration finds the nuns’ complaint “implausible” and alleges that the Sisters are “fighting an invisible dragon.” Oh, you silly, simple-minded nuns! Just stop imagining things and do what the government tells you.

The Sisters reject the government’s contention that the form does nothing, as did all six lower courts to consider the claim in other church plan cases. They are wise to be leery of Uncle Sam’s intentions.

The dismissive tone of the administration’s brief is consistent with its overall attitude toward religious liberty issues throughout the implementation of the contraception mandate. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius never bothered to consult the Justice Department to determine whether the mandate was consistent with the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite requests from Congress.

When asked whether she consulted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over their complaints about an effort to find an “accommodation,” Sebelius said she didn’t. Considering it was the primary group complaining, why not?

These are questions I’ve been asking for the past two years, and few in big media have bothered to. I’m glad Powers asked.

The administration’s indifference to religious liberty complaints is not limited to issues arising from Obamacare. In 2011, the government made the argument in Hosanna-Tabor v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that churches do not have special rights under the First Amendment but merely association rights, like unions. Justice Antonin Scalia called this “extraordinary,” and Justice Elena Kagan said it was an “amazing” claim. Another word that comes to mind is “disturbing.” A unanimous court rejected the administration’s claim.

However, nine days after that unanimous Supreme Court ruling rejected the administration’s claim to the right to infringe on religious freedom in Hosanna-Tabor, the HHS mandate was issued. This is, in a word, relentless.

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Mar 01

Some big questions have demonstrably true answers. But when they don’t fit powerful narratives, some powerful people are making the questions irrelevant.

Or coming up with pragmatic answers, you know, whatever works at the moment to dodge the truth.

As the Planned Parenthood president just did this week, saying that when life begins is not really relevant to the abortion debate.

“It is not something that I feel is really part of this conversation,” Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Thursday. “I don’t know if it’s really relevant to the conversation.”

When pressed, Richards said that in her view life began for her three children when she delivered them.

She explained that the purpose of her organization is not to answer a question that “will be debated through the centuries,” but to provide options for pregnant women.

People who choose to deny the facts may find them debatable or beyond their ability to debate, or just reduce them to an incoherent diversion.

But it is not debatable when life begins. It is scientific fact.

Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards dodging the question of human life by saying it’s irrelevant to the abortion debate is seriously dishonest and disingenuous, at best. It provides the occasion to recall former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original architects of the abortion movement in America, telling the story behind the lies and deceptions for many years after his conversion. Late in his life, in a dramatic effort to help secure legislation in South Dakota that would strengthen informed consent laws, he made this video admission that as one of the original founders of NARAL, they made up the numbers and the ‘facts’, to ‘save abortion at all costs.’

His lesson about the importance of devising and driving a narrative “at all costs” applies to the whole choice movement, and Richards’ response reveals where incoherence inevitably leads.

It happens in other kinds of politics, too often. Remember Hillary Clinton facing a congressional task force inquiry into what really happened in the notorious Benghazi attacks, finally and angrily shouting ‘what difference does it make?

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer says there’s all the difference.

There’s a difference between the truth and a lie. The difference is that people in high office with public trust ought not lie. And if it was a lie, for whatever political or other reason, it shouldn’t have happened, and the administration itself should have traced it down and corrected it. And they didn’t. And that’s what is disturbing and remains disturbing.

And some people are still seeking the truth about that.

Ans, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, there is an eternal truth, and it applies to all social issues. And those who seek it will find it.

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Feb 20

Wait. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Why is the federal government studying the plan of putting monitors in media newsrooms?

The Obama Administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is poised to place government monitors in newsrooms across the country in an absurdly draconian attempt to intimidate and control the media.

Before you dismiss this assertion as utterly preposterous (we all know how that turned out when the Tea Party complained that it was being targeted by the IRS), this bombshell of an accusation comes from an actual FCC Commissioner.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reveals a brand new Obama Administration program that he fears could be used in “pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”

Wait. Elite media have been covering the president very favorably, for a very long time. With no pressure.

As Commissioner Pai explains in the Wall Street Journal:

“Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.

This sounds so surreal.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

In fact, the FCC is now expanding the bounds of regulatory powers to include newspapers, which it has absolutely no authority over, in its new government monitoring program.

Wait. Wait. There’s everything wrong with this picture. Bias?! Who can remember when there wasn’t media bias? But bias is in the eyes of the beholder, and for the past half dozen years at least, it certainly favored Barack Obama. So what’s the administration seeing now that makes them leery enough to go where no administration has gone before? Talk about ‘red lines’, the executive branch of government does not cross over into the free press to exert its power.

I don’t usually or ever cite Wikipedia as a source, but it helps here. Why is the free media called the Fourth Estate?

“Fourth Estate” most commonly refers to the news media; especially print journalism or “the press”. Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britain…

In current use the term is applied to the press, with the earliest use in this sense described by Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Not so in this modern era. They long ago lost their credibility with the people, as public opinion polls continue to show. However, the media always retained their power and a certain influence that went with it to tell the people what’s happening in the world, in their country, and in their government, however they see fit to print or report the news. If wielded with responsibility and accountability, that power could and should be the people’s check on the government they elected.

Now the government is thinking of acting like this is a totalitarian state, a dictatorship.

The FCC has apparently already selected eight categories of “critical information” “that it believes local newscasters should cover.”

That’s right, the Obama Administration has developed a formula of what it believes the free press should cover, and it is going to send government monitors into newsrooms across America to stand over the shoulders of the press as they make editorial decisions.

This poses a monumental danger to constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of the press.

Every major repressive regime of the modern era has begun with an attempt to control and intimidate the press.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

The federal government has absolutely no business determining what stories should and should not be run, what is critical for the American public and what is not, whether it perceives a bias, and whose interests are and are not being served by the free press.

It’s an unconscionable assault on our free society.

Media pundit Howard Kurtz asks ‘What is the FCC thinking?

The Fairness Doctrine, which once required TV and radio stations to offer equal time for opposing points of view, is no more, and good riddance (since it discouraged stations from taking a stand on much of anything). The Obama administration swears it’s not coming back.

How, then, to explain this incursion into the substance of journalism, which seems utterly at odds with the notion of a free and unfettered press?

