Ben Johnson

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Updated: 43 Catholic organizations, including Notre Dame, sue Obama administration over HHS mandate

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

Updated at 8:24 p.m. to add quotations from Cardinal Dolan and Tony Perkins.

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, May 21, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a coordinated defense of religious liberty, at 11 a.m. 43 Roman Catholic organizations filed a dozen lawsuits nationwide to strike down the HHS mandate.

The plaintiffs include some of the most significant organs of the U.S. church, including the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis; the Dioceses of Dallas, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ft. Worth, the Michigan Catholic Conference, Pittsburgh, and Rockville Centre; the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University of America, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville; and Our Sunday Visitor.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, said the step was necessary “to protect our religious liberties from unwarranted and unprecedented government intrusion.”

The Archdiocese of Washington has created a website dedicated to the new lawsuit. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., called the mandate a “government attempt to force the Church out of the public square.”

“The Catholic rebellion has begun,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com.

The HHS mandate “amounts to nothing less than a grave threat to our constitutionally protected First Amendment right to freedom of religion,” said Franciscan University President Father Terence Henry, TOR. He added, although they never envisioned taking such a step, the board of trustees unanimously approved the lawsuit.

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Our Sunday Visitor linked its involvement to the legacy of its founder, Fr. John Noll, who fought the political clout of the Ku Klux Klan as that organization attempted to impose anti-Catholic policies at the turn of the 20th century. “Today, Our Sunday Visitor stands proudly with our fellow Catholic apostolates and with our bishops in resisting this challenge,” the publication announced in a press release.

The lawsuit has admirers well outside the Roman Catholic Church. These 43 Catholic institutions “are fighting back to protect the religious liberties of all Americans,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins this afternoon. “We stand with these Catholic organizations that have refused to give up their long held constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”

Perhaps nothing so encapsulated President Obama’s fall from grace with American Catholics than the participation of the University of Notre Dame, where his invitation to deliver the 2009 commencement address stirred controversy. 

“We have filed this lawsuit neither lightly nor gladly, but with sober determination,” wrote Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins in a letter explaining his actions. “Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the [g]overnment from providing such services…We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the [g]overnment not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings.”

Notre Dame does not qualify for the administration’s religious exemption because, although it is “firmly grounded in the tenets of Catholicism,” it does not primarily employ or serve other Roman Catholics.

“Notre Dame cannot be forced to give up its beliefs on abortifacients, sterilization, or contraception, nor its devotion to serving all mankind, without violating its religious beliefs and compromising its religious purpose,” the university’s legal complaint states.

Fr. Jenkins writes that he had registered his objection to the administration’s overly narrow religious exemption numerous times without satisfaction.

The university’s legal complaint states that after Obama announced an “accommodation” that would require insurance companies to directly provide contraceptives to employees and students for “free,” college officials “informed the White House that such a policy would not help Notre Dame, which is self-insured, and would not protect its religious liberties.”

The lawsuit argues the government has no compelling interest in the mandate, that forcing a religious institution to finance abortifacient drugs is not the least restrictive means of providing them, that the rule burdens the university’s free exercise of religion, and that it favors those religions that either favor abortion or have no interest in serving members of other religions.

The university’s health care plan is not grandfathered, and officials maintain they are not certain if it qualifies for the one-year “safe harbor” that extends the implementation of the HHS mandate past the election, into August 2013. The uncertainty over future regulations makes it impossible for the university to plan for its future.

If religious institutions fail to comply with the regulations promulgated next year, they could face a penalty of $100 per day per individual covered. In an online video, Chancellor Jane Belford of the Archdiocese of Washington said that could cost that diocese $4.2 million a year.

Although Fr. Jenkins does “not question the good intentions and sincerity” of administration officials, he warned if the HHS mandate were accepted, it “will be the end of genuinely religious organizations in all but name.”   

Even some liberal Catholics have greeted today’s lawsuit as a positive step. Michael Sean Winters writes at the dissenting National Catholic Reporter, “The lawsuit, and Jenkins’ commentary, are very good news.”

“First, I doubt there is anyone who could charge Notre Dame with being unreasonably hostile to the Ibama [sic] administration,” he wrote. Yet “the administration has still refused to back off the four-part test” to grant an institution a religious exemption “that was, and is, for many of us, the principal difficulty in finding a solution.”

 

 

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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