Genocide Resolution needs congressional attention

Signatures. It needs signatures on the bottom line.

It’s more than words on paper, but let’s start with the words.

Members of Congress introduced a resolution on Thursday to label the atrocities committed by the Islamic State against Christians and other religious minorities “genocide.”

“Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide,” stated Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who helped introduce the resolution. Fortenberry is co-chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

“The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands,” he continued.

Six representatives — three Democrats and three Republicans — introduced the bipartisan resolution. On Thursday, advocates with the non-partisan group In Defense of Christians met with more than 250 congressional offices, asking them to support the resolution.

Quoting from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the document states that the atrocities committed against Christians and the other religious minorities in the Middle East meet the convention’s definition of genocide.

That’s hugely important, say experts I’ve spoken with on this particular topic on radio in the past month. Call it what it is, name it, and especially declare that it is genocide, says Princeton Professor Robert George, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. And Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. And Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus and author of this Resolution.

The resolution also called for governments to stop the atrocities and for U.N. member states to sign on to a “concurrent resolution” and “with an urgent appeal to the Arab states that wish to uphold religious freedom, tolerance and justice.” The parties must also help set up “domestic, regional and international tribunals to punish those responsible for the ongoing crimes.”

Skeptics who think Congress pushes a lot of paper and gets little done should pay attention to this. It carries weight, and can have an impact.

USCIRF Chief Robert George told me this will task Congress with a different mission, once the language of ‘genocide’ is used officially. Renowned international human rights advocate Dr. Thomas Farr told me that passing a resolution in Congress requires action by the U.S. government, “by treaty and by law”. It “creates a gateway” for the United States to provide humanitarian aid, protection and faster refugee processing for victims of the atrocities, calling them what they are, ‘crimes against humanity’, said Cong. Fortenberry, one of the leaders helping In Defense of Christians expand and extend the campaign of awareness and relief in a network of global advocacy and activism.

Along with human rights hero Congressman Frank Wolf, Dr. Farr has long passionately worked for religious freedom and protection of minorities from persecution and now, genocide. Here’s the letter both collaborated on to ask President Obama to call what is happening what it is, genocide.

We write as an informal and diverse group of non-governmental organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates to express our grave concern for religious minorities, among them Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, at the hands of the Islamic State. We urge you to formally declare the systematic destruction of these ancient communities a genocide.

Mounting evidence indisputably shows the Islamic State’s ongoing genocidal campaign in the Middle East through its attempts to create a global caliphate devoid of religious freedom and diversity. For more than a year, the news headlines have been replete with stories of almost unimaginable human suffering caused by the Islamic State. Religious minorities in these lands, among them the ancient Christian, Yezidi and Shia Muslim communities, have suffered grave injustices: displacement, forced conversion, kidnapping, rape and death…

A report released in March from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” Furthermore, the report calls for the Security Council “to remain seized of and address, in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide.” It is imperative that the United States government and the global community universally acknowledge this issue as such.

As opposed to previous such instances in modern history, there has been no attempt by the Islamic State to conceal its actions. On the contrary, the group shamelessly broadcasts decapitations, crucifixions, forced drownings and other horrors with the sole purpose of spreading its message of destruction and recruiting more agents to the ranks of its diabolical insurgency. Under the Islamic State, religious minorities now face an existential crisis and live on the edge of extinction in the lands that many have inhabited since antiquity. These communities will continue on a trajectory of tragic and precipitous decline into eventual non existence without swift moral leadership on behalf of the administration and the international community.

(Emphasis added.)

It is our belief that officially declaring and subsequently halting this genocide and its spread is a matter of vital moral and strategic importance for the United States, the international community, and the overall state of religious freedom around the world. Perhaps equally as important, such a declaration will give a stronger voice to the long suffering victims while furthering and sharpening ideological engagement against those currently at the forefront of this campaign.

We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished and that the religious freedom and human dignity of all people currently suffering under the Islamic State are allowed to flourish.

Meanwhile

The Islamist genocide — and there can be no doubt that it is genocide, despite world silence – of the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other defenseless ethno-religious minorities of Syria and Iraq continues. The killing of these peoples is deliberate and brutal and is rooted in religious hatred of the “infidel.” It is meted out in sudden violent executions, mass deportations, and the gradual, methodical destruction of their civilizations. Washington is blind to this genocide that occurs alongside, but is separate from, a sectarian Muslim power struggle. It has failed to defend them militarily. Now it is failing to provide humanitarian help in the only manner left: resettling the survivors out of harm’s way, in countries where they will be able to rebuild their families and preserve their unique ancient cultures without fear. Rescue is the very minimum we can do to help these victims of genocide.

Read it and weep.