An attempt at an answer in a moment. But by the way, Kurtz adds:

The government has no business meddling in how journalism is practiced. And if George W. Bush’s FCC had tried this, it would be a front-page story.

That is getting to be a tired tag line, true as it is.

So, how to explain this?

“What are they thinking?” Mr. Kurtz, it’s pretty obvious; they’re thinking no one in the mainstream press has asked them a difficult or challenging question in 7 years, so why would they start now.

They’re thinking an obsequious press that couldn’t be bothered to sustain outrage over intrusions into its own phone and internet records won’t have a problem with the government parking itself into the newsroom.

They’re thinking that if the mainstream press could forgive them for considering espionage charges against a member of the press — for doing what reporters are supposed to do — and then re-commence their habitual boot-licking, there is no real risk of media folk suddenly calling out a “red line”, or even being able to identify one.

They’re figuring that with this president, the mainstream media has no idea what “a bridge too far” might mean. Nor, “abuse of power”; nor “cover-up”; nor “mendacity”, “incompetence”, “ineptitude” or “constitutional illiteracy.”

They know that half the people in the newsroom are either married to (or social buddies with) influential members of this government, and that everyone is all comfy and nicely settled in for the revolution.

They know that the press willfully surrendered its own freedoms some time ago, in the interests of ideology, and so they really won’t mind a little editorial supervision from the masters:

. . .we no longer need wonder why the mainstream media seems unconcerned about possible attacks on our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and the exercise thereof. They have already cheerfully, willfully surrendered the freedom of the press to the altar of the preferred narrative. People willing to dissolve their own freedoms so cheaply have no interest in anyone else’s freedom, either.

They know that if they like their newsroom, they can keep their newsroom, once it has been correctly updated. A Mad Man might sell the scheme as Prexy-Clean. Journalism “new and improved with powerful cleansing agents!”

I hope that helps, Mr. Kurtz.

And that’s as close as it gets to the truth of the matter, and truth matters more greatly than the media have collectively or in man cases individually considered in quite some time. This is what happens when you throw in with the powers that be, and those powers know they have you in their grip.

Like Elizabeth Scalia, I haven’t wanted to touch a political story lately, for quite a while. I try to find and focus on stories of human dignity and rights, faith and reason and justice in the balance. Not everything is political, but politics have invaded everything.

And now the federal government is considering going into media newsrooms.

So Scalia’s closing words here stand for both of us:

I didn’t want to write about this today. The truth is, I don’t even want to write about politics, anymore, because it’s all distraction and illusion and theater. I’d be happy to write about prayer and scripture, and nothing else, for the rest of my life, and maybe that’s what I’ll be doing, soon enough. But I am passionate about journalism, passionate about the need for a free press, and so I had to write, today. Without a curious press interested in protecting its own freedoms, there is no there, there. We might as well just put down the mics and turn out the lights, because it’s over.

Amen, sister. It’s not over, we’re still at our keyboards and mics, and our passion for a free and unfettered press will keep us busier than we want to be for a long time.

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Feb 20

It’s an ideology that sees humans as the scourge of the earth. How can any human get behind that?

But terribly many are, including people in high places. You can’t get your head around it, if you think straight and with the leveling force of reason. But those qualities aren’t necessarily prerequisites anymore for academics or legal scholars or members of government. And those groups are among the people who believe the world is endangered not by man’s inhumanity to man, but by humanity itself.

One of America’s leading experts in bioethics, Wesley J. Smith, has a new book and companion documentary out about this pernicious ideology, and we talked about it on radio Wednesday.

Wesley spent years that turned into decades fighting assisted suicide and euthanasia that turned his attention to bioethics and (as he said)

the idea that there was such a thing as ‘human non-persons’ and the idea that we could take away basic food and water from helpless human beings, as happened in the Terri Schiavo case, and then, good grief, I saw the issues of embryonic stem cell research come along, and then human cloning and then animal rights as a desire to create moral equality between animals and human beings, and it occurred to me that there is an overarching connection.

These are not just separate distinctions. What connects them is the desire to destroy the idea that there is such a thing as human dignity, which I came to call human exceptionalism. And I called it that not only because human beings have separate and unique value, which we do, but we’re also the only species with obligations and duties. So what duties do we have? We certainly have duties to each other, and we have duties to our posterity. No other species thinks about what will happen to their posterity one hundred years from now. We are the posterity of the founding fathers of the United States. They were thinking of us, and look what they gave us, because they were thinking of us.

We have duties to animals, to treat them properly, to not be gratuitously cruel. We have duties to treat the environment in a proper way. And this book is about how environmentalism has gone from that, understood as the proper role of making sure we dealt with these obligations properly, to, I’m afraid, one that is increasingly being infected with a radical view that sees human beings as the enemy of the planet.

Wesley continues, and the information continues to astound.

Sir David Attenborough, one of the great naturalists, who’s done so much in terms of his wildlife documentaries and so forth, has said that human beings are a plague on the planet. He has actually supported China’s one-child policy, which involves forced abortion, female infanticide, saying it has kept them from growing too big. But think of the tyranny of the one-child policy, eugenics.

It hasn’t stopped the population from growing, but people like Sir David Attenborough say ‘we don’t only have to stop the population from growing, we have to actively cut it.’ And if you’re going to actively propose cutting human population, you’re talking about some very drastic and tyrannous measures to bring down the numbers to ‘save the earth’. It’s very dangerous and it’s anti-human. It’s insidious because it seeks to stop human thriving and it seeks to transform us to seeing ourselves as just another animal in the forest. And then that’s precisely how we’ll act. We’re not animals. We’re not amoral agents. We have moral duties. We think in terms of right and wrong and ‘ought’. “

As he points out, the environmental movement rightly ordered has always been important. But this ideology not only undermines human beings, it also undermines proper environmentalism, which helps create a cleaner and better world for us.

It’s all documented in Smith’s book The War on Humans.

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Feb 17

If the Catholic Church is so out of touch and irrelevant, why the concerted efforts at the UN to drive out the Vatican’s influence?

This goes back years. Why now? And what’s behind this latest attack?

As faithful Catholics continue to contend with last week’s incendiary United Nations report attacking the Church for her teachings on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, it may be time to look closely at the real agenda at the United Nations.

