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Bishops, faith groups worry about consequences of partial travel ban

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration said the country’s Catholic bishops are “deeply concerned” about the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow a partial ban on foreign nationals as it reviews the constitutionality of a wider ban.

“Today’s decision will have human consequences,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, of Austin, Texas, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that in October it will hear a case involving President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which seeks to delay entry into the country by immigrants, including refugees, from six majority-Muslim countries. It also seeks to suspend, for a time, the entry of all refugees.

A stoplight by the steps to the U.S. Supreme Court reflects the court's decision to allow a partial travel bank on foreign nationals as it reviews a case. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

A stoplight by the steps to the U.S. Supreme Court reflects the court’s decision to allow a partial travel bank on foreign nationals as it reviews a case. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

The court announced June 26 that until its hears the case in the fall and weighs a decision, it would allow part of the ban to be implemented and some “foreign nationals” will be barred from entering the country, but that determination will be made depending on the applicant’s previous relationships with a person or institution in the U.S. The administration says it needs to implement the ban while it reviews the refugee resettlement program and its vetting procedures.

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops are “deeply concerned about the welfare of the many other vulnerable populations who will now not be allowed to arrive and seek protection during the proscribed pause, most notably certain individuals fleeing religious persecution and unaccompanied refugee children.”

He urged the Trump administration to include refugee service providers as well as national security and immigration experts in a timely, transparent and efficient review of the existing refugee resettlement program.

“We believe it is vital to utilize the full expertise of the existing resettlement program when conducting such an important evaluation,” he said in a statement issued late June 26.

The court said the partial ban it has allowed to go forward allows “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” to apply for entry, but “all other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of (the executive order).”

That means a person with family or a nexus with an organization, such as a university or employer, is not affected by the ban.

The court seemed to be taking into consideration the hardships the ban would create for an “American party,” such as a family member, whose relatives are denied entry, or for a university or employer, while also trying to consider the administration’s arguments that it’s necessary to do so in the interest of national security.

Denying entry to immigrants with no connection to the country “does not burden any American party,” the court said. And though the order is seeking to cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at 50,000, the court said that if a person with one of the previously mentioned connections to the U.S. is seeking refuge, “such as a person may not be excluded … even if the 50,000 has been reached or exceeded.”

Groups such as Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“This ruling will devastate some of the most vulnerable people in the world, innocent people who are fleeing the exact kind of violence that this executive order seeks to protect against,” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice president for government relations and advocacy. “The facts tell us that that these refugees already undergo significant vetting – more than anyone who enters the United States — and none has gone on to commit acts of violence.”

It also reinforces the false idea that refugees are dangerous, O’Keefe said.

“We outright reject the idea that refugees are implicitly dangerous,” he said. “At a time of such unprecedented need around the world, we should be doing more to help and resettle those who are in danger and need, not less.”

Christopher G. Kerr, executive director of Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization based in Ohio, said the high court’s decision “does not reflect our country’s spirit of compassion and welcome.”

“When we create uncertainty for those seeking safety from conflict and persecution, we compromise their dignity as fellow people of God,” said Kerr. “We continue to stand with those seeking refuge and safety here in the United States.”

The troubled executive order went into litigation almost as soon as it was issued Jan. 27, just a week into the new president’s term. It was revised in March, but those revisions, too, have faced legal challenges.

In a statement after the court’s announcement, Trump said the high court’s decision was a “clear victory” for national security.

“It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective,” he said.

In a partial dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said he worried that “the court’s remedy will prove unworkable” and that the “compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding, on peril of contempt, whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country.”

It also may “invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision came a day before it ended its current term. The new court term begins in October.

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Supreme Court levels ‘playing field’ state grants to religious schools

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court June 26 said a Lutheran preschool should not be excluded from a state grant program to refurbish its playground surface just because it is a religious entity.

“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court’s opinion.

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26 after the court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which sued after being denied a state grant for creating a safer playground. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26 after the court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which sued after being denied a state grant for creating a safer playground. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

The court’s decision reverses a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had sided with the state’s 2015 decision to exclude the school from obtaining grant funds.

Roberts said the appeals court decision made it clear that the Trinity Lutheran preschool was “put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit,” and the answer they were given was: “No churches need apply.”

