Kathleen Gilbert

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Catholic Health Ass’n, Notre Dame pushing dangerous compromise on birth control mandate: watchdog

Kathleen Gilbert
Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A proposal made by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association (CHA) to dodge the Obama administration’s birth control insurance mandate could undermine the religious liberty of many Catholic colleges and universities, says one watchdog of Catholic higher education.

Under the new law, as announced by the Obama administration this summer, virtually all private employers will be required to cover sterilization and all contraception, including abortifacient drugs. The religious exemption currently applies only to organizations that mainly hire and cater to individuals within their own sects, which would exclude most religious colleges, schools, hospitals, charities and other organizations.

In public letters to the Obama Administration, both the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and Fr. John Jenkins of the University of Notre Dame have pointed to Section 414(e) of the IRS Code, which exempts church-related pension plans from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  They recommend the language in 414(e) as an improvement over the strict and narrow religious exemption published by HHS.

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But in a letter to federal health officials Dec 20, the Cardinal Newman Society said the proposed revision would still leave many faith-based colleges out in the cold, “just like the flawed religious exemption it is intended to replace.”

Under Section 414(e), notes CNS, exemption from federal law is available only to an organization that is “controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches,” meaning that the organization must at least share “common religious bonds and convictions with [its] church or convention or association of churches.” 

However, under federal court precedent “common religious bonds” has been interpreted to rely on three factors: that the church play an official role in the governance of the organization, that the organization receive assistance from the church, and whether a denominational requirement exists for any of the organization’s employees or customers.

This litmus test, CNS notes, is not one that most Catholic colleges and universities are likely to meet.  Some of the most orthodox Catholic colleges are entirely controlled by the laity, they point out, and few impose religious tests when hiring employees or accepting students.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already argued against the 414(e) option in its September 17th comment to federal health officials, calling it “inadequate.”

Other Christian organizations also face problems with the 414(e) language, because it exempts only religious organizations with denominational affiliations. 

“While some of our institutions are affiliated with larger church organizational or denominational structures, many are independent religious organizations,” Dr. Paul Corts, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, told CNS. “They are religious not because they are associated with a church or denomination but rather because of their legitimate religious beliefs and practices that are openly held out to the public as such—the critical legal characteristics of a religious entity—and yet, would not be recognized as such under [414(e) language].”

The Society’s concerns were repeated in letters to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the USCCB committee on religious liberty.

In an op-ed Wednesday in The Washington Times, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly writes that the practical effect of the Notre Dame and CHA proposal “would be to slam the door on most religious organizations while providing political cover to the Obama Administration.”  But he also recalls that neither the University of Notre Dame nor CHA “is a stranger to controversy when it comes to President Barack Obama and his support for abortion rights.”

Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins honored Obama with an honorary law degree at the school’s commencement ceremony in 2009, drawing condemnations from 80 active U.S. bishops and over 300,000 petitioning U.S. Catholics.

Months later, CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan emerged as a key supporter of Obama’s health care overhaul, earning accolades from the administration for flouting the USCCB’s direct opposition to the abortion-expanding law.


The full Cardinal Newman Society letter to Secretary Sebelius is below.

 


December 20, 2011

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Health and Human Services
United States Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 120F
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

We are writing with concern about the dangerous implications of a proposal that has been presented to you by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association, which could violate the religious liberty of the faithful Catholic colleges and universities that The Cardinal Newman Society promotes to Catholic families.

As you know, many religious organizations have sought the repeal of the Interim Final Rule on Preventive Services published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2011 (76 Fed. Reg. 46621), which mandates health insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including some that cause abortions.  At the least, religious organizations and individuals seek conscience protection to be exempted from this mandate.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which works to help renew and strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities, is especially concerned about the impact of this mandate on Catholic higher education.  As we noted in our September 29th comment to your department, joined by 18 Catholic colleges and universities and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on Catholic education: “No federal rule has defined being “religious” as narrowly and discriminatorily as the Mandate appears to do, and no regulation has ever so directly proposed to violate plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms.”  Of great concern is the impact on Catholic college health plans for students, which are not currently exempt from the regulation.

The religious exemption in the regulations is inadequate, but so is the replacement proposed by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association in their own comments to your department.  They propose language similar to Internal Revenue Service Code Section 414(e), which describes organizations exempt from provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  Embracing 414(e)-like language would mean leaving many Catholic colleges unprotected, just like the flawed religious exemption it is intended to replace.

