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Backgrounder: Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: “It was looking like you’d never get here, but you got here, folks,” referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

Maybe some in the group wondered where “here” was since they hadn’t even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The order didn’t seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he had yet to see the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: “There should not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren’t familiar with the amendment by name, or they weren’t before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a May 4 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport May 4 on his way back to his diocese for a confirmation Mass, Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church “has the tradition of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to Catholic News Service that the order’s emphasis on weakening the Johnson Amendment did not seem particularly significant, noting: “it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential — as they should be — to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies.”

Commenting on another major point of the executive order, relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health care plans, Garnett called it “a good thing — and long overdue,” but he also noted that “such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions.”

In a statement after the order was signed, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.” The promise didn’t give any specifics.

The lack of details in the order even caused the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been poised to sue, to change its course. In a statement issued hours after the order’s signing, ACLU director Anthony Romero said the order had “no discernible policy outcome.”

“After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.

But the group also stands ready to sue the Trump administration if the order generates any official government action. Religious groups, for opposite reasons, likewise stand ready to see if the order has any teeth.

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement: “This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American,” with the added caveat, “There is still work to be done.”

 

Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth.

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Cardinal says Trump’s religious freedom order begins to relieve burden of HHS mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Many religious leaders viewed President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which he signed in a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, as a step in the right direction.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

In a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer prior to signing the executive order, Trump told the assembled religious leaders: “We’re taking big steps to protect religious liberty” and he assured them the government “won’t stand for religious discrimination.”

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. Just prior to the event, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport just after the White House ceremony, Cardinal DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive.

Earlier, in a statement, the cardinal said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they morally oppose it.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The text of the order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” states that cabinet offices “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

During the White House ceremony, Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.” The sisters are just one of the groups that challenged the federal contraceptive mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying” without fear of government punishment.

Another aspect of the order is a weakening of what Trump called the “unfair” Johnson Amendment during the May 4 event. The 1954 amendment bans churches and nonprofit organizations of all types from participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

Trump told the religious leaders that the order’s attempt to lessen restrictions of the amendment will be “giving our churches their voices back.”

The order states the Treasury Department shall ensure and “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” 

It also calls for department officials to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for speaking about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Regarding religious liberty, the order is not very specific. It states: “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the attorney general shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement, stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”

“But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo told CNS that the executive order emphasizes that there should “not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when a person or group is exercising one’s faith.

He also said the president seems to be putting some of these religious liberty issues directly in the hands of federal departments and the attorney general, which he called “an important dimension” and a “good way to have this unpacked.”

The White House did not release the full text of the order prior to its signing. A draft of an earlier version of the order, which included stronger language, was leaked and published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine.

Regarding the new order, Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement that the bishops will “continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith,” noting that religious freedom is “a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.”

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email that the order will likely be viewed as a commitment from the administration that it wants to protect religious liberty. “In terms of specifics, however, the order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also welcomed the order and said the organization “looks forward to reviewing the details” of it with the hope that applying it will “allow Catholic Charities agencies to continue to serve all their clients in accordance with their inherent dignity while at the same time preserving the freedom of these agencies to serve in conformity with our beliefs.”

 

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Reaction to revised four-month refugee ban ranges from concern to opposition

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Within hours of President Donald Trump’s new executive order March 6 banning arrivals from six majority-Muslim nations, Catholic and other religious groups joined secular leaders in questioning the wisdom of such a move, with others vowing to oppose it outright.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement, “As the world’s most blessed nation, we should be doing more to provide assistance overseas and resettle the most vulnerable, not less. It is wrong, during this time of great need, to cut humanitarian assistance and reduce resettlement.”

O’Keefe added, “Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that we seek to protect ourselves from. By welcoming them, we show the world that we are an open, tolerant nation which seeks to protect the vulnerable. That has always been America’s greatest strength.”

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, in a statement.

“Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution,” she added. “It is deeply disturbing to know that the thousands of women, children and other persecuted individuals around the world will face a closed door rather than a helping hand from the United States.”

The revised order replaces Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which has been blocked in the courts. The new order imposes a 90-day ban on issuing visas to people from six predominantly Muslim nations; Iraq is no longer on the list. The countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

It suspends the U.S. refugee program for all countries for 120 days; Syrian refugees are now not banned indefinitely. The order limits the total number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year to 50,000, instead of 110,000, as the Obama administration directed.

The order also excludes lawful permanent residents, green card holders, from any travel ban. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Trump’s new order still puts vulnerable populations at risk.

