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Tour company leader says Israel still safe for pilgrimages

July 30th, 2014 Posted in National News

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The head of a Michigan-based tour company that leads trips to the Holy Land said the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas so far has not had an impact on pilgrimages he and his associates lead.

“Everything is still functioning like in any other normal business day. The sector of tourism industry to the Holy Land is not affected,” said Steve Ray, a tour guide and CEO of Footprints of God in Ann Arbor.

Ray spoke to Catholic News Service in a telephone interview after recently returning from a trip to the Middle East where he was planning his organization’s upcoming pilgrimage tours.

He and his wife, Janet, have guided thousands of people through Israel and other biblical lands in the Middle East and Europe over the past 20 years.

On July 8, Israel began airstrikes targeting the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas militants lobbing missiles into Israel; Israel began its ground campaign into Gaza July 17. By July 30, the Israeli death toll stood at 53 soldiers and three civilians; the Health Ministry in Gaza said more than 1,200 Palestinians had been killed and more than 5,700 wounded.

U.S. officials have been unsuccessful in pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech July 28 that his country must be ready for “a prolonged campaign” against Hamas in Gaza.

John Hale, president of the Corporate Travel Service in Dearborn, Michigan, said that the ongoing conflict is a serious humanitarian crisis and “a very difficult situation,” but said it should not prevent anyone from traveling to the Holy Land.

“Tourists are not the (ones being) targeted but everyone has to decide for himself as whether to travel or not” to the Middle East, he told CNS.

Corporate Travel Service arranges the Footprints of God pilgrimages and tours, and similar trips for student groups, religious groups and others, according to its website. It also arranges performance tours for choirs and orchestra, theme cruises and vacations.

Ray reiterated that it is still safe to travel to the Holy Land, noting that an Israeli military operation in Gaza does not affect the entire country, and he encouraged people who have made plans to visit there to stick with them.

“It is an amazing opportunity to walk in the footprints of Jesus,” Ray said. “It changes lives.”

 

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Obama nominates rabbi as religious freedom ambassador

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WASHINGTON — Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The State Department post has been vacant since the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned in October 2013. She had held the position from since May 2011.

“I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead,” Obama said July 28 in announcing his nomination, which will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The ambassador-at-large serves as principle adviser on religious freedom to Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration.

The position was created as a part of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The law was aimed at increasing attention to the role of religion in diplomacy, especially addressing deficiencies in religious freedom worldwide.

The law also created a separate entity, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, to monitor and advise the administration and Congress on the issue.

Rabbi Saperstein, who has been at the Religious Action Center in Washington since 1974, is also an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches First Amendment church-state law and Jewish law. He serves on a number of boards, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

He was a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. He was a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001, serving as its first chair from 1999 to 2000.

Over the years, Rabbi Saperstein has joined with Catholic bishops and other religious leaders in speaking out and issuing joint statements on a variety of issues, including immigration and health care reform.

He has bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s degree in rabbinical studies from Hebrew Union College, and a law degree from American University.

Rabbi Saperstein is married to Ellen Weiss, an award-winning broadcast journalist. They have two sons, Daniel and Ari.

 

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Native American Catholics recharge their faith at Tekakwitha meeting

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FARGO, N.D. — On the 75th anniversary of the Tekakwitha Conference, Native American Catholics came together again to review the past, plan for the future and recharge their faith.

More than 750 people from 35 states and representing 135 tribes gathered under the theme “To walk humbly,” a nod to namesake St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the gentle Mohawk-Algonquin woman canonized two years ago.

Women from Alaska take part in the parade of nations July 24 during the annual Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo, N.D.  The gathering of Native American Catholics, held July 23-27, marked its 75th anniversary. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Women from Alaska take part in the parade of nations July 24 during the annual Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo, N.D. The gathering of Native American Catholics, held July 23-27, marked its 75th anniversary. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Gathering in “talking circles” on the conference’s first full day July 24, groups of them agreed that young people were their top concern.

“Our youth are losing their cultural and religious connections,” said a woman speaking on behalf of her small group. “We’re not encouraging them enough to go to catechism and to go to Mass.”

Some of the other issues people brought to the floor included expanding evangelization and inculturation efforts and a need for more Native American priests, women religious and lay leaders. One group mentioned a desire for “spiritual healing centers” to help people overcome drug and alcohol addiction problems.

The talking circles were facilitated by Father Henry Sands of the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. A priest of the Detroit Archdiocese, he heads the Native American efforts of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He told the groups that he would share their concerns with the bishops of the United States.

