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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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Bishop welcomes federal court ruling against President Trump’s refugee ban

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country’s refugee resettlement program.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.

“At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country,” the statement said.

The bishop pledged that church agencies would continue to welcome people “as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and traditions.”

In a decision issued late Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the government’s argument to lift the freeze on the president’s order and maintained that the court had jurisdiction in the case as a check on executive power.

Trump had argued that his order was a matter of national security and that the courts had no claim to adjudicate the issue.

The panel ruled otherwise saying that such an argument “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Further, the judges said, “although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.”

The administration is expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said in a posting on Twitter minutes after the ruling was released: “see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

He later told reporters that the judges had made “a political decision.”

The case was filed by the state of Washington, which argued that Trump’s order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against Muslims and that state agencies were harmed because students and employees were barred from re-entering the country. The state of Minnesota subsequently joined the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle halted Trump’s travel ban Feb. 3 by granting a temporary restraining order.

Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days.

Another clause in the order established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

In its 29-page ruling, the appeals court said the administration’s lawyers had provided no evidence that refugees from the seven countries named in the ban posed a national security threat through terrorism.

The judges also wrote that the government had not shown Trump’s order provides any avenue for those restricted from traveling to the U.S. to appeal the decision or seek a hearing to present their reasons for entering the country. The decision said that earlier court cases had determined that the protections established under the due process clause in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment “apply to all ‘persons’” within the U.S. including aliens whose presence is “lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent” as well as to people attempting to reenter the U.S. after traveling.

The court also considered the public’s interest in the case and determined that the public “has an interest in the free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families and in freedom from discrimination.”

 

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Spiritual success measures quality of American life, Trump says at prayer breakfast

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — “Spiritual success” is a more accurate measure for the United States than wealth, according to likely billionaire President Donald Trump in remarks Feb. 2 at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump prays during the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2 in Washington. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump prays during the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2 in Washington. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

“America is a nation of believers,” Trump said. “In towns across the land, we see what we so easily forget: The quality of our lives is not defined by our material success but by our spiritual success. I speak that as someone who has had great material success and who knows many people who have had great material success. … Some of them are very miserable, miserable people.”

Compared to people to have money but no happiness, the people who have no money but happiness “are the successful people, let me tell you,” Trump said at the 65th annual breakfast, attended by 3,000 politicians, religious leaders and dignitaries, including King Abdullah of Jordan.

Trump spoke about having gone to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware the previous day for the return of the remains of William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL killed in a firefight with al-Qaida in Yemen. “Greater love has no man than that a man lay down his life for his friends,” the president said. “We will never forget the men and women who wear the uniform, believe me.”

Freedom is not “a gift of government” but “a gift of God,” Trump added. “It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said that the God who gave us life gave us liberty.” But the nation’s 45th president questioned whether “the liberties of the nation will be secure if we remove the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God.”

“That is why I will get rill get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment, and allow our religious representatives to speak freely without fear and without retribution,” Trump said. The amendment, attached by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson to a 1954 bill, bans federally recognized nonprofits from making political endorsements. “Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is a right under threat all round us,” said the president.

In his speech, Trump alluded to the executive memorandum he issued Jan. 27 that bans refugees hailing from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days. His action suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.

“Our nation has the most generous immigration system in the world. But there are those who would exploit that generosity,” he said.

“We want people to come into our nation but we want people to love us and to love our values, not to hate us and hate our values. We will be a safe country, we will be a free country, where people can practice their beliefs without fear of hostility and without fear of violence.”

Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast lasted one minute longer than his 18-minute presidential inaugural speech.

“Five words that never fail to touch my heart,” Trump said at the breakfast, are “I am praying for you.” “I hear it so often” ‘I am praying for you, Mr. President.’”

He lauded the keynote address given by the Rev. Barry Black, a Seventh-day Adventists who is chaplain of the Senate. The speech was so good, he told Rev. Black, “I’m going to appoint you for another year, the hell with it.” Chaplains are appointed by their respective house of Congress.

Trump also talked about how he “had to leave” his job hosting “The Celebrity Apprentice” after he announced his presidential bid. “They hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger to take my place, and we know how that turned out: The ratings went right down the tubes, it was a disaster. Pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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‘Life is winning in America,’ Pence tells March for Life rally

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence told pro-life advocates from across the U.S. Jan. 27 that “life is winning in America, and today is a celebration of that progress.”

Pence addressed the March for Life on the National Mall in Washington, making him the highest government official to address the annual event in person. As a member of Congress, he had addressed the March for Life in previous years, including 2002, 2003 and 2007.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a rally at the annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a rally at the annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

“More than 240 years ago, our founders declared these truths to be self-evident, that we are, all of us, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “Forty-four years ago, our Supreme Court turned away from the first of these timeless ideals, but today, generations hence, because of all of you and the many thousands who stand with us in rallies across this country, life is winning again in America.”

Pence said President Donald Trump had asked him to address the March for Life rally. “He asked me to thank you for your support, for your stand for life and your compassion for the women and children of America.”