For more than two decades, the UN has dedicated itself to attempting to diminish the influence of the Church on life issues. We need to begin to understand why.

In an October 2013 Crisis article entitled “Kicking the Church out of the UN,” Austin Ruse, the president of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), suggests that the reason for the hostility directed at the Church is because the Church has obstructed the goals of the population control zealots at the UN. “Starting at the Cairo Conference in 1994, the Church has been able to block an international right to abortion … the Holy See has consistently handed the Catholics for Choice, the Norwegians, the United Nations Population Fund and all the other uglies at the UN defeat after defeat.”

It is likely that last week’s UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report was payback. Despite its non-voting status at the United Nations, the Holy See has stood as the major barrier to the UN goal of universal access to abortion and contraception for young girls and women throughout the world. While the Church was unable to convince all countries—including the United States—of the evils of abortion, the Vatican, as a sovereign state, continues to play an important role at the negotiating table in areas in which the Church has a stake in helping to ensure the right to life and the dignity of the person.

The UN has attempted to end that influence.

This is so implausible, given the foundations of the United Nations on the dignity and rights of all human beings, universally.

But here we are.

So who’s looking out for whom? Sr. Mary Ann Walsh puts it well, and succinctly.

Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so…

A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church’s right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That’s what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse and is to be commended for its efforts. It would have credibility, however, if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live. Would that it made headlines because of concern for minors being trafficked in the world’s sex trade and children dying from starvation and dysentery from impure water. When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas. What a lost opportunity.

So what’s the upshot?

…the secular human rights regime believes it is at the brink of final victory in these matters. (It has believed so for about 50 years now.) The forces of obscurity are in retreat and religion no longer dictates people’s lives, at least in the civilized West. The Catholic Church, in particular, is on the ropes, a victim of its own sins and intransigence. Why not put an end to its obstructionism once and for all? This would help the cause of progress, and actually be a good thing for the Church, too.

The committee no doubt expected the negative reaction of the Vatican to last week’s report. But it may have been surprised that so many in the elite media objected too. The Economist criticized the report for being sloppy and taking positions on issues where consensus is lacking. The Atlantic’s Emma Green complained that the report inappropriately critiqued deeply-held religious beliefs. And the Boston Globe’s John Allen argued that the report would only confirm the opinion of skeptics that the UN is motivated by politics and secular ideology. Perhaps the final victory is still a ways off.

One of sound mind and clear reasoning can only hope. Or better still, hope that perhaps there will be no victory at all for the aggressors against the greatest defender of human dignity and human rights around the world.

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Jan 31

They get rock. But this is way beyond their reach or grasp.

The Rolling Stone magazine followed the trend or path of several other secular, popular press publications and put Pope Francis on its cover, accompanied by a lengthy cover story inside. How did they handle it?

Fr. Steve Grunow, theologian and CEO of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire media ministry, sees it this way.

Pope Francis is hot right now, by which I mean that his SEO ranking continues to impress and media outlets remain fascinated by this first pope from the global south. Not a bad thing, but also not a new thing. Some decades ago a pope “from a far country” was the preoccupation of the media, namely Blessed (soon to be saint) John Paul II. Benedict XVI received his own share of media attention, there was a kind of fascination with him, but minus the accolades that Pope Francis currently enjoys.

Benedict never caught a break during his pontificate.

Which brings me to the text of the article that lay beneath the cover image of the smiling Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone. What precisely is the article about? Not so much Pope Francis himself, but someone and something else. That someone in question is Pope Benedict and the something in question is a Church. Pope Francis is, according to the author of the article, a repudiation of both. Really?

The article has been written by Mark Binelli and it seems to be his purpose to present the Holy Father as a Clintonian-style Democratic liberal who will cast off the conservative overlay of traditional Catholic teaching (especially in regards to sexual morality) and unleash the ideological progressivism that is latent with the Church. I guess in this construal of things the previous pontificate of Benedict XVI is to be accepted as a shill for the ecclesial version of Reagan-style Republican conservatism.

The narrowness of Binelli’s worldview is breathtaking. But people give us what they have. The vision in which everything is but a participation in the American political ethos is a totalizing vision that serves many as the ultimate explanation of all things. This totalizing vision is evidently Binelli’s creed.

But more striking than Binelli’s totalizing vision of the American political ethos, is the venom which he spews in the direction of Pope Benedict, who is characterized by the author as akin the horror villain Freddie Krueger and whose pontificate is situated in relation to some the most notorious men who have been pope. What gives here? Is any reasonable person expected to take anything written in the article subsequent to his screed against Pope Benedict seriously? Some do and the article panders to this sentiment that has been used to malign Pope Benedict even in the years prior to his election as Successor of Peter. The dialectic at play in the article is evidently that Francis is the anti-Benedict, the new antithesis in contrast to an old thesis. The synthesis that is meant to emerge from this a Catholic Faith wholly accommodated to secular modernity- which along with the American political ethos, we are expected to believe is the measure of all things.

That last part is the money line, really.

Fr. Steve and National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez were my guests on radio Thursday for a roundtable discussion of media fascination with the pope, and the Rolling Stone story in particular. We really didn’t get past the Rolling Stone piece, it’s so lengthy and filled with so much material to discuss. Not that it had depth and heft of any theological or philosophical kind. It did not. It was an offering from the cult of personality to a distorted reflection of itself. And Francis just happened to be a convenient prop to hold up that reflection.

As Fr. Steve said early out of the gate, the writer made it sound like ‘this guy is one of us and reflects our beliefs.’ And by nasty contrast, Benedict not only did not, he was a nasty guy who headed a “disastrous papacy” that represented an archaic, corrupt, desperately behind the times, oppressive regime behind the walls of an “absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican.”

This was a hit piece on Benedict, and by extension, the magisterium of the Church he led, consistent with his predecessors on matters of faith and morals. What Rolling Stone’s writer needs to realize, said Fr. Grunow, is that Francis is “not the CEO of Corporation Church.”

But besides the business model, there’s the political, which is really underlying this piece. And the writer and magazine’s editors and other media outlets would benefit from Fr. Grunow’s insights that American media commentators tend to see the world through the lens of American political ideology.