Young people were not only on the minds of conference-goers, but they took part in the meeting activities, including leading some Native American rituals.

At a sunrise prayer service, a young man conducted the smudging, the Indian purification ritual using the smoke of burning cedar, sage and sweet grass.

Carmelita Sharpback of Winnebago, Nebraska, swaddled her 8-week-old daughter, Willow Rain, as she walked in the event’s evening parade of nations with other tribe members.

Crow Creek Sioux Jaime Berens of Charter Oak, Iowa, was attending the Tekakwitha Conference for the first time with her 9-year-old daughter, Saige.

“I hope to learn more about St. Kateri and more about my faith,” she told Catholic News Service. “I also want to help raise my daughter the best way I can in the Catholic faith.”

During the opening Mass, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called his fellow Native Americans to continuing Christian conversion.

“When we ask forgiveness, that means we can change and start over. And nothing is better than starting over,” he said. “It gives us new energy.”

The archbishop, who is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, said true happiness is found in one’s relationship with God, and pointed to St. Kateri as one who listened to the word of God “not just with her ears, but with her heart.”

He said he hoped the Tekakwitha Conference would be a source of ongoing conversion for native people. “That we might listen, love and be saved.”

Before his homily Archbishop Chaput also announced some news, that Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015, even though the Philadelphia archdiocese still has not received official confirmation from the Vatican.

Fawn Antone, 32, of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Pisineno, Arizona, was attending the Tekakwitha Conference with several family members. She said she rarely misses the annual meeting.

“I come here to recharge my religious battery,” she said. “You feel a lot of joy when you come here because everyone who comes here comes in the name of Kateri.”

— By Nancy Wiechec

 

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Christian groups urge Obama to take action to stop violence in Gaza

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Christian organizations called on President Barack Obama to take direct action to stop the current violence in the Gaza Strip and to work toward a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.

“The Obama administration and Congress have rightly condemned the indiscriminate rockets from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups into Israel. It is time for the U.S. to condemn the Israeli bombardment of civilian centers and the blockade just as strongly. This latest escalation cannot be divorced from the broader context of the Gaza siege and occupation,” they wrote in the July 22 letter to Obama and copied to members of the House and Senate.

They added that U.S. military aid to Israel creates a heavy moral obligation on the United States to ensure that it is not used in violation of U.S. law and human rights.

“As the situation continues to deteriorate, and horrendous death and destruction mount in Gaza, we are called by conscience to say, ‘Enough,’” they said.

Previous military operations in Gaza have failed because the root cause of the violence, the Israeli occupation, has not been resolved, they said.

“To achieve a lasting peace, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including the siege of Gaza, must end. The U.S. must, therefore, make ending the occupation and lifting the Gaza siege priorities for our foreign policy in the region,” they said.

Among Christian groups signing the letter were the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. Pax Christi International, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Extended Justice Team.

 

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Archbishop Chaput says Pope Francis to visit Philadelphia next year – updated

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Catholic News Service

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next year, even though the Philadelphia archdiocese still has not received official confirmation from the Vatican.

Pope Francis plans to visit Philadelphia in September 2015. (CNS)

Pope Francis plans to visit Philadelphia in September 2015. (CNS)

Archbishop Chaput made the announcement July 24 before giving his homily during the opening Mass of the Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo.

“Pope Francis has told me that he is coming,” said the archbishop as he invited his fellow Native Americans to the 2015 celebration being held in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27.

“The pope will be with us the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of that week,” he said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said July 25 Pope Francis has expressed “his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families” in Philadelphia, and has received invitations to visit other cities as well, which he is considering. Those invitations include New York, the United Nations and Washington.

“There has been no official confirmation by the Vatican or the Holy See of Pope Francis’ attendance at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We still expect that any official confirmation will come approximately six months prior to the event.”

It said Archbishop Chaput “has frequently shared his confidence in Pope Francis’ attendance at the World Meeting and his personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence.”

“We are further heartened and excited” by Father Lombardi’s comments, it added. “While Archbishop Chaput’s comments do not serve as official confirmation, they do serve to bolster our sincere hope that Philadelphia will welcome Pope Francis next September.”

Some Mexican media have cited government officials saying a September trip to North America also could include stops in Mexico, but Father Lombardi said that at this moment “nothing operational has begun relative to a plan or program for a visit to the United States or Mexico. Keep in mind, there is still more than a year to go before the meeting in Philadelphia.”