“Our president is a man with broad shoulders, a big heart,” Pence said. “His vision, his energy, his optimism are boundless, and I know he will make America great again. From his first day in office, he has been keeping his promises to the American people. Over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we’re in the promise-keeping business.”

He pointed to Trump’s Jan. 23 executive action reinstating what’s called the Mexico City Policy, which bans tax dollars from funding groups that promote or perform abortion in other countries. He said the administration would work with Congress to stop taxpayer funding of abortion “and devote those resources to health care services for women across America.”

On Jan. 24, the House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, making the 41-year-old Hyde Amendment permanent. The amendment, which has had to be approved each year as part of the budget for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prohibits tax dollars from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the woman’s life. The Senate has yet to act on a companion bill, but Trump has said he will sign it into law when the measure reaches his desk.

“I urge you to press on,” Pence told the March for Life rally-goers. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness. I believe we will continue to win the minds and hearts of the rising generation if our hearts first break for mothers and their unborn children and meet them where they are with generosity, not judgment. To heal our land and restore a culture of life, we must continue to be a movement that embraces all and shows the dignity and worth of every person.”

Pence’s wife, Karen, introduced her husband. She noted this March for Life was not the first for the Pence family; they have attended the event for the past 16 years, “but it is the warmest,” she jddoked. By midday, the temperature in Washington was in the low 40s. Previous marches have taken place in frigid temperatures. Last year’s turnout was affected by a blizzard.

Karen Pence said of her husband that she had never met anyone “who has more compassion for women, for children and for the American people. He’s one of the kindest people that I know.”

Before Pence spoke, Kellyanne Conway, special adviser to Trump, took the podium.

“I am a wife, a mother, a Catholic, counselor to the president of the United States of America, and yes, I am pro-life,” Conway said. “It is such an honor to stand with the vice president of the United States and so many leaders, families and students from places near and far (today).”

“Your courage, your conviction and your faith are impressive and consequential,” she told the crowd. “This is a new day, a new dawn for life. Why are we here? What does it mean to stand together to be part of this incredible movement, to face criticism, ridicule, and laws and lawmakers (against life)? It means to protect and promote the most precious gift in the world, the gift of life. It means to stand up stand tall and stand together against the indifference and the indefensible and on behalf of babies in the womb.

“This is a time of incredible promise for the pro-life and pro-adoption movement,” she continued. “Women who face troubled pregnancies should know they are not alone, that they are not judged, they are protected and cared for and celebrated.”

Conway told pro-life supporters: “Allow me to make it very clear; we hear you, we see you, we respect you, and we look forward to working with you, and yes, we march, we walk, we run and endeavor forward with you.”

At midday, there was no official crowd count from the March for Life organization. A CNN reporter said there were attendees “as far as the eye could see.”

After a lineup of speakers, rally participants planned to march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court.

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Trump’s move to build border wall will ‘tear families apart,’ bishop warns

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration criticized President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would “put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way.”

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, also criticized Trump’s memorandum on a surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, saying it would “tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Trump signed the two executive memorandums on national security Jan. 25 during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the wall, a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign, would “stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration” along the southern border. He also said Trump’s top priority was the nation’s security.

But hours later, Bishop Vasquez issued a statement saying that construction of the wall would “make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.

“Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

During a February 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis traveled to the U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez and pleaded for the plight of immigrants. He said those who refuse to offer safe shelter and passage were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops respected the government’s right to control its borders and to ensure the safety of all Americans, but said, “We do not believe that a large-scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform.”

He said the new policies would “make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Every day my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey,” Bishop Vasquez said.

At the Jan. 25 White House briefing, Spicer reiterated that Mexico would end up paying for construction of the wall. He said Trump would work with Congress on finding money to pay for the construction, noting, “there are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used.”

Trump’s second executive memorandum also directed John F. Kelly, secretary of homeland security, to look at how federal funding streams can be cut for cities and states that illegally harbor immigrants. Spicer said the so-called “sanctuary cities” create a problem for taxpayers.

“You have American people out there working” and their tax funds are sent to places that do not enforce the law, he said.

The executive memorandums did not address the issue of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nor did they discuss emigration from the Middle East, which Spicer said would be addressed later in the week.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S. frontier with Mexico. The Associated Press reported that legislation led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It said the final sections were completed after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

AP reported that a 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that structures along the border cannot disrupt the flow of rivers that define the U.S.-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona.

The PICO National Network, the largest network of congregations and faith-based groups in the country, including Catholics, challenged the executive memorandum on sanctuary cities.

“Retaliating against local communities because they refuse to follow immoral policies is part of an emerging pattern of President Trump of not only bullying people who dare to disagree with him, but isolating and further marginalizing people who are different than him,” said Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO National Network’s LA RED campaign. “Such behavior is inconsistent with the long-held notion that America was a place of opportunity for all.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, called the presidential orders “antithetical to our faith.”

“When Nuns on the Bus visited the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, we walked along the wall and listened to the stories of communities that have been torn apart for decades. That is the reality experienced by border communities: The wall is there and it affects the daily life and commerce of the people.

“Federal appropriations for border security have grown to $3.8 billion in FY2015, from $263 million in FY1990, and fencing exists for hundreds of miles along our southern border,” she said in a statement.

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