At issue in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was the school’s denial of grant reimbursement to nonprofit groups for the cost of purchasing and installing playground surfaces using recycled tires through a state program.

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, which administers the playground resurfacing program, ranked Trinity Lutheran’s grant application fifth out of the 44 it received. The department, which funds 14 grants, said it denied the school’s application because the state constitution prohibits state funds from going “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

For Trinity Lutheran, the bigger issue was the school’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, which was a key point in oral arguments presented to the court in April.

The court’s opinion noted that the school was not claiming “any entitlement to a subsidy” but was asserting its “right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character.”

It also said the case indicated discrimination against religious exercise not just in “the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the church, solely because it is a church, to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”

The court stressed that this case was unlike Locke v. Davey, a 2004 court ruling which said federally funded scholarships were not required to go to college students who were receiving divinity degrees. In the preschool case, the playground grant was not related to religion.

Roberts, writing the court’s 19-page opinion, said the student in question in the Davey case was not denied a scholarship because of who he was but “because of what he proposed to do, using taxpayer funds in a clergy training program.” In the playground resurfacing case, Roberts wrote: “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is — a church.”

Roberts’ opinion states from the outset that he did not concur with footnote No. 3. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch made similar distinctions. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan concurred in full with the opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a 27-page dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The footnote in question says: “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination,” which may limit the scope of the ruling.

Sotomayor said the court described the Lutheran school decision as “a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground,” but she warned that the “stakes are higher.”

She said the court’s ruling “profoundly changes” the relationship between church and state “by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.”

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, called the court’s decision “good for kids and good for religious liberty.”

Becket filed a filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the school’s behalf as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Missouri Catholic Conference, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Salvation Army.

“This decision is significant because seven of the justices agreed that churches can’t be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to widely available public safety benefits,” said Smith.

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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High court: State erred in denying poor defendant independent evaluation

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the state of Alabama erred in denying an indigent defendant now on death row a separate psychiatric evaluation that would assist in his own defense.

The ruling, issued June 19, overturned the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in 2015 in the case of James McWilliams, and returned it to that court for further review. Read more »

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Venezuela’s bishops call for civil disobedience amid constitutional crisis

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CARACAS, Venezuela — In response to a renewed constitutional crisis in the country, the Venezuelan bishops’ conference has called for “peaceful civil disobedience” to restore constitutional order. Read more »

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U.S. bishops say compromise could be reached in HHS contraceptive mandate case

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WASHINGTON — A Sept. 9 letter from USCCB officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.

The letter, in response to the government’s request for comments on a proposal mandating contraceptive coverage, echoed the Supreme Court’s May 16 decision in Zubik v. Burwell — the combined lawsuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, and several other religious groups, that said providing contraception coverage to employees through their insurance plans violated their religious beliefs.

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington are seen near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23. A Sept. 9 letter from U. S. bishops'  officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.(CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington are seen near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23. A Sept. 9 letter from U. S. bishops’ officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.(CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The court sent the cases back to the lower courts saying religious employers and the government should be “afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”

For this accommodation to happen, the USCCB letter stressed that “any government-mandated contraceptive coverage must be truly independent of petitioners and their plans,” meaning the coverage should be offered by a separate communication and with a different policy, enrollment process, insurance card and payment source.

The letter, signed by members of the USCCB’s general counsel, also said such coverage should not be automatic in order to protect the conscience rights of people with religious objections to contraception and sterilization coverage.

It said that another look at the HHS contraceptive requirement provides an opportunity for the government to “bring to an end years of church-state litigation and, in turn, to avoid a legacy of ongoing and unnecessary conflict with substantial portions of the religious community in the United States.”

It also noted that the Supreme Court had urged the litigants “to resolve this matter amicably” which the letter said they had done by “describing, in good faith and in great detail, a way to reach an amicable resolution.”

But these groups cannot change the regulations, the letter added, stressing that only the government could and should do this instead of ignoring “the sincerely held and repeatedly stated religious objections of a substantial minority of our civil society.”

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Supreme Court tie vote blocks temporary plan to stop deportations

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration’s plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Read more »

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U.S. Supreme Court orders Zubik case back to lower courts, without ruling on religious freedom

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court May 16 sent the Zubick v. Burwell case, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement for employers, back to the lower courts.