“The fact that Pope Francis’ first trip to the U.S. will bring him so close to our diocese is extraordinary exciting,” said a statement from the Diocese of Wilmington’s Communications Office. “Over the past year, the world has come to love and admire this humble pope. We are sure that American Catholics and particularly our friends in the neighboring Archdiocese of Philadelphia will welcome our Holy Father with open arms and show him great hospitality.”

— By Nancy Wiechec and from Diocese of Wilmington Communications Office.

 

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White House planning new way for Catholic employers to opt out of providing mandated birth control

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has filed a brief with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver indicating it plans to develop an alternative for Catholic and other religious nonprofit employers to opt out of providing federally mandated contraceptives they object to including in their employee health care coverage.

Several media outlets, including AP, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, reported July 23 that the administration said it would come up with a “work-around” that would be different than the accommodation it currently has available to such employers.

Birth control pills. (CNS file)

Birth control pills. (CNS file)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the health care law, requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs for all employees in their company health plan. It includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers that fit certain criteria.

Currently, there is an accommodation for those employers who don’t fit the exemption but who are morally opposed to providing the coverage. They must fill out a self-certification form, known as EBSA Form 700, to direct a third party, usually the manager of an employer’s health plan, to provide the contested coverage.

Many religious employers who have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out Form 700 makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable.

According to an AP story, the alternative the Obama administration said it plans to draft would allow these employers to opt out of the coverage they oppose without having to submit the form.

The White House has not provided details, but said the brief was filed as a response to a July 3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that granted a Christian college in Illinois temporary relief from the HHS mandate and said the school did not have to fill out Form 700.

Instead, the court said, Wheaton College can send a letter to the government.

If the applicant informs the HHS secretary “in writing that it is a nonprofit organization that holds itself out as religious and has religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services,” the high court said, “the respondents are enjoined from enforcement against the applicant the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of appellate review.”

The order in Wheaton College v. Burwell came three days after the Supreme Court issued its Hobby Lobby decision saying that closely held for-profit companies could be exempted from some requirements of the federal health care law because of the owners’ religious beliefs.

The 10th Circuit is the court that has heard an appeal in a suit filed against the mandate by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Denver-based religious order that cares for the elderly poor in several facilities around the U.S. The religious order first filed suit in September 2013 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and lost.

The order appealed to the 10th Circuit. Last December, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Little Sisters a temporary injunction on enforcement of the mandate and now the order seeks to make that protection permanent.

 

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Catholic agencies study Obama order on government contract employment

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic agencies were studying President Barack Obama’s executive order that expands the prohibition on employment discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender by the federal government and nonprofit agencies and corporations that receive federal contracts.

The scrutiny comes because the July 21 order does not spell out a specific exemption for religious organizations that contract with the government. Read more »

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Bishops: Executive order prohibiting firing of gays by government and contractors is ‘affront’ to religion

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s executive order of July 21 has installed workplace rules forbidding the firing of employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity by the federal government and federal contractors — a key provision in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act languishing in Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama is hugged at the White House July 21 after signing an executive order to prohibit the U.S. government and federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. Two U.S. Catholic bishops said in a statement the executive order "is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed" because it could exclude federal contractors "precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama is hugged at the White House July 21 after signing an executive order to prohibit the U.S. government and federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. Two U.S. Catholic bishops said in a statement the executive order “is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed” because it could exclude federal contractors “precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

The U.S. bishops have opposed the bill, known as ENDA, which was passed by the Senate last November but was never scheduled for a vote in the House. The bill has been introduced in almost every Congress since 1994.

“Today’s executive order is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

“In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination,” they said in a joint statement. “With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent. As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Archbishop Lori and Bishop Malone and two bishops in an earlier posting July 21 on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ blog, addressed their opposition to the changes put in place by the executive order because it does not include a religious exemption and could keep Catholic agencies from getting federal contracts.

“To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society,” the four bishops said.

They included Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The U.S. legacy of religious freedom has enabled the Catholic Church and other faith communities to exercise their religious and moral convictions freely and thus contribute to the good of all in society. No good can come from removing this witness from our social life,” they added in the blog posting.

“Eliminating truly unjust discrimination — based on personal characteristics, not sexual behavior — and protecting religious freedom are goals that we all should share. The current political climate makes it very difficult to maintain a reasonable dialogue on these contentious issues, but we must keep trying.”

Fourteen other religious leaders July 1 had asked Obama to include a religious exemption in his executive order. “We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” said the letter.

Among the signatories were Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, at The Catholic University of America, Washington.