Perhaps Pope Francis, whose vision of the Catholic Faith is illuminated by a Light different than the contrary lights of secular modernity, knows that a Pope is not measured by the standards applied to political authority or executive office or celebrity, but in his willingness to bear witness to a Faith that has endured since the time of the apostles. Maybe [writer Mark] Binelli believes that Pope Francis does this better than Pope Benedict, but none of the categories of understanding he employs in his article evidence that he actually knows what the Apostolic Faith is or what Francis and Benedict themselves believed about it. Binelli doesn’t even try in this regard and this is the main reason one comes away from the article with the sense that the purpose of the piece was to convince us that if Pope Francis isn’t the person described by the author, he should be. This isn’t journalism in service to truth, it is propaganda in service to ideology.

And though that would have been the best final line on this piece, Fr. Grunow actually delivered one on the radio show, right near the end of an hour of compelling conversation. On a positive note, he said, the smiling face of Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone may represent the first time that magazine prominently featured someone who is free, a person with freedom from slavery to obsessions, freedom from imprisonment to idols. “He’s saying what the world offers is not replenishing the human spirit. Leave that behind, that doesn’t renew your spirit. There’s encounter, there’s trust building, there’s a truth telling that liberates. Pope Francis is a free man, he’s not held bound by any of those spectacles, but I just don’t think they get it.”

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Jan 28

It takes many forms, and it snakes its way through cultural relativism. But it’s alive and very active.

The topic is probably worth a book, certainly a long article or series. For purposes of a manageable blog post for now, let’s look at some recent events in light of other related events and see how the pieces fit together to form a picture.

Fr. Robert Barron is the force and the voice behind the Catholicism Series. So he’s an important voice to listen to when he speaks out about some recent anti-Catholic outbursts, and why they should bother everyone.

Last week two outrageously anti-Catholic outbursts took place in the public forum. The first was an article in U.S. News and World Report by syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm. Ms. Stiehm argued that the Supreme Court was dangerously packed with Catholics, who have, she averred, a terribly difficult time separating church from state and who just can’t refrain from imposing their views on others. Her meditations were prompted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s granting some legal breathing space to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were objecting to the provisions of the HHS mandate. As even a moment’s thoughtful consideration would reveal, this decision hadn’t a thing to do with the intrusion of the “church” into the state, in fact just the contrary. Moreover, the appeal of American citizens (who happen to be Catholic nuns) and the decision of a justice of the Supreme Court in no way constitute an “imposition” on anyone. The very irrationality of Stiehm’s argument is precisely what has led many to conclude that her column was prompted by a visceral anti-Catholicism which stubbornly persists in our society.

Clearly and correctly stated. This is true.

The second eruption of anti-Catholicism was even more startling. In the course of a radio interview, Governor Andrew Cuomo blithely declared that anyone who is pro-life on the issue of abortion or who is opposed to gay marriage is “not welcome” in his state of New York. Mind you, the governor did not simply say that such people are wrong-headed or misguided; he didn’t say that they should be opposed politically or that good arguments against their position should be mounted; he said they should be actively excluded from civil society! As many commentators have already pointed out, Governor Cuomo was thereby excluding roughly half of the citizens of the United States and, presumably, his own father, Mario Cuomo, who once famously declared that he was personally opposed to abortion. Again, the very hysterical quality of this statement suggests that an irrational prejudice gave rise to it.

This needs to be addressed and confronted. Fr. Barron takes us back through historical anti-Catholicism and it’s good to remind Americans of what it was.

But…

What is particularly troubling today is the manner in which this deep-seated anti-Catholicism is finding expression precisely through that most enduring and powerful of American institutions, namely the law. We are a famously litigious society: The law shapes our identity, protects our rights, and functions as a sanction against those things we find dangerous. Increasingly, Catholics are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, especially in regard to issues of sexual freedom. The HHS mandate is predicated upon the assumption that access to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs is a fundamental right, and therefore to stand against facilitating this access, as the Church must, puts Catholics athwart the law. The same is true in regard to gay marriage. To oppose this practice is not only unpopular or impolitic, but, increasingly, contrary to legal statute. Already, in the context of the military, chaplains are encouraged and in some cases explicitly forbidden to condemn gay marriage, as this would constitute a violation of human rights.

And this is why the remarks by Andrew Cuomo are especially chilling. That a governor of a major state — one of the chief executives in our country — could call for the exclusion of pro-lifers and those opposed to gay marriage suggests that the law could be used to harass, restrict, and, at the limit, attack Catholics. Further, the attitude demonstrated by the son of Mario Cuomo suggests that there is a short path indeed from the privatization of Catholic moral convictions to the active attempt to eliminate those convictions from the public arena. I would hope, of course, that it is obvious how this aggression against Catholics in the political sphere ought deeply to concern everyone in a supposedly open society. If the legal establishment can use the law to aggress Catholics, it can use it, another day, to aggress anyone else.

Which recalls Martin Niemoller’s ‘First They Came…”

Which precisely gets to the point of the Nazi Holocaust and the belief in ‘lebensunwertens lebens’, or ‘life unworthy of life’, when an entire class of human beings can be denied any human rights when another class has power over them.

And that gets to this past week’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade in America, 41 years of abortion on demand. And President Obama’s remarks to observe that anniversary. And Fr. Barron’s assistant Brandon Vogt taking those remarks to task, challenging the message.

Here’s the message:

Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom. And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Here’s Brandon Vogt’s challenge:

Though relatively short, the President’s statement is packed with several confusing assertions. I’d like to respond to some of them:

“[W]e recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

It’s true that every woman should have liberty to make decisions regarding her own body, but not the body of another. Modern embryology affirms that a new human life is created at fertilization (i.e., conception.) Therefore abortion intentionally destroys the life, and thus the body, of an innocent human being. We all should have choices, but nobody should have the freedom to murder anyone else.

“We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care.”

Everyone agrees that women (and men) deserve safe, affordable healthcare. That’s not the question. The question is whether the restrictions put in place by Roe v. Wade constitute healthcare. Unfortunately, they primarily concern the right of mothers to uninhibitedly take the life of their children. It’s not healthcare to disrupt a healthy and normally functioning process (e.g., pregnancy) nor is it healthcare to destroy the health of unborn babies.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] constitutional right to privacy”

Like many Constitutional rights, the right to privacy is not absolute. In the eyes of the law, what a woman does with her own body in her own environment is her own concern. Yet when her choices threaten the lives of innocent others, the common good trumps her right to privacy. We all intuitively understand this. It’s why we agree that invading drug labs trumps a drug dealer’s right to privacy. The same principle applies here: women have a right to privacy, but not at the expense of innocent lives.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] right to reproductive freedom.”

