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House OKs aid to genocide victims; Senate urged to act quickly

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WASHINGTON — The co-authors of a House bill that will provide humanitarian aid to Christians and other religious groups suffering at the hands of Islamic State militants praised the June 6 House passage of the measure and urged the Senate to quickly act on it.

The House unanimously approved the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, or H.R. 390, in a voice vote.

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai Soro, head of the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle based near San Diego, is seen in Washington June 7 during a news conference about bipartisan support in Congress for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai Soro, head of the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle based near San Diego, is seen in Washington June 7 during a news conference about bipartisan support in Congress for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Co-authored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, the bill will provide emergency relief and aid to the victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, particularly the Christians in the Middle East as well as other religious minorities.

The humanitarian aid will be directed to groups such as the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil, Iraq, which provides direct care for victims, and those groups in turn get the assistance to those in need.

Smith and Eshoo held a news conference June 7 urging the Senate to continue the progress of this legislation to ensure the swift direction of funds to the Middle East.

“We are celebrating something today that we believe is something that is going to make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who have been persecuted by ISIS,” Eshoo said. “Certainly the Christians, those of my own background, the Yezidis, and other minorities in the Middle East.”

Since 2013, Smith has actively worked through hearings and mission trips to spread awareness of the situation of the victims of ISIS in the Middle East. Part of the effort was to get the United States to admit that what was occurring was genocide.

“As I think many of you know, Congress has been trying for the better part of three years to finally get a designation of genocide being committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis and some other Muslim minorities in the area,” Smith said. “Ultimately, it did become a policy of the United States of America.”

When then-Secretary of State John Kerry issued a declaration of genocide about ISIS in March 2016, it was one of the few times in the nation’s history that the U.S. government had made such a determination. Eshoo said the declaration requires further legislation that will confirm what the victims have endured.

“They too, like people in our country, want their lives to go on, especially for their children,” Eshoo said. “The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations and this legislation allows for that.”

In addition to sending humanitarian aid for groups in Iraq and Syria to provide to genocide victims, the bill also ensures that the government’s money will be monitored.

“There will be accountability for these dollars,” Eshoo said. “But it is so essential to work with those who are on the ground that know exactly where the dollars should go.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus, has worked with Smith to get support of the bill and has testified on behalf of the measure.

“We must have the courage to confront reality and then we must have the courage to change reality,” Anderson said.

The Knights of Columbus has donated over $12 million to groups in the Middle East aiding Christian refugees. In addition, they recently began an ad campaign in an effort to raise more funds.

“These are people who are still praying in the language of Jesus,” Anderson said. “They have every right to survive.”

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai A. Soro, who heads the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle, which is based near San Diego, also attended the news conference. He said the current situation for Christians in the Middle East remains fragile, as they suffer at the hands of radical Islamic groups.

“It is very unfortunate that Iraq as a country still lacks the certain constitutional amendments that guarantee liberty and equality to all Iraqis,” Bishop Soro said. “It remains our dream that the Christians will not be second-class citizens in their own native homeland, Iraq. But instead, they will hopefully soon have equal social, economic, political, lives and statuses just as all Iraqis have.”

Haider Elias, president of the human rights group Yazda, whose own brother and other relatives were killed by ISIS, spoke to the critical aspect of the bill.

“As this legislation has been passed by the House, we urge the Senate to act upon it and expedite it as quickly as possible,” Elias said. “These Yezidis and Christians are in dire need for such assistance in order to survive as religious minorities in our region.”

Smith said that they have contacted several representatives in the Senate who they believe will offer similar support to the bill. He said he hopes they will vote within the next couple of weeks.”

By Josephine von Dohlen

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United States urged to address religious freedom violations worldwide

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. congressman told attendees at a Washington summit on Christian persecution that “more than ever before, vigorous U.S. leadership and diplomacy are needed to address religious freedom violations globally.”

“Religious persecution is festering and exploding around the world. What has been unconscionable for decades, centuries, has gotten worse,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said May 12 in remarks at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. Read more »

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Bishops’ committee chairman: Fix flaws in American Health Care Act

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.

“It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded,” Bishop Dewane said in a May 4 statement. “The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act.”

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

He added, “When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people, including immigrants, as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system.”

One of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill was Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

“I voted no on the AHCA largely because it cuts Medicaid funding by $839 billion; undercuts essential health benefits such as maternity care, newborn care, hospitalization and pediatric services; includes ‘per capita caps’ and weakens coverage for pre-existing health conditions — all of which will hurt disabled persons, especially and including children and adults with autism, the elderly and the working poor,” Smith said in a May 4 statement.

“Over the past several years, we have seen the flaws of Obamacare, including increased premiums and deductibles, diminishing health care options and patients losing plans they were assured they could keep. These very real problems underscore the need for meaningful bipartisan reform,” Smith added.