The justices’ unanimous decision, explained in a nine-page order, was based on the information that both sides submitted a week after oral arguments were heard in the case about how and if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to this coverage.

Women religious demonstrate March 23 against the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts May 16, (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA) See WASHINGTON-LETTER-SCOTUS-BRIEF May 6, 2016.

Women religious demonstrate March 23 against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts May 16, (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA) See WASHINGTON-LETTER-SCOTUS-BRIEF May 6, 2016.

The court made clear that it is not expressing an opinion on the merits of the cases that are challenging aspects of the federal government’s health legislation and it also was not ruling on the issue of a potential violation of religious freedom.

Because of the “gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties,” the court stated that religious employers and the government should be “afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”

The court stressed that this approach is “more suitable” than addressing the refined positions submitted by both sides and added that “although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this court’s involvement at this point to resolve them.”

Five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one had ruled against it. But now, equipped with the new information both sides submitted to the Supreme Court, the lower courts have been ordered to review these cases once more.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separately to stress that the court had not decided any of the legal questions in the cases and cautioned the lower courts not to read anything into the new opinion.

“This is a game-changer,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the group’s challenging the federal contraceptive mandate.

He said the opinion reflects that the court has “accepted the government’s concession” that it can provide contraceptives to women “without using the Little Sisters.”

He also was pleased the court was forbidding the government “from fining the Little Sisters even though they are refusing to bow to the government’s will. It is only a matter of time before the lower courts make this victory permanent,” he said in a May 16 statement.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl had a more nuanced look at the court’s opinion, saying he was pleased that it offered a path forward, but he also acknowledged that “this struggle will continue.”

The Washington Archdiocese is one of several plaintiffs in this case.

The cardinal said the archdiocese will continue its work to “serve others in education, health care, social services, and outreach to the poor and those most in need. We will continue to do that because we are resolute that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity in what we proclaim and in what we do that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society.”

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, another of the plaintiffs, said the organization’s officials are “studying the implications of this development and are encouraged by it.”

He said the group, in response to the court’s request for more information, showed that there is “a way for the government to pursue its objectives without burdening our freedom of religion. We are ready to present these new arguments in the court of appeals.”

This is not the first time the court has sent a case back to the lower courts in light of new developments.

The opinion stressed that sending the case back to lower courts should not affect the government from making sure women covered by petitioners’ health plans obtain FDA-approved contraceptives, but it also means the government “may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice” stating their objection to the coverage.

The court’s opinion “can be seen as both a reset and a pause,” said Richard Garnett, a University of Notre Dame law professor, who said the decision doesn’t end the argument but it “wipes away” several lower court opinions that had ruled against the religious challengers. He said the court’s action also delays a further ruling until a new justice is on the court.

Garnett said if Justice Antonin Scalia were still on the bench, a majority would have likely ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the other challengers.

“The government’s admissions in oral argument and in the supplemental briefs appear to have made it possible for the justices to avoid a confusing and inefficient 4-4 tie and for all eight to agree on this intermediate step,” he added.

Legal analyst Lyle Denniston, who writes for scotusblog.com, a blog on the Supreme Court, similarly pointed out that the court’s attempt at compromise shows how it is “having to adjust its actions to deal with the fact that it is one justice short of its normal membership.”

He also noted that varied reactions to the court’s opinion shows that it “may take some time for observers to sort out just what the court has done and its implications.”

Oral arguments for Zubik v. Burwell were heard March 23 and the court asked for additional information March 29. The case involves the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, the Pennsylvania dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, and the Archdiocese of Washington and other religious groups challenging the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most religious and other employers must cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance.

These groups, who do not fit the narrow exemption to the contraceptive mandate given to churches, argued that providing contraceptive coverage even indirectly through a third party, as the Obama administration allows through what it calls an accommodation, still violates their religious beliefs.

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Supreme Court hears arguments in HHS contraceptive mandate case

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — During oral arguments March 23 at the Supreme Court, attorneys on both sides of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement examined how the mandate either violates or strikes a balance with religious freedom.