I agree! Women should be completely free to reproduce however and, with certain qualifications, wherever and with whomever they will. But Roe v. Wade doesn’t concern reproduction at all. It regards what happens *after* reproduction occurs, after a new, unique, individual human has already been produced by his or her parents. I agree we should promote reproductive freedom but not the freedom to terminate any resulting children.

This is intellectual honesty we seldom see, directed at each line of the president’s remarks. This is engagement we need.

“[We resolve to] support maternal and child health”

I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports child health when it seems that 100% of the children it directly affects are no longer alive.

Yet it doesn’t support maternal health either. By violently disrupting a healthy bodily function, abortion leads to increased depression, cancer, mental illness, future pregnancy complications, and more.

Also, note the President’s chilling word choice here. He didn’t resolve to support women’s health, but specifically “maternal” health. The word maternal connotes motherhood, and you can only be a mother if you have a child. This subtle choice insinuates that the President knows well that pregnant mothers carry children, not some abstract clump of cells, and therefore abortion is not a neutral surgical procedure. It involves a mother intending the death of her child.

“[We resolve to] build safe and healthy communities for all our children.

Again, I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports children. Abortion doesn’t result in safe and healthy communities for children. It results in less children.

“Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

I wholeheartedly agree! And that’s why Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The misguided court decision crushes the rights of unborn citizens for the sake of born citizens. It smashes their freedom and opportunity on the altar of false liberty. Everyone in this country deserves the same rights—men, women, and children—especially the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

Argue with that, and you are defending age discrimination, among other class distinctions.

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Jan 22

Human dignity and human rights, “for all God’s children.”

How ironic that the day set aside to honor Dr. King is only a few days before the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade anniversary. What would he say?

Alveda King, the niece of MLK and a dedicated pro-life advocate, notes her uncle was strongly pro-life.

“Were he alive today, he would be working to secure peace and justice for those in the womb and healing for a nation that is still pained by over 53 million missing lives,” King says. The toll abortion has taken on the African American community is enough to shock the conscience of every American.

According to the US Census Bureau, African Americans comprise 12.4% of the American population; however, over 30% of the nation’s abortions are done on black women. Recently released data from the New York City Department of Health shows the Big Apple hitting a 40% abortion rate. As if that number wasn’t appalling enough, when the data is broken down all racial lines, around 60% percent of New York City’s abortions are done on black women. In other words, 1,448 African American babies are aborted for every 1,000 born. Among black teens in New York City, that number jumps to a staggering 72% abortion rate or 2,360 abortions for every 1,000 babies born.

Read that. Engage this issue.

Center for Disease Control data shows that since Roe vs. Wade (1973) abortion has been the leading cause of death among African Americans. More African Americans have lost their lives to abortion than to heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes or AIDS- combined.

Let that sink in. It’s not a coincidence.

African Americans are a prime target of the abortion industry. In analyzing the location of the nation’s abortion centers, some have found a disproportionate number situated in majority-black neighborhoods. One such center was that of Kermit Gosnell, the disgraced abortionist from Philadelphia who is now charged with murder after the deaths of at least two women and seven newborn infants at his facility.

According to the Grand Jury report, the Gosnell abortion business preyed upon low-income black women. These women were subjected to absolutely deplorable conditions. Basic health considerations were ignored and abortions were being performed by unlicensed and even untrained staff using unsanitary surgical instruments.

That trial should have made a huge difference, one that’s bee overdue for decades.

The Gosnell case made national headlines but his business strategy of targeting low-income black women is not an anomaly in the abortion industry. This goes back to the beginning of the modern pro-abortion movement with Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, an unabashed eugenicist.

Despite its claims otherwise, the pro-abortion movement does a grave disservice to African American women and the greater African American community. Abortion advocates fail black women when they rally against common sense clinic regulations, which could have prevented the Gosnell tragedy. They fail black women when they work to undermine crisis pregnancy centers, which are an invaluable resource for so many low-income black women. And they fail the African American community by denying basic humanity to black babies in the womb.

Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly envisioned an America in which everyone would be free to share in the same opportunities as everyone else.

However…

In legalizing abortion-on-demand, the Court ruled that a group of people, namely unborn children, did not deserve any legal protection whatsoever. For this reason, Roe vs. Wade is completely antithetical to King’s Dream.

Abortion has not made our society more equitable. In fact, it has done the opposite. Abortion has allowed society to arbitrarily decide whose lives are valuable and whose are expendable. True equality treats all human life the same, regardless of race, stage of development or condition of dependency. Abortion prevents millions of African Americans from sharing in King’s Dream and it must be ended.

That’s why they march, the pro-life movement who began giving voice to the voiceless on the first anniversary of Roe. Like King, they never gave up and never will. In fact, their ranks are only growing larger and younger and more determined. They’ve spread from the annual Washington DC rally and March for Life throughout the country to the West Coast Walk for Life.

The Chicago March for Life held last Sunday had a tenfold increase in participants over last year, and they were loud, joyful, exuberant, determined, happy, hopeful, positive, and very supportive. The plaza erupted at just about everything any speaker said, starting with the young African-American woman who was pressured to have an abortion but looked into a pregnancy help center where she found support and everything she needed to keep her baby, which wound up being babies when she learned she had twins. The beautiful little girls, Amelia and Olivia, were with her on stage as she spoke of hope and life and aid for women.

Two congressmen, Democrat Dan Lipinski and Republican Peter Roskam, spoke of bipartisan support for the protection of all human life and women’s health in Congress. They were brief but powerfully moving, invoking predecessors in the cause of human rights, including the drafters of the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Martin Luther King invoked that, too. On many occasions. Because the majority of Americans still hold those truths as self-evident.

In one of his lesser known addresses, ‘Our God Is Marching On’, King explained why he and his movement marched.

He said “it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama.” In that city, “a new philosophy was born” of the struggle of the oppressed, one that united an entire community to squarely face the oppressors. And out of that struggle, he said, a powerful new idea was born, one “that electrified the nation and the world.”