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences” of the order, he said in a statement. “While we note the administration’s efforts to modify the executive order in light of various legal concerns, the revised order still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

He said the Catholic bishops welcomed Iraq being removed from the list of countries, but remain disappointed the order still temporarily shuts down the refugee admissions program, reduces by more than 60 percent the number of refugees who can enter the country and still bars nationals from six countries.

The bishops “have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” Bishop Vasquez said. “However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

“A ban regarding human beings, because they are from a certain country or practice a particular religion is clearly xenophobic, nationalistic and racist,” said a statement by Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA.

“Now is the time to honor the commitment for justice expressed in all faith communities and to proclaim this commitment with actions that uphold the rights of all people,” she added.

Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said that Columbans “have always welcomed migrants and refugees, we do so every day at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“We must always remember that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and we are called to stand in solidarity with them,” he said.

People of faith “are called to both address the root causes of migration and seek policies of welcome toward our migrant sisters and brothers,” Wright continued. “We stand against any policies that seek to build a wall, inhumanely detain and deport women and families, or limit migration based solely on a person’s country of origin or religion.”

Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men, called it “completely unjust to punish an entire country due to the suspicion of a potential crime by an individual.”

“We should be asking about the root causes of violent acts, such as U.S. militarization of conflicts, and giving our attention to addressing those concrete situations,” he said in a statement.

“Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country for a very long time,” said a statement by Holy Cross Sister Joan Marie Steadman, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “Catholic sisters remain committed to welcoming those who come to this country after passing through the U.S. government’s already rigorous screening processes.”

Larry Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, aimed his statement directly at Trump.

“Mr. President, why close our borders to those fleeing real atrocities, fleeing the ravages of war and the search for food, clean water and safety?” Couch asked. “This is not what America stands for and not who we are called to be. America is not a country that retreats and Americans choose to not live in fear of the ‘what if.’ Mr. President, welcome the refugee and welcome the face of God.”

“The ban goes against everything that we stand for as Franciscan Catholic Christians, and against what Jesus and Francis of Assisi taught and lived,” said a statement from Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. “St. Bonaventure tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference, first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices.”

A statement from the organization’s associate director, Franciscan Sister Marie Lucey, tied the situation of refugees and the need to welcome them into the U.S. to Lent.

“For Christians, Lent is a season of repentance for personal and social sin. The Franciscan Action Network will stand in prayer and solidarity with Muslim sisters and brothers, as well as all refugees and immigrants, during the forty days of Lent,” she said.

“While opposing bans and harmful executive orders, we also pray for a change of hearts and minds of this administration and legislators who support anti-refugee and anti-immigrant measures,” Sister Lucey added. “We will also continue to speak out against this injustice which is as cruel and unusual as it is astounding and irreconcilable.”

Sara Benitez, Latino program director for the interfaith group Faith in Public Life, said that once again Trump “is compromising our integrity as a nation.”

“The refugee ban introduced today is rooted in the same immoral and divisive policy we saw a few weeks ago, and we will not stand for it,” she said in a statement.

“We must continue the work on the ground to stand up for our immigrant and refugee neighbors who are under threat,” added Benitez, whose organization amassed dozens of pastors for a midafternoon protest March 6 in front of the White House.

Faith in Public Life also has mounted a “Build Bridges, Not Walls” campaign to list ways people can support refugees and other immigrants.

“The new order doubles down on demonizing refugees — implying that America should fear those who have been persecuted, tortured, threatened and victimized by terrorists. America is diminished when we abandon our values and close our doors,” said a statement by said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, or LIRS.

“Had the new executive order been in place last month, it would have likely prevented LIRS from reuniting Mushkaad Abdi, a 4-year-old Somali refugee who was alone in Kampala, Uganda, with her mother and sisters in Minneapolis,” Hartke added. “To close our nation’s doors on those who are simply seeking safety and protection is shameful and misguided.”

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies, it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe,” said a statement from Eric Schneiderman, New York state’s attorney general.

Schneiderman took the White House to court after Trump’s first executive order; other court challenges around the country followed.

“My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate, again, in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy,” Schneiderman said.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. called the new order “nearly as egregious” the earlier version. “While this order no longer includes an indefinite bar on refugees from Syria and has dropped the visa ban for Iraqis, it still fails to honor American ideals and protect people whose lives are at risk,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC.