Schneck, in a July 19 analysis anticipating the executive order, said: “The executive order does not offer the nuanced exemption for religious positions that was sought. But, it does retain the 2002 George Bush executive order language that prohibits religious discrimination in the receipt of federal contracts and allows contracting religious organizations to prefer members of their own faith in some personnel matters.”

He added, “President Obama’s executive order will end discrimination against LGBT citizens in federal contracts while at the same time allowing religious organizations to ensure that key personnel positions in their organizations reflect the values of their faith. … By retaining the Bush order, the administration is recognizing the importance of religious organizations in providing for well-spent federal dollars to the neediest.”

In a statement July 21, Father Snyder said Obama’s executive order “upholds already existing religious exemptions that will allow us to maintain fidelity to our deeply held religious beliefs.”

“As has always been the case, Catholic Charities USA supports the rights of all to employment and abides by the hiring requirements of all federal contracts,” the priest said.

“Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this executive order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt,” Father Snyder said.

At a White House ceremony shortly before signing the executive order, Obama said, “Today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that’s wrong.

“We’re here to do what we can to make it right, to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.”

The president added, “Congress has spent 40 years, four decades, considering legislation that would help solve the problem. That’s a long time. And yet they still haven’t gotten it done.”

Lawmakers first drafted a measure similar to ENDA in 1974. The Senate vote last fall on ENDA was 64-32 for passage, with no vote schedule in the House.

 

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Catholic leaders urge help for migrant kids crossing U.S. border

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Latin America expert for Catholic Relief Services, the head of the bishops’ migration committee and the president of a Catholic college in Michigan were among those urging the government toward humanitarian responses to a surge of children and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.

Among their recommendations were: fully funding a requested federal appropriation for services to deal with the influx of people; investigating and working to address the root causes of emigration from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; and creating a program so people may seek permission to come to the United States without having to make the treacherous and illegal journey. Such programs have been successful in Iraq, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs July 16, Richard Jones, the CRS deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said his agency has seen the numbers of unaccompanied youth fleeing Central America double yearly since 2011.

“We have seen the homicide rates grow, forced displacement increase and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels battle over who controls the routes through Central America,” he said in written testimony. “In El Salvador and Honduras, there are more gang members than police.”

He gave the example of four boys who were killed and dismembered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last month because they refused to be drug couriers.

“Two of the four were brothers, one age 10, the other age 6,” Jones said.

Violence in El Salvador also has increased since March 2013, when a truce negotiated between gangs unraveled, Jones said. And since the election of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren earlier this year, he said, “violent deaths have risen to 13 per day or over 70 homicides (per) 100,000 people — nearly double what they were at the same time the previous year.”

In Guatemala City, that nation’s capital, the homicide rate is 116 per 100,000 people, he said, noting that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, in just the past six months, more than 600 unaccompanied children from that city were apprehended in the United States.

He went on to discuss the various social factors complicating the raw violence, and to describe some of the programs CRS and other organizations are providing to try to address the problems at the core and keep families intact in their home countries, with education, skills and ways of improving their situations.

He mentioned various ways the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are trying to address their problems, including how to protect people who are returned there after being deported by the United States and Mexico. The efforts are inadequate, he said.

Jones gave several specific recommendations for ways the U.S. can best direct resources to the countries.

Among them, investing in community-based programs focused on security, job creation and violence prevention; including trying to better understand the local conditions causing people to flee.

In a July 17 letter to members of Congress, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly support supplemental funding requested by President Barack Obama to take care of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 36,000 families that have come into the country since October.

He said they also oppose changes to current laws “that would roll back protections for these children that were enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.”

Bishop Elizondo said that “this vulnerable group is fleeing violence from organized criminal networks. Many are likely to be eligible for a variety of forms of immigration relief, including asylum and various visas. Sending these vulnerable children back to their persecutors without a meaningful immigration hearing would severely decrease their opportunity for legal protection and possibly lead to their bodily harm or even death. We would oppose the repeal of key provisions of these laws in the supplemental appropriations bill or any other legislative vehicle.”

He also opposed placing families into detention facilities, and encouraged increasing funding for community-based alternatives to detention, as well as increased funding for legal representation and for the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with caring for the children.

Bishop Elizondo also asked for funding to address the reasons why people flee their homelands and to support a program for orderly departure in the region.

“Such programs have worked successfully in Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and other locations around the globe,” he said. “The United States and countries in the region could accept a number of children and youth each year, consistent with the best interest of the child standard. Such a program would ensure that children are protected and our international obligations are met while sparing children the dangers of a migration journey.”