And then “the conscience of America began to bleed.” And as a result “of this democratic spirit,” the nation finally forced Congress  to write legislation in the hope that it would eradicate “the stain of Birmingham”, of discrimination of a whole class of human beings by another class. And that legislation gave them some degree of “their rightful dignity”.

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger  at the side of its embattled [Blacks].

At the side of its embattled, oppressed fellow human beings discriminated against and denied human rights by a class of human beings who had the legal right to do so, until those laws changed.

That’s why they marched then, said Dr. King. That’s why they march today.

 

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Jan 15

This is about what’s being heard.

And news reporters heard different things about it, apparently.

They also use agenda driven language to report it, sometimes doing semantic gymnastics to cue readers to feel positive or negative to different groups, as Walter Lippman described in his exceptional little book Public Opinion.

The Hill reports that Justices appear split on clinic buffer zones.

The Supreme Court appeared split Wednesday during arguments over whether buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts violate free speech rights. The case centers on anti-abortion-rights activists who desire to speak to women as they enter reproductive healthcare clinics in the state. A 2007 law created a buffer zone around clinics in Massachusetts, mandating that protesters and would-be sidewalk counselors remain 35 feet away from entrances.

“The case centers on anti-abortion-rights activists who desire to speak to women as they enter reproductive healthcare clinics in the state.” That sentence alone is worth a post. Along with clarification on the buffer zone that forces “protesters” and “would-be sidewalk counselors” to remain as far from entrances as possible.

Back some years ago, media style books changed the identifier ‘pro-life’ to a variety of negative terms, even if they are bulky and transparent, like “anti-abortion-rights activists.” Although the term ‘pro-lifer’ had become a pejorative at that point, it still had to be changed, because someone of the opposite belief, cause or ideology would have to be “pro” something opposite, and they just couldn’t handle being “pro-abortion.”

If we are to level the playing field for public debate, what would be the equal and opposite term for people who favor abortion on demand? They’re never called “anti” anything, never called “activists”, and never associated with the word “rights” unless it’s attached to abortion. Such as, say, human rights. Because if there is a pregnant woman, there is a human life in her. The doctor treating her is treating two patients. The abortionist ‘terminates’ one of them, ending her or his life. But that’s the law, and we’re just talking about language for now. And we’ll get back to that buffer zone law in a moment. I just want honesty here.

So let’s use language that describes people fairly. Though that would require the acknowledgement by abortion-rights activists (yes, they are activists, too) that “people”, or let’s boil it down to ‘human beings’, have their lives ended in what that Hill piece refers to as “reproductive healthcare clinics”, a euphemism for abortion clinics. The life that reproduction started is not given “healthcare” in those clinics, it is terminated, ended, killed and discarded. Just to be clear.

And by the way, what makes a sidewalk counselor a “would-be” sidewalk counselor, other than the intention to sneer at the term and dismiss the likelihood such person would actually be on that sidewalk to provide something of aid to women within earshot, who made the choice to pay attention to them. It is, after all, about choice, isn’t it?

Over at Politico, they handled the same story a bit differently, saying Justices were “skeptical”, significantly so.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday showed significant skepticism about a Massachusetts law that restricts speech around abortion facilities, with justices suggesting that it could violate the First Amendment.

The Politico piece also uses the standard media language setting the scene and describing the players, but it’s more probing and analytical.

Here’s the setup:

Massachusetts, joined by the Obama administration during oral arguments, defended a state law that prohibits speech within 35 feet of an abortion facility entrance except for passersby and employees or other agents of the clinic or health care facility.

Opponents of the law, including a woman who regularly tries to conduct “sidewalk counseling” outside of a Boston clinic and who brought this case, say the exemption for employees creates an unconstitutional imbalance in speech. The woman, Eleanor McCullen, said her anti-abortion speech is limited while the speech of those who support the clinic is not.

But Jennifer Miller, who argued the case for Massachusetts, said the law restricts pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights speech in similar ways and that anything a clinic employee says inside the buffer zone is merely “incidental” speech.

Here’s some context and analytical reporting:

A key issue in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, is whether Massachusetts can differentiate between people who want to peaceably protest or consult people outside of the facility and those who intend to be violent or disruptive. Miller, as well as the Obama administration, argued that it is “enormously difficult” to make that distinction, so everything from loud protests to quiet conversations must be restricted.

Kennedy suggested they were exaggerating the difficulty.

“Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked,” Kennedy declared, adding that he’s troubled that the Massachusetts law forbids even quiet talk.

“You said there is no guarantee of talking quietly?” he questioned to Miller. “Do you want me to write an opinion and say there’s no free speech right to quietly converse on an issue of public importance?”

Good question. I also learned today from the head of a legal firm that had counsel present in the courtroom that Justice Scalia continued what insiders call his “abortion distortion” line of question, probing a lawyer on his constant use of the term “protestors” for pro-life advocates, or activists, outside the clinics.

Politico continues:

The court’s makeup has changed significantly since the 2000 case, Hill v. Colorado, which created a floating 8-foot buffer zone around someone entering the clinic. Massachusetts’s law draws a fixed line, 35 feet away from the door, that no one but patients and employees can cross.

The court’s ideological center has moved since then, from former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to Kennedy. And the court now includes includes Alito — who strongly questioned the proponents of the Massachusetts law — as well as Roberts, Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan, the newest justice, said she had no problem asking “everyone take a step back” outside of a high-tension facility such as an abortion clinic. But she questioned why Massachusetts needed as much as 35 feet.

Another good question.

And here’s an important point that must be made, and was made before the Supreme Court justices.

Mark L. Rienzi, the attorney representing McCullen, insisted that keeping the anti-abortion rights activists [or pro-lifers] so far away inevitably changed their speech, making it more confrontational.

“If you sent me 35 feet further back [from the lectern] and asked me to make my argument from there … you might hear me, but I would suggest you’d receive it quite differently,” he said.

Precisely. I’ve been at two of these locations before, seen the pro-life people praying, heard them talking quietly among themselves and to me, and whenever a car pulled up and a woman got out, rushed by an abortion clinic escort, I heard one or two pro-life people call out to them to offer help.