Those opposing the bill cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Those favoring the bill cited its pro-life provisions.

“The vote falls far short of protecting the millions of Americans who have insurance or gained it under the Affordable Care Act,” said a May 4 statement from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It also fails to provide access to affordable health care for the millions who still live without coverage.”

“The role of health care should implicitly be to provide the highest quality care for the largest number of people, in the interest of maintaining dignity and quality of life, as our faith calls us to do. It is immoral to restrict access to care for anyone, but especially for the most vulnerable, including those who need consistent treatment and our aging population,” said a May 5 statement by Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

“As arguably the most powerful, developed country in the world, it is inexcusable that our health care system is failing so many. We can and must do better,” Carolan said.

“The passage of the American Health Care Act in the House is a dangerous and irresponsible step that threatens access to health care for at least 24 million Americans. It violates Christian and Catholic faith teaching and the values of our nation,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, in a May 4 statement.

“This was not the faithful way forward,” she added. “We are hurting our people and rewarding the rich through tax breaks disguised as a health care reform bill. This is literal ‘blood money.’ The blood of those who are denied coverage will be on the hands of those who voted for this bill.”

“Today’s House vote marks the beginning of the end of the shell game Planned Parenthood plays with public money. That the American Health Care Act limits Medicaid funds to entities that don’t kill people is entirely appropriate, not to mention a step that’s long overdue,” said a May 4 statement by Father Frank Pavone, national president of Priests for Life.

“Sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to an organization that dismembers 320,000 unborn babies a year adds up to a travesty of justice,” he added. “The Senate should approve the defunding legislation as soon as possible and send it to the president’s desk. The scam of using public money to prop up abortion businesses needs to be terminated.”

“Abortion is not health care, and in light of that, this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from our America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1,” said a May 4 statement by Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

“We urge our U.S. senators to follow the House’s lead and ensure that pro-life protections and the redirection of Planned Parenthood funding remain, because without it, this bill will fail,” Mancini said.

“National Right to Life praises the Republican leadership for putting this bill together and making sure the most vulnerable members of our society are protected,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a May 4 statement. “Over 2 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. This new health care bill ensures that we are one step closer to getting the federal government entirely out of the business of subsidizing abortion.”

“This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” said a May 4 statement by Louis Brown, director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, based in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan.

“The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship,” Brown said.

“Protecting Medicaid is a priority for the faith community. The ‘fixes’ made to the AHCA do nothing to change the fact that millions of low-income Americans will lose their health coverage,” said a May 4 statement by the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, the anti-hunger lobby. “Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.”

“Since failing to pass the original AHCA, House leadership has made the legislation worse by providing even fewer protections for family farmers and rural Americans,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, in a May 4 statement. “NFU’s priority for any bill is that it offers coverage for more people rather than fewer. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to defeat this legislation that would fail millions of people, especially family farmers and rural Americans.”

“This isn’t a health care bill; it’s a half-a-billion-dollar tax cut for corporations, insurance executives, and the wealthiest Americans,” said Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton in a May 4 statement. “At least 24 million people will lose their health care and Americans age 50 and older will see their costs skyrocket under the ‘age tax’ the bill institutes, all to provide a big tax break for corporations and the wealthy.”

“We support efforts to strengthen and stabilize our nation’s health care system and extend insurance coverage and protections,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “However, the American Health Care Act is not the answer. Accordingly, we call on the Senate to reject the bill due to its projected adverse impact on the well-being of our nation, particularly on individuals with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders.”

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Trump reinstates policy banning U.S. funds for abortions in other countries

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order Jan. 23 reinstating the “Mexico City Policy,” which bans all foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.

The action was hailed by pro-life leaders.

“President Trump is continuing Ronald Reagan’s legacy by taking immediate action on day one to stop the promotion of abortion through our tax dollars overseas,” said a Jan. 23 statement from Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump holds up his executive order reinstating the "Mexico City Policy" banning federal funding of abortion-providing groups abroad after he signed it Jan. 23 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (CNS /Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald J. Trump holds up his executive order reinstating the “Mexico City Policy” banning federal funding of abortion-providing groups abroad after he signed it Jan. 23 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (CNS /Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“President Trump’s immediate action to promote respect for all human life, including vulnerable unborn children abroad, as well as conscience rights, sends a strong signal about his administration’s pro-life priorities,” she said.

“By redirecting taxpayer dollars away from the international abortion industry, President Trump has reinstituted life-affirming protections for unborn children and their mothers,” said a Jan. 23 statement by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. “There is political consensus that taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion and the abortion industry.”