Nina Shea concludes, for now, with this:

Dakhil says the Yazidis feel abandoned by Washington and the world. Iraqi Christian and Mandean representatives have recently said the same to me. Many of these peoples are desperate to leave the region. They do not want to leave to seek economic opportunities, or even to escape the wartime deprivations, but to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are not being targeted because they are political dissidents or bear arms in conflict. They are targeted solely for religious reasons. This is genocide and we are morally and legally bound to help them. A military resolution to this crisis will be too late for these peoples. Catholic priest Father Douglas Bazi, the director of the renowned Mar Elias refugee encampment for Iraqi Christians in Erbil, tells me: “Help us live. Help us leave.” They need visas. The West can easily provide them, and it must.

While we wait for the US president to respond, the UK Prime Minister got engaged.

David Cameron has given his support to a new report into the persecution of Christians around the world.

In a statement read out at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2013-15? at the House of Lords today, the Prime Minister said that, “Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”

“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.

“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”

According to the report, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq “possibly within five years” unless the international community offer substantial assistance to the persecuted faithful there.

This is a global alert.

The report features a foreword by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, whose city has been destroyed by fighting.

In it he wrote: “My own cathedral has been bombed six times and is now unusable. My home has also been hit more than 10 times. We are facing the rage of an extremist jihad; we may disappear soon. In both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities – along with other vulnerable minorities – are defenceless against assaults by Daesh (ISIS). We are the prime target of the so-called caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign.”

This isn’t another news story to shake our heads at and say ‘that’s too bad, someone ought to do something.’ This is a coalition of international leaders trying to do something.

Recently, the In Defense of Christians (IDC) organization presented Dr. Thomas Farr with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in human rights. Two international leading officials of IDC presented Dr. Farr with a crucifix from a church in Mosul, Iraq to be held in safe-keeping until it could be returned upon the restoration of Christianity in the region.

I only learned that after he last spoke with me, recently, on radio. It gave even more gravity to his urgent appeal for citizens in the US to call on their Members of Congress, the men and women people elected to serve there, to support two pieces of urgent legislation in the House of Representatives.

H.R. 1150:

…amending the International Religious Freedom Act to give Ambassador Saperstein the status that other ambassadors at large at the Department of State enjoy, the authority to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy. It would also mandate training for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors. This training would ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy. (emphasis added)

And H.R 75 (down the list of ‘Whereas’ specifications):

Whereas, on July 10, 2015, Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, declared that Middle Eastern Christians are facing genocide, a reality that must be ‘‘denounced’’ and that ‘‘In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocideand I stress the word genocide—is taking place, and it must end.’’ (emphasis added)

The people are calling on government, purported and in fact elected to be the leaders of the free world, to DO something, for crying out loud.

And if they lack ideas, many suggestions are contained therein.

Abortion in Obamacare and government standoff

There may be a lot of people and issues causing the deep divide in government, but this is one few are talking about.

At least, few in the House, almost no one in the Senate or White House, and ditto that in what’s still called the mainstream media.

But some bold voices are speaking up about H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act that proved too major a sticking point in the government spending agreement that didn’t happen. The bill that took some House members a lot of work and effort to pressure Speaker John Boehner into standing up for it, in spite of opposite pressure to give in on it. All within the GOP. Democratic members of Congress are almost uniformly against it.

So what is ‘it’? This piece in the lead up to the showdown explains.

H.R. 940 advances a proposition you might expect any decent person to embrace — and it does so by making a small amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The key language in that amendment says nothing in the Obamacare law “shall require an individual to purchase individual health insurance coverage that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which such individual has a moral or religious objection, or prevent an issuer from offering or issuing, to such individual, individual health insurance coverage that excludes such item or service.”

Similar language in H.R. 940 also protects employers and health-insurance issuers from being forced to buy or provide coverage for items or services to which they have a “moral or religious objection.”

H.R. 940 mirrors the first words in the Bill of Rights, which say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

To object to H.R. 940, a person must argue that the federal government has the moral and constitutional authority to force Americans to act against the teachings of their religion and the dictates of their conscience.

To defend H.R. 940, a person need only argue it is wrong for the government to force Americans to act against their religion or the conscience.

Yet, President Barack Obama and his bureaucratic subordinates are effectively doing just that by pushing forward with a regulation that will require all health care plans (except those bought directly by actual churches and their immediate auxiliaries) to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

A week later, as the deadline loomed for a government shutdown if a spending agreement wasn’t reached, U.S. bishops again implored members of both houses of Congress to stand for fundamental conscience rights, a small amendment in a massive law overhauling the healthcare system in America.

We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act(H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.

Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of U.S. society through schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities. These institutions, which have been part of the Church’s ministry since the earliest days of ourcountry, arose from religious convictions. They should not be told by government to abandon or compromise those convictions in order to continue serving their own employees or the neediest Americans. Nor should individual Catholics or others be told they cannot legally purchase or provide health coverage unless they violate their conscience.