Without commenting on the executive order itself, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said: “There’s a dire need for President Trump to issue a separate executive order — one specifically aimed to help ISIS (Islamic State) genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria. … Even if ISIS is routed from Mosul (Iraq), the Christian community is now so shattered and vulnerable, without President Trump’s prompt leadership, the entire Iraqi Christian presence could soon be wiped out.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Bishops urging Trump to protect religious liberty

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WASHINGTON — Catholic Church leaders in a Feb. 16 statement said they were encouraged that President Donald Trump may be considering an executive order to protect religious freedom and said they would be grateful if he would move forward with the pledge that his administration would “do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty”

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has joined with other U.S. bishops in urging President Trump to affirm his pledge to protect religious liberty. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has joined with other U.S. bishops in urging President Trump to affirm his pledge to protect religious liberty.
(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“As Christians, our goal is to live and serve others as the Gospel asks. President Trump can ensure that we are not forced from the public square,” said the statement from committee chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The statement was jointly issued by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The church leaders said an executive order would “implement strong protections for religious freedom across the federal government in many of the areas where it has been eroded by the preceding administration, such as health coverage, adoption, accreditation, tax exemption, and government grants and contracts.”

“We ourselves, as well as those we shepherd and serve, would be most grateful if the president would take this positive step toward allowing all Americans to be able to practice their faith without severe penalties from the federal government,” they said.

A draft version of the executive order was leaked in late January called “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” When it failed to appear on the president’s desk, rumors were circulating that a scaled-back version might appear at his desk but there has been no word about it from the Trump administration.

The U.S. bishops posted an online letter for Catholics to send to the president urging him to sign the order after the draft version was leaked.

The Feb. 16 statement said the order would restore “the federal government’s proper relationship with the First Amendment and other laws protecting conscience and religious freedom will enable us to continue our service to the most vulnerable of Americans.”

The statement stressed that U.S. Catholic bishops have long supported religious liberty, adding that during the last several years “the federal government has eroded this fundamental right,” most notably with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate for religious employers who do not fit the mandate’s narrow exemption including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The USCCB leaders urged Trump to keep his promise and put an end to regulations and other mandates by the federal government “that force people of faith to make impossible choices. 

“We express our fervent hope that with new leadership in the executive branch, basic protections for religious practice may be restored and even strengthened,” they said.

The statement said an immediate remedy to the threats against religious freedom is needed and without it the church’s freedom to serve others “will remain in jeopardy and needless conflict between the faith community and the federal government will continue.”

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Executive order missing? No religious freedom action from Trump yet

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Talk of President Donald Trump possibly signing an executive order on religious freedom, which drew both criticism and praise, has been replaced with discussion about what happened to it and what a final version, if there is one, will look like. Read more »

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Lawmakers’ action on guns less swift and sure than the president’s

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama unveiled a series of executive orders Jan. 5 intended to make a dent in gun violence in the United States, people reacted. And how.

“Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country,” said Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas in a Jan. 5 entry titled “The Cowboy Mentality” on his blog. 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 join others in asking for religious exemption in executive order

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Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Catholic and other religious and civic leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in the planned White House executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a July 1 letter, the group of 14 faith leaders said they agreed with the idea of “banning discrimination” but they also asked 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.”

The letter stressed the importance of a religious exemption in the planned executive order “disqualifying organizations” that do not hire lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans from receiving federal contracts.

“This religious exemption would be comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote,” it said.

The letter pointed out that a religious exemption “would not guarantee that religious organizations would receive contracts. Instead, a religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

The letter’s signers, included Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America; Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of the World Relief, run by the National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California; and Kathy Dahlkemper, a former member of Congress who is currently county executive of Erie County, Pennsylvania.

They said an executive order that does not include a religious exemption will “significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.”

“In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers,” they added.

The writers said their concern went beyond a “direct financial impact on religious organizations” stressing that the nation must “find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability.”

The chairmen of four committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 20 issued a statement expressing concern about the expected order.

They reiterated the objections they initially raised with the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stating: “We say again now, as we said in connection with the Senate bill and have said many times before, that we oppose any unjust discrimination against any person on any grounds.”

“We intend to review the details of the executive order carefully once it is available, in order to assess whether it serves the dignity of the human person and the common good,” the statement said.

According to The Associated Press, the White House has not provided details about the executive order but some advocates say it will likely be similar to an order President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 that barred the federal government from firing workers for being gay and lesbian. Activists also said Obama’s expected executive will likely include language specifically referring to gender identity.

The letter from religious and civic leaders referred to differing views on same-sex marriage, pointing out that Obama, in his first presidential campaign, withheld support for same-sex marriage, saying he believed marriage is a “sacred union” between a man and a woman.

“You justified withholding your support for same-sex marriage, at least in part, by appealing to your Christian faith. Yet you still believed you could serve your country, all Americans, as president,” they said. “Similarly, some faith-based organizations’ religious identity requires that their employees share that identity. We still believe those organizations can serve their country, all Americans, in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family.”

“Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again,” the signers said. “We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values.”

 

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