And at Marygrove College in Detroit, President David J. Fike called the situation a humanitarian refugee crisis that warrants a different kind of response than has been happening.

“This shouldn’t be a debate,” he said July 17. “The fleeing of vulnerable women, children, and young adults we are witnessing has all of the classic markings of what the world has seen in war-torn regions over and over again, war-torn regions in which unprotected, threatened civilians will take extreme measures to reach a safe haven.

“The only difference in this instance,” he said, “is that the threat to vulnerable civilians is not from standing armies engaged in traditional combat or even organized guerrilla warfare. In this instance, the threat is from brutally violent gangs, extortionists, and narco-traffickers operating with impunity in widespread areas of extreme lawlessness.”

Fike said at a news conference at the Catholic college that the situation calls for a charitable and humanitarian response, yet political leaders and news media debate whether to do that.

“Our elected leaders are all-too-frequently characterizing this situation as being the result of our broken immigration system, or as being the result of our lack of comprehensive immigration reform, or as being the result of some sort of mass psychosis afflicting mothers in specific parts of this hemisphere who are spontaneously deciding to send their children on extraordinarily life-threatening journeys to far off lands,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Fike, said his personal passion on the topic comes from his time spent in Central America and his friendship with some of the University of Central America faculty and staff who were murdered during the El Salvador civil war.

“I’ve seen and understand the results of dehumanization and I don’t like it … it’s painful, it denies our better selves, it makes us smaller and meaner as a country,” he said.

He said he is frustrated by the lack of moral leadership and called on Obama to recognize the migrants as refugees. He said he would marshal the resources of Marygrove to help in any way possible, and encouraged other higher education administrators to do the same.

 

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Senate blocks bill that aimed at reversing Hobby Lobby ruling

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A woman walks toward a Hobby Lobby store in Phoenix. CNS/Nancy Wiechec

A woman walks toward a Hobby Lobby store in Phoenix. CNS/Nancy Wiechec

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate July 16 voted to block consideration of a bill aimed at reversing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and forcing businesses to provide contraceptive coverage for employees even if they object to it on religious grounds.

Known as the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” or S. 2578, the measure was co-written by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Mark Udall of Colorado. Murray introduced the bill July 9. The 56-43 vote fell four short of the 60 needed to move ahead on the bill.

“While the outcome of today’s vote is a relief, it is sobering to think that more than half the members of the U.S. Senate, sworn to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, would vote for a bill whose purpose is to reduce the religious freedom of their fellow Americans,” said Jayd Henricks, director of government relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We need more respect for religious freedom in our nation, not less,” he said in a statement.

In a July 14 letter to U.S. senators, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities, and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, urged the lawmakers to oppose the measure.

They said it had the potential to affect “all existing federal protections of conscience and religious freedom” when it comes to health care mandates, telling senators: “Though cast as a response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the bill ranges far beyond that decision. … We oppose the bill and urge you to reject it.”

On June 30, the Supreme Court, citing the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, ruled that closely held for-profit companies cannot be forced to abide by the federal Health and Human Service’s mandate that requires nearly all employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, elective sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees free of charge if the individual or families that own these businesses have religious objections to the mandate.

Murray and Udall said their bill was “consistent with congressional intent” in RFRA, but Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori said that the measure’s “operative provisions explicitly forbid application if RFRA whenever the federal government wishes to override the religious freedom rights of Americans regarding health coverage.”

After the July 16 vote, Udall said the Democratic Party would continue to contest a ruling that says “a boss’ beliefs can supersede a woman’s rights to health care benefits that she has earned.”

S. 2578 would have kept in place the Obama administration’s exemption from the HHS mandate for houses of worship and some other employers who fit its criteria for that exemption. It also would have kept intact the accommodation for nonexempt employers.

Under that accommodation, organizations self-certify that their religious objections entitle them to an exemption from the mandate and direct a third-party, in most cases the company that manages their health care plan, to provide the objectionable coverage.

But several Catholic and other religious employers who are not exempt and have sued over the mandate argue the exemption is too narrowly drawn and the accommodation itself still involves them in coverage they morally oppose.

In their letter, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori wrote: “In short, the bill does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty. Indeed, if it were to pass, it would call that commitment into question. Nor does it show a genuine commitment to expanded health coverage, as it would pressure many Americans of faith to stop providing or purchasing health coverage altogether.”

A companion bill was introduced in the House July 9 by Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Louise Slaughter and Jerry Nadler, who are both from New York. As of July 17, no vote on the measure had been scheduled yet.

 

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