A particular threat is the Administration’s mandate for covering contraception, sterilization and related education and counseling as “preventive services” for enrollees and their minor daughters. The mandate includes drugs and devices that can act against a human life after fertilization, implicating our moral teaching on abortion as well as contraception. The more than six dozen lawsuits filed against this mandate by hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit organizations led by people of faith highlight the need to reassert Americans’ right to live and serve in accord with their deepest convictions about the sanctity of life…

We make our plea as religious leaders who strongly support universal access to health care. Such access is threatened by Congress’s continued failure to protect the right of conscience. Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health care system. Please act on this matter without delay.

A coalition of House Representatives also urged Speaker Boehner to stand for the conscience rights provision as part of the spending resolution.

Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act’s HHS mandate, employers must provide all employees with insurance plans that include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception with no co-pay, or pay a fine of $100 per employee per day.

Business owners who are evangelical, Catholic, or otherwise hold to traditional values have sought relief from ObamaCare’s crushing provisions in the courts.

The Health Care Conscience Rights Act, introduced in March, would exempt all employers from that requirement, as well as strengthening the conscience rights of health care providers.

Its author, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, came on my radio show Monday just before another House vote to send another proposal to the Senate, where each proposal got rejected and kicked back demanding a “clean CR”, or a continuing resolution with no strings attached. As some put it, ‘my way or the highway’. I asked the congressman whether there weren’t some senators willing to form even a small coalition to support such fundamental protection for basic conscience rights. “No,” he said, bluntly and frankly, startlingly. Partisan, strong arm politics had come to that.

Fortenberry called on everyone who heard his voice to contact their elected representatives and thank them if they supported conscience protection legislation, or encourage them to support it if they hadn’t done so yet. “This is Bigger than who it covers and other details, this is so much bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about human dignity.”

And human lives. Following Fortenberry that evening of high drama on Capitol Hill, my radio guest was Chuck Donovan, who caught my attention with this article about Obamacare subsidizing abortions, based on his studies and report detailing them. “Tens of thousands of publicly subsidized abortions.” Read it. It’s very thorough. And though it may seem wonkish, that old cliche ‘the devil is in the details’ seems to apply.

The report is summarized here:

“The issue of whether the Affordable Care Act creates streams of taxpayer funding for abortion has been hotly debated,” Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said Sept. 26. “Research done by the Lozier Institute makes clear that, through the Multi-State Plans alone, Americans will be complicit in the deaths of thousands of unborn children each year through their tax dollars.”

How many Americans know that? Media haven’t mentioned it. Politicians haven’t mentioned it, beyond those working to pass the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, and they’re trying to get legislation through that protects basic provisions of the Bill of Rights. They’re not getting into the tall weeds of the ACA the way Chuck Donovan and other researchers are.

Consider their findings:

The institute estimates federal taxpayers will heavily subsidize between 71,000 and 111,500 abortions per year through federal premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion for subscribers to plans that permit abortion.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia do not bar health plans with elective abortion coverage from the health insurance exchanges created by the 2010 law. Seventeen states permit state funds to be used for elective abortion coverage in their Medicaid programs.

These laws mean that about 5.57 million girls and women could gain abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act through either the Medicaid expansion or the insurance exchanges created by the act.

During debate over whether to pass the health care legislation, President Obama secured the support of several pro-life Democrats by signing an executive order that confirmed the application of long-standing restrictions on elective abortion funding to the health insurance exchanges.

However, critics of the executive order said at the time that it would not prevent federal subsidies from going to insurance plans that pay for abortion and are allowed on the health exchanges.

Donovan, the report’s author, said that the current multi-state plans’ rules would allow the administration to push for the creation of health plans that cover elective abortions in states where they are not explicitly banned.

And he told me this is only part of the profoundly complex layers of problems the ACA is fraught with, confusing as it is to most people, including those who passed it without reading it. This thing that’s called a ‘train wreck’ is so much worse than that. The collateral damage of a machine so out of control as this is potentially beyond calculation.

After people contact their elected representatives on the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, they ought to follow up quickly to contact the media and urge them to do their job as well.

Protect conscience rights from government threat

Given the expressed intent of the Founding Fathers in establishing a free, just and virtuous society, the importance of morality as its foundation, and their recourse to God from the beginning through recent history…it’s remarkable that we are in this battle now.

But some of our fundamental rights are under an unprecedented wave of assaults by raw federal and judicial power, so the gravity of the moment is sinking in.