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington near the U.S. Supreme Court March 23 in Washington. The high court heard oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS /Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington near the U.S. Supreme Court March 23 in Washington. The high court heard oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS /Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Lawyers representing the seven groups of plaintiffs said the federal government’s so-called accommodation for religious employers to arrange for a third party to provide contraceptive coverage in health plans was inconsistent because the government already had been able to provide churches an exemption from the requirement.

Paul Clement of the Washington-based Bancroft firm, who was one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, argued that religious freedom was at stake in the federal government’s accommodation because even though the contraceptive coverage would be supplied by a third party, the religious employers would still be complicit in providing something that goes against their beliefs.

“The problem is we have to fill out a form, and the consequence of us filling out that form is we will be treated very differently from those other religious employers” that are exempt, he said.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Beaton Verrilli Jr., in defending the federal government, argued that the government’s accommodation struck the necessary balance required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

RFRA says that if a law restricts the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, there must be a compelling government interest to do so and it must not place an unreasonable burden on the religious exercise.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stressed that “no one doubts for a moment the sincerity” of the religious employers that object to providing contraceptive health care coverage, but she and other justices indicated that such a belief goes up against the compelling interest of the government’s plan to provide health coverage for women, and the accommodation sought to find that balance.

Clement argued that an accommodation isn’t “immune from RFRA analysis” and that the problem is giving an accommodation to some religious groups, but not all.

Noel Francisco of Jones Day, arguing on behalf of the dioceses who are plaintiffs, also noted that if the government is willing to address the contraceptive coverage in some ways for groups that meet the accommodation standard, than they should look to other ways for other religious groups to be exempt as well.

There was a fair amount of back and forth on where the government should draw the line and if it draws it one place, should it draw it again, or should it never have drawn the line in the first place?

Verrilli said the government’s line has not always been perfect, but it did try to try to strike a balance. There is an objective limit to what RFRA can do, he added.

He also said the government’s solution was the least restrictive approach, and he also did not think the plaintiffs, by using third parties, were complicit in what they disagreed with, even though they have stated again and again they feel that way.

As the discussion centered on health exchanges, grandfathered clauses and exemptions, Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the argument with Verrilli as the government’s desire for a “seamless” health care package versus the religious objections of the plaintiffs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life and the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Washington are among numerous plaintiffs around the country consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell.

The case is named for Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, most religious and other employers are required to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance. Refusal to comply subjects nonexempt employers to heavy fines.

A very narrow exemption for churches and religious orders was permitted from the start, but several Catholic and other religious institutions and ministries that were not exempted, such as colleges, hospitals and charitable providers, said they could not participate in providing contraceptives without violating their beliefs.

The Obama administration then created its accommodation, or “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to the contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter. This triggers an arrangement for a third party to provide the coverage. These employers still found the “opt-out” provision objectionable.

Five years later, several circuit courts of appeal ruled that religious entities, such as the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, were not substantially burdened by the opt-out procedures. Only one such court, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a September ruling, accepted the nonprofits’ argument that complying with the opt-out provision violates their religious beliefs.

In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court relied on RFRA to rule in favor of two family-owned private businesses, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that providing contraceptives in health care coverage to employees was contrary to the owners’ Christian beliefs.

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Priest-son celebrates Justice Scalia’s funeral Mass at National Shrine

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Just as many pilgrims are passing through the Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in this Year of Mercy, the casket bearing the body of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia entered through the door Feb. 20.

Family members follow the casket of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to a hearse waiting outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after his Feb. 20 funeral Mass. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Family members follow the casket of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to a hearse waiting outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after his Feb. 20 funeral Mass. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Father Paul Scalia, the justice’s son and the main celebrant and homilist at his father’s funeral Mass, said the fact that Scalia’s casket was carried through that door of mercy was a great blessing. In his homily, he emphasized that his father was a man of faith, dedicated to his family and service to his country, a man who relied on God’s mercy and was sustained through the sacraments.

“We give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist and healed him in the confessional,” Father Scalia said in his homily. “God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith, the conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through his body, the church.”

Speaking of his father’s devotion to his Catholic faith, Father Scalia said, “He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He treasured the church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation, as Christ working within him for his salvation.”

Father Scalia, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is episcopal vicar for clergy for the diocese, where the late justice lived with his family.

The elder Scalia died Feb. 13 of natural causes while in Texas for a hunting trip. He was 79. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, and by the couple’s nine children and 36 grandchildren.