Much later, in a salon conversation with the young woman owner I’ve known for years and been friends with as long, this twenty-something single woman told me about going to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic to get her refill of the pill, and she felt intimidated by ‘those people shouting at me from the other side of the parking lot.’  Knowing the perception and the reality, I casually mentioned that there’s an ordinance requiring them to be that far away, and they weren’t really yelling at her, but projecting their voices to be heard. Thinking she may be going in for an abortion, they wanted her to know there was help for women in a crisis pregnancy who had no other answer. They wanted to offer answers, I said, but couldn’t be heard unless they raised their voices on the other side of that ‘bubble zone’ (as it’s known in these parts) to call out to the women.

She listened, and seemed to deliberate over that.

Now, the justices will do the same.

“It’s plainly discriminatory for the government to say that abortion supporters can speak freely at a given place, but pro-lifers cannot,” said Fr. Frank Pavone, well-known head of Priests for Life. “Then again, bubble zone laws and abortion are based on the same illicit notion, namely that some people have rights and some people don’t.”

The Supreme Court will rule sometime before the end of the term in June.

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Jan 14

Sir Thomas More said he was the king’s good servant, but God’s first.  This modern day version isn’t far off.

They were just minding their business serving the poor, sick and dying when the HHS mandate came down requiring them and other employers to provide healthcare coverage that supplied birth control, the ‘morning-after’ pill (both of which can cause abortion of new human life) and elective sterilization as ‘preventive medicine’ for women, free of charge to those women. Even though birth control is widely available even to women on low incomes or public aid through the Title X federal grant, among other programs.

Before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in HHS mandate lawsuits in March, I’m planning to do a primer here on the basics, which many people still don’t know, based on a lot of uninformed remarks online and throughout the media about the truth and realities of the mandate, its impetus, its overreach, its punitive threat for non-compliance, and its violation of established law.

But the ruling Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued late on New Year’s Eve shed a lot of light on the controversy, and made the Little Sisters of the Poor the unlikely emblem of conscientious objection to government intrusion on basic human rights.

U.S. News & World Report published this backlash calling Sotomayor’s ruling a ‘war on women’, saying she can’t be trusted on “women’s health and human rights”. And that was only the beginning of a tirade on her and the high court, because of its Catholic justices.

HotAir.com tried to navigate that piece.

It’s difficult to pick a place to start with Jamie Stiehm’s anti-Catholic diatribe yesterday that US News’ editors somehow decided to publish as part of their opinion section. It’s such a target-rich environment that it challenges the restrictions of fair use and copyright law, but so ludicrously entertaining that it rises to must-read level. Stiehm uses the issuance of a very temporary stay by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor to argue that Catholics have seized control of the Supreme Court — and really should be excluded from any position of power at all:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let’s be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing.
Let’s test that hypothesis. How many key decisions have been made by the Supreme Court on a 6-3, Catholic/Jewish basis? After all, if Catholicism is the deciding factor in American jurisprudence, then that’s the kind of split we’d most often see, no? Either that or nothing but 9-0 decisions, since Catholics and Jews share a common basis for faith, philosophy, and moral law.

And what has Stiehm so steamed? Not an actual decision by Sotomayor, or even an opinion. Sotomayor issued a temporary stay in enforcing the HHS contraception mandate on Catholic nuns, who would otherwise have to facilitate birth-control insurance coverage or face ruinous fines. Apparently, even an interruption in this mandate rises to the level of gender treason and theocracy.

But never mind facts. When someone is so angry they can become irrational.

Does Stiehm know that nuns are celibate and therefore don’t require birth control, free or otherwise? And that they clearly don’t want birth-control coverage? A mandate that requires nuns to sign a waiver that facilitates coverage of birth control is farcical on its face. Talk about imposing beliefs. The nuns (and other plaintiffs against the mandate with stronger cases) aren’t attempting to prevent employers from providing birth control; they’re trying to stop the government from forcing them to distribute and pay for it, directly or indirectly.

Read the whole piece, Ed Morrissey does his level best to tackle the points of the US News piece.

Elizabeth Scalia has been blogging on this, wondering if US News would issue a correction or apology or some sort of acknowledgement that their pages had allowed such an ‘unprofessional screed’. What they did issue, she contends, was an approval of the unhinged piece Stiehm originally wrote in reaction to Sotomayor’s ruling.

The long-awaited statement from U.S. News was released yesterday evening. Editor Brian Kelly has this to say, regarding Jamie Stiehm’s column dated January 7:

“…We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.”

That’s weak; a very shortsighted response. Stiehm’s piece was not a standard professional commentary; it was a full-scale, blanket condemnation of a particular set of people, flavored with a strong suggestion that those sorts of people should probably be excluded from the public square.

Let’s take a second look at what Stiehm wrote, insert words other than “Catholic” into her lines, and we can wonder whether Mr. Kelly would be quite so cavalier about printing the following:

(Note: This is a thought experiment by Scalia replacing only Catholic identifiers with other identify groups, and otherwise leaving the accusations in place.)

Lesbians often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

Jews in high places of power have the most trouble, I’ve noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Jewish Justice. . .is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one.

The seemingly innocent Black Sisters likely were likely not acting alone in their trouble-making. Their big brothers, the meddlesome NAACP are bound to be involved. [Blacks] seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere.

In one stroke with ominous implications, there’s no such thing as Gay justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from GLAAD.

The Dome of the Rock refuses to budge on women’s reproductive right. . .

(Thought experiment ends here. Scalia continues:)

I am going to make a good-faith assumption that Mr. Kelly did not attempt that little exercise before handing down the statement. Had he done so, I find it very difficult to believe that he (or op-ed page Managing Editor, Robert Schlesinger) would still think it fell “within the bounds of fair commentary.”

Or, perhaps they would, and if so they need to admit it. Their readership certainly deserves to know what they stand for, and if U.S. News is going to embrace such a radical editorial policy, they might as well put it out there and say, “yes, we would be just as content with Stiehm’s column if she had expressed exactly these sentiments about Lesbians, or Jews, or African Americans, or Gay men, or Muslims, because we agree that there are some kinds of people who simply should not be trusted to participate in American governance, and it’s time to stop being so politically correct and say it.”

That would almost be refreshing, truth be told.

Until, of course, people understood that this is how jackboots are constructed.