The stunning power grab by HHS in mandating health insurance coverage of contraceptives and controversial FDA approved ‘morning-after’ drugs that work on the same mechanism as RU-486 abortifacents…all covered with no co-pay under the category of ‘preventive health care for women’…pushed the debate that started with the Obama healthcare legislation into a confrontation. Some high-profile Catholic supporters of ‘Obamacare’ have become alarmed at its latest implementation.

Like CHA head Sr. Carol Keehan.

The Catholic Health Association, in comments dated Sept. 23, also criticized the HHS proposal.

“Requiring our members to cover contraceptive services, including sterilization and drugs with an abortifacient effect, would put them in an untenable situation,” said Sister Carole Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO.

The proposed exemptions, she added, raise “serious constitutional questions” by trying to define if an organization is “sufficiently religious” to warrant the exemption. “The government is unconstitutionally parsing a bona fide religious organization into ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ components solely to impose burdens on the secular portion,” Sister Carol said.

They are false exemptions, frankly, that fool no one, as Sr. Carol Keehan proves by her criticism. They’re so ridiculously written, not even Jesus would qualify, says Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.

Jesus himself would not qualify for the Department of Health and Human Services “religious employer exemption” from its abortifacient contraceptive mandate, according to the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The HHS’s “religious employer exemption” is “so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. “Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as ‘religious enough’ for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God.”

DiNardo was objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requirement, which will go into effect in 2012, that all insurance programs nationwide cover all forms of contraception – including abortifacient drugs such as Plan B and Ella – and sterilization as “preventive services for women.” Under the mandate only faith-based institutions that serve members of the same faith would be able to claim an exemption – thereby excluding the large number of religious organizations that offer their services to people of any or no faith.

The remarks, in which the cardinal accused the HHS of “a distorted view of sexuality and a disdain for the role of religion,” were made as part of the USCCB’s 40th annual October observance of Respect Life Month.

“The decision [by HHS] is wrong on many levels,” the cardinal said. “Preventive services are aimed at preventing diseases (e.g., by vaccinations) or detecting them early to aid prompt treatment (e.g., screening for diabetes or cancer). But pregnancy is not a disease…. Mandating such coverage shows neither respect for women’s health or freedom, nor respect for the consciences of those who do not want to take part in such problematic initiatives,” he said.

I spoke with Cardinal DiNardo on my radio show, and he expressed the bishops’ fundamental concern about the whole effort to redefine the truths of the human person and marginalize beliefs that hold the sanctity and dignity of human life as central to everything else. Here are just some of the resources he and the USCCB provide for the defense of life and liberty, and they are abundant.

We talked about the morphing of ‘freedom of religion’ into ‘freedom of worship’, which mean very different things. The difference means, to re-state the threat at hand, driving religiously informed voices from the public debate over social moral issues. It’s happening, and he emphasized the need to resist it, and that starts by recognizing that its happening in the first place.

After Cardinal DiNardo, I spoke with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, co-author of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act in Congress. He couldn’t stress public involvement in this effort enough, and I was struck by his fervent appeal and sobering outlook. HR 1179 isn’t gaining the attention it needs because short of alternative media, it’s being conveniently ignored. And calling or writing members of Congress is only one action, Fortenberry said. It’s going to require so much more, and I was struck by what he said. Startled, really.

Fortenberry said in the Capitol, he frequently sees great numbers of young, vibrant and attractive young people zealously engaged in a cause and filling the halls of congressional offices with their messages. This happens regularly, he said, and I’m picturing a positive image of those zealous young pro-lifers who fill the Mall of Washinton every year for the March for Life. Yes, he said, that’s a great event and yes, they come out in droves and hundreds of thousands and it’s so heartening to see that on that day each year.

But it’s one day a year, and then they disappear. The young people he’s so used to seeing engaged in activism in the halls of congressional offices are wearing pink with signs advocating for Planned Parenthood. They are turning out in great numbers on a regular basis, and the pro-life movement is not. This is tough love, but it’s true. The success of a movement is determined by its staying power in public activism, and it’s tough to see and to hear that the abortion supporters are present in far greater numbers on a regular basis than pro-life supporters.

I don’t know about the show’s listeners, but I was jarred into realizing this is going to take a whole new level of activism Congressman Fortenberry proposed. No…urged. Contact your elected representatives, yes. And then spread the message to your groups, networks, organizations, friends and associations. Put up links in your social networks. Spread information, rally people to gatherings and take some action to defend and protect human dignity and fundamental rights of conscience and religious liberty.

It’s not going to happen unless people of faith and moral conviction are all in. Not participating is not an option. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s un-American to say it’s not going to make a difference. That’s a self-fulfilling prohesy.

During the show today, I recalled Congressman Henry Hyde’s reference to the quote: ‘Not only for every idle threat, but for every idle silence will man be made to render an account.’ Silence is not an option.

(Here’s the radio interview for October 4th.)