The family then sat in a front section as the casket was placed at the base of the steps leading to the main altar.

At the Mass were the eight remaining members of the U.S. Supreme Court: Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Retired Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter also were present.

Other dignitaries in attendance included: Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; former Vice President Dick Cheney; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz, currently a candidate for president, once served as a Supreme Court clerk.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, welcomed Justice Scalia’s family members and friends and the dignitaries to the Mass and acknowledged the presence of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

Other Catholic leaders at the Mass included Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the national shrine; and John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America. Nearly 100 priests concelebrated the Mass and were joined by about 36 deacons. The congregation of 3,300 people included Catholic laypeople and women and men religious, as well as guests of many different faiths.

Leonard Leo, a friend of Justice Scalia who is executive vice president of the Federalist Society, read the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, which opened with, “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.” Justice Thomas read the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Deacon Colin Davis, of the Diocese of Arlington, read the Gospel reading from St. Matthew.

The liturgy also reflected Scalia’s sense of humor, with both Cardinal Wuerl and Father Scalia joking about the family’s desire “for a simple parish family Mass” for the justice’s funeral, which ended up being held in the largest Catholic church in North America to accommodate the number of mourners.

Since his death, Father Scalia said in his homily, the justice had been praised by many for his intellect, his writings and speeches. “But more important to us and to him was that he was Dad. He was the father God gave us for the great adventure of family life,” Father Scalia said. “Sure, he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there were nine of us.”

On a serious note, he added, “He loved us, and sought to show that love, and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured.”

The priest also expressed thanks for his parents’ marriage, noting that “Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step and even hold him accountable.”

“God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country,” Father Scalia said. “He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there.”

The priest said Scalia “understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and a public servant he became.”

Later during the prayer of commendation, Father Scalia, prayed that God would grant the justice a merciful judgment.

As the congregation sang, “O God Beyond All Praising,” Scalia’s casket was carried down the shrine’’s center aisle, accompanied as he had been in life by his family, and then they left for his private burial ceremony.

     

Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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U.S. bishops file brief with high court on behalf of Little Sisters of the Poor

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WASHINGTON — The general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have asked the court for relief from being forced to comply with the federal contraceptive mandate.

Pope Francis greets Sister Marie Mathilde, 102, during his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor residence in Washington  last September. (CNS/ L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis greets Sister Marie Mathilde, 102, during his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor residence in Washington last September. (CNS/ L’Osservatore Romano)

The brief was filed Jan. 8 in the Zubik v. Burwell case, which the court will hear this year. The case will determine whether the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries can be forced to comply with the contraceptive mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide coverage for birth control drugs and procedures. Churches themselves and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt.

Nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies are not exempt, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services created what it calls an “accommodation” under which such organizations morally opposed to the coverage may file a particular form or notify HHS that they will not provide it.

The contraceptive coverage is then provided to those organizations’ employees, but through third parties, and with no cost or further involvement to the employer. Entities that refuse to comply with the mandate are subject to significant fines.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a July 14 ruling, saying the sisters were not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they could avoid the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance.

The USCCB brief argues that the contraceptive mandate not only damages religious freedom, but society as a whole.

“If the petitioners abide by their religious beliefs, they face the loss of the ability to sponsor health coverage for their employees and millions of dollars in fines, threatening financial ruin. No one benefits from such an outcome, not the organizations, their donors, their clients, or their employees,” the brief said.

The brief also highlighted the major contributions made by Catholic and other religious charities and social services by assisting millions of people every year. Seven other Catholic and non-Catholic organizations signed onto the USCCB brief: Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; Catholic Relief Services; Family Research Council; Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; The Cardinal Newman Society; Thomas More Society; and World Vision.

Other amicus briefs were filed by leaders from other faiths and members of Congress.

“We have great admiration for the Little Sisters who are standing up not just for themselves and the elderly poor they serve, but for the rights of all people of faith, including Jews,” said Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin in a statement. “Their courage is an example to all of us,” added the rabbi, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters, based in Denver, said the sisters are “overjoyed and deeply grateful for the diverse outpouring of support we have received from such a variety of people and groups.”

Sister Loraine Marie and Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor, have been invited by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Jan. 12.

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