I hope U.S. News will give it another shot. As I said in this piece, the knee-jerk habit of silencing anyone — left or right — who misspeaks or says something stupid or even vile, does not allow for education, reconciliation, enlightenment or enlarged thinking, and I have never supported it. We need to move beyond making people “go away”, because scalp-collecting begs retaliation. And too, we really do need to know what people actually think, not merely what they say. That way, there are no surprises when movements spring up.

But clarity of purpose is required, and as regards this matter, things are still murky. When I asked Schlesinger if he cared to comment further, he declined, so we still need answers: Why, precisely, does U.S. News think Stiehm’s piece fine and fair, as it is, and to what end do they defend it? Are they saying “let ‘er rip” and endorsing full-scale hate speech as something good and necessary — the inevitable corrective to thirty years of hedging language, used in service to ersatz and redefined notions of “tolerance” and “sensitivity”? If that’s what they’re intending, that might at least be interesting and some people may even applaud it; the policing of public language has left us leery of each other, flocking to echo chambers that feel “safe” but have furthered our polarization.

If U.S. News intends a correction in public dialogue, let them own it.

USA Today’s editorial board published this. Their view on ‘Obamacare overreach’: ‘Nuns and birth control don’t mix’

When the Obama administration picked a fight with Catholics and other religious groups over free birth control coverage for employees, sooner or later it was bound to end up doing battle with a group like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And sure enough, the administration is now stuck arguing that it is justified in compelling nuns who care for the elderly poor to assist in offering health insurance that they say conflicts with their religious beliefs. Talk about a political loser…

Wisely, churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but the administration wrote rules so narrowly that they failed to exempt Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities. Its position was constitutionally suspect, politically foolish and ultimately unproductive. The number of women affected is likely so small that the administration could find some less divisive way to provide the coverage.

Instead, the administration is battling Catholic bishops and nuns, Southern Baptists, Christ-centered colleges and assorted religious non-profits that filed challenges across the country. The lawsuits stem from an “accommodation” President Obama offered after his too-narrow religious exemption caused an uproar in 2012.

The accommodation is more of a fig leaf than a fix: Although religiously affiliated non-profits do not have to supply birth control coverage themselves, they must sign a certification that allows their insurance companies to provide it instead. Some non-profits have acquiesced, but not the Little Sisters and others who argue that this makes them complicit in an act that violates a tenet of their faith. If the non-profits refuse to sign, they face ruinous fines — $4.5 million a year for just two of the Little Sisters’ 30 homes.

So far, the government is on a losing streak. In 19 of 20 cases, including the Little Sisters’, judges have granted preliminary relief to the non-profits, allowing them to press their claims. The administration should take the hint.

In several cases, even if the government wins, the whole exercise will not result in a single woman getting a single free contraceptive, because under a different law, the insurers themselves are exempt. So what exactly does the administration hope to gain?

Finally, some good questions and attempts at more thorough reporting on the issues surrounding the HHS mandate .

Evangelical leader Dr. Timothy George published this thoughtful piece in First Things Monday.

It is not surprising that abortion extremists have blasted the justice [Sotomayor] for “selling out the sisterhood” and for being “just a good Catholic girl” who “put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence.”

Earlier on the same day, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to President Obama on behalf of his fellow bishops. He asked the president to use his executive authority to broaden the religious exemption to provide relief to many Catholics and other Christians in non-profit institutions affected by the mandate. In particular, he appealed on behalf of those whose religiously informed conscience will not allow them to provide—or to “designate” others to provide for them—sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. Of course, such things are legally available at moderate costs in this country and could readily be given to all without forcing the Little Sisters and others to go through this conscience-crushing exercise. The situation could also be ameliorated by the government’s simply recognizing the Little Sisters as a “religious employer” which, by any commonsense definition, they clearly are. The Kurtz letter urged the president to offer “temporary relief from this mandate, as you have for so many other individuals and groups facing other requirements under the ACA.” To my knowledge, His Excellency has yet to receive a response.

How did a modest order of women religious—only 2,700 members worldwide—with a mission to care for the elderly poor become the center of a raging social and political controversy?

Dr. George examines the history of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the legacy of their founder.

Jeanne Jugan, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, has been called the Mother Teresa of her times…

So why are the Little Sisters caught up in the mandate madness? Why can’t they just get on with their good works and forget about their conscientious scruples? Or, as has been suggested, why won’t they just sign a piece of paper and let someone else do their dirty work—surrogate soldiers and contract killings are quite common in some circles.

The answer is quite simple: They actually believe all that stuff they claim to believe. Just like the early Christians who refused to place a pinch of incense on the altar of the imperial deity in order to escape reprisals and recrimination, the Little Sisters of the Poor know, as St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, that they are not their own, that they do not belong to themselves, that they have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Little Sisters will not violate their core values for the sake of expediency. Among those values is this one: “Reverence for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest. This is reflected in care that is holistic and person-centered.”

On April 8, 2013, the Little Sisters responded to the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” from the Department of Health and Human Services by stating that “the federal government should not force us to counteract through the health benefits for our employees the very same Gospel of Life that we attempt to live out in communion and solidarity with the needy elderly.”

This should be self-evident.

George concludes with this anecdote.

On New Year’s Eve, as Americans first heard about Justice Sotomayor’s ruling—some cheering, some bemoaning—the delightful and spontaneous Pope Francis in Rome picked up the phone to make a surprise call, as he is wont to do. He was trying to reach a group of Carmelite nuns in Spain in order to wish them a Happy New Year. Instead, he got that most annoying of modern contrivances, the answering machine. In the message he left, the pope wondered what the good sisters were doing on New Year’s Eve that they could not answer the phone (in fact, they were praying). He promised to call them back, which he did.

I can think of no group that better exemplifies the mission and heart of Pope Francis with his winsome call for mercy and ministry to the poor, the neglected, the least wanted in our society than the Little Sisters of the Poor. Abortion and contraception are not the central concerns of their day-to-day ministry and work. But their consciences have been well formed on these issues by the best of Catholic teaching, including this statement by Pope Francis last August, often reiterated before and since, that “human life must always be defended from its beginning in the womb.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Holy Father, prompted by the Spirit, would be led to call the Little Sisters of the Poor? I believe they would answer the phone.

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