“Now we see pro-life fruits of the election unfolding as President Trump has taken immediate action to reinstitute President Reagan’s Mexico City Policy,” said Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, in a Jan. 23 statement. “Poll after poll shows that Americans do not want their tax money to pay for abortions. Stopping funding to foreign pro-abortion groups is a powerful first step toward doing the same domestically.”

Named for the city that hosted the U.N. International Conference on Population in 1984, where Reagan, then in his first term as president, unveiled it, the Mexico City Policy has been the textbook definition of a political football. Adopted by a Republican president, it has been rescinded when Democrats sat in the White House, only to be restored when Republicans claimed the presidency.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton’s revocation of the policy was made so quickly following his inauguration that some participants in the March for Life, conducted two days after the inauguration, carried “Impeach Clinton” signs.

Just as Clinton had rescinded the policy two days after taking office, so did President George W. Bush reinstate it two days into his presidency, expanding it to include all voluntary family planning activities. President Barack Obama rescinded the policy Jan. 23, 2009.

Court challenges to the policy resulted in rulings in 1987 and 1988 that limited its application to foreign NGOs.

The executive order “makes clear that Trump intends to carry out with his promised pro-life agenda. Taxpayer funding for abortions, whether here or overseas, is unpopular with voters and is plain wrong,” said a Jan. 23 statement by Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with the Catholic Association.

“It amounts to subsidizing the violent victimization of women and children, in particular poor and minority women who feel they have no choice but to have an abortion,” McGuire said. “Redirecting those funds to health centers that offer women real choice and hope is the right policy moving forward.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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House panel calls attacks on Christians, others in Middle East ‘genocide’

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WASHINGTON — The House Foreign Affairs Committee March 2 unanimously passed a bipartisan measure condemning as genocide the killing of Christians, Yezidis and other ethnic and religious minorities by Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

The House body also passed a second measure unanimously calling for an international tribunal to hold the Syrian government led by President Bashar Assad accountable for war crimes for “terrible atrocities” committed against the country’s own people.

Kurdish women mourn during a funeral ceremony in Sirnak, Turkey, Jan. 10. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee March 2 unanimously passes two bipartisan measures to address war crimes and genocide in Middle East. (CNS photo/Refik Tekin, EPA)

Kurdish women mourn during a funeral ceremony in Sirnak, Turkey, Jan. 10. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee March 2 unanimously passes two bipartisan measures to address war crimes and genocide in Middle East. (CNS photo/Refik Tekin, EPA)

The resolution on genocide, introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, “expresses the sense of Congress that the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

“ISIS commits mass murder, beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture, enslavement and the kidnapping of children, among other atrocities,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-California. “ISIS has said it will not allow the continued existence of the Yezidi. And zero indigenous Christian communities remain in areas under ISIS control.”

The Islamic State “is guilty of genocide and it is time we speak the truth about their atrocities. I hope the administration and the world will do the same, before it’s too late,” Royce added.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson issued a statement applauding the House Foreign Affairs Committee for taking “a courageous and historic step in giving meaning to the words ‘never again.’”

“We now look forward to passage by the full House of Representatives,” he continued, “which has the opportunity to be on the right side of history in a bipartisan manner, joining its voice to those of the European Parliament, Pope Francis, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom and prominent genocide scholars worldwide.”

The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Washington-based group In Defense of Christians are currently sponsoring an online petition www.StopTheChristianGenocide.org urging Secretary of State John Kerry not to exclude Christians from a declaration of genocide at the hands of the Islamic state.

“America must end its silence about the ongoing genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria,” says the petition, launched Feb. 25 and being promoted with a new nationwide TV ad. So far, the petition has garnered almost 45,000 signatures.

Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the second resolution OK’d by the House committee “strongly condemns the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the government of Syria, its allies and other parties to the conflict in Syria; and calls on the (U.S.) president to promote the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal.”

Royce in his statement noted that prior to the vote on the second measure, the committee “heard searing testimony regarding the terrible atrocities being committed by Syria’s government against its own people — widespread torture, industrial-scale murder, starvation as a tool of war and the terror of unending barrel bombs.”

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more have been forced from their homes in Syria’s civil war that began with the aim of overthrowing Assad.

A partial truce brokered by the United States and Russia began in Syria Feb. 27. A U.N. report said March 3 that “visible progress” has been made, but fighting continues in some parts of the country. Also, the cease-fire excludes areas held by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.

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Americans a ‘pro-life people,’ House Speaker tells rally

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Americans “as a people are pro-life” because life and liberty “are intertwined and form the core of our national character,” House Speaker John Boehner told the crowd gathered on the National Mall Jan. 23 for the 39th annual March for Life.

“God who gave us life gave us liberty,” said the Ohio Republican, who is a Catholic. He added that his pro-life stand isn’t political, “it’s just who I am.”

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