A religious exemption similar to 414(e) would only marginally expand the current HHS exemption and would undermine religious liberty.  Under the 414(e) rule, exemption is available only to an organization that is “controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches,” meaning that the organization must at least share “common religious bonds and convictions with [its] church or convention or association of churches.”  In 2001 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said that three factors bear primary consideration when deciding whether an organization shares “common religious bonds and convictions” with a church:

1) whether the religious institution plays any official role in the governance of the organization; 2) whether the organization receives assistance from the religious institution; and 3) whether a denominational requirement exists for any employee or patient/customer of the organization.

The Fourth Circuit set a precedent that has been followed by other federal courts, and it is not a test that most Catholic colleges and universities are likely to meet.  Many are unaffiliated with a religious order; indeed, some of the most faithfully Catholic colleges are entirely lay-controlled.  Few impose religious tests when hiring employees or accepting students.  It is even an open question as to whether Notre Dame would meet the criteria for a 414(e) exemption, which the university has never sought, according to Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued against the 414(e) option in its September 17th comment to your department: “…[S]uch an exemption would be inadequate, because it would fail to protect many stakeholders with a moral or religious objection to contraceptives or sterilization, including individuals, insurers, and even many religiously affiliated organizations.”

While our mission relates to Catholic education, we also support the concerns of religious organizations that are inter-denominational or non-denominational.  As explained by Dr. Paul Corts, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, in a note to The Cardinal Newman Society yesterday: “While some of our institutions… are religious not because they are associated with a church or denomination but rather because of their legitimate religious beliefs and practices that are openly held out to the public as such—the critical legal characteristics of a religious entity—and yet, would not be recognized as such under an exemption requiring conformity with the requirements of IRS Code Section 414(e).”

Secretary Sebelius, the fact is that the 414(e) language would fail to protect the religious liberty of too many religious organizations that object to sterilization, contraception or abortion, including many faithful Catholic colleges and universities.  This is unacceptable.

We continue to urge you to repeal the mandate altogether, or at minimum to protect the consciences of all individuals and organizations that oppose sterilization, contraception or abortion because of their religious beliefs.

Sincerely,



Patrick J. Reilly
President

cc: Joshua DuBois, Executive Director, Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Enterprises


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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkins’ statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities," Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. "Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

"While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born," she said. "Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society."

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the "difficult and confusing time" when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience "negative attitudes."

"What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information," the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the church they attend in New Jersey, "because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey , 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

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President George Bush takes the ice bucket challenge in a video released this week.
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What’s wrong with the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’? A lot, say pro-life leaders

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By Dustin Siggins

Pro-life leaders in the U.S. are warning about ethical problems with the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has raised over $15 million for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease since late July, making its way to the top of American politics, and the entertainment and business worlds in the process.

In recent days, former president George W. Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV hosts Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Fallon, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have all had ice-cold water dumped on their heads in support of the effort.

They have been joined by many thousands of everyday Americans eager to do their part to raise funds to find a cure for the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

However, pro-life leaders from Patheos blogger Father Michael Duffy to the American Life League (ALL) are all pointing out that the ALS Association, which is behind the wildly popular fundraising effort, funds and otherwise supports embryonic stem cell research.

Instead, they are urging that pro-life people who want to participate in the ice bucket challenge send their donations to other charities that don't have similar ethical issues.

Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of an unborn child. This is unlike adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, which are considered ethical.

A spokesperson from the ALS Association admitted to American Life League in an e-mail that while the organization "primarily funds adult stem cell research," they are "funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC)..."

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"It is noble to combat a deadly disease," Live Action president Lila Rose said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews, but added that "it's such a shame that the ALS Association...chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings."

"Embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of pre-born people, is inherently unethical and a violation of fundamental human rights, and even materialists must admit that promises of its benefits have failed to deliver," continued Rose. "There is no good reason to condone this practice; in fact, all it does is taint the ALS Association, whom I'd otherwise be happy to support."

In the email to American Life League, ALS Assocation Spokesperson Carrie Munk defended the organization, saying that the embryonic stem cell research is being funded by an outside donor, and "the stem cell line was established many years ago."

She added that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future," and that currently "donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project."

At least one Catholic archdiocese has spoken up about the problematic relationship between ALS Assocation and unethical research.

"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in the ice bucket challenge," said a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."

Both Fr. Duffy and the archdiocese have recommended money be sent to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa. It is an organization that exclusively researches with adult stem cells. 

One D.C.-area Catholic, Robert Vega, wrote on Facebook that "in light of the absolute dignity of human life and necessity to defend it...I have taken down my Ice Bucket video, untagged myself from my nomination video, and encourage anyone to whom I may have spread the Challenge to do the same."

Embryonic stem cell research, which was a major controversy throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, has quietly, although decidedly, become less popular after many of the exalted promises of its proponents failed to materialize. As LifeSiteNews reported, in 2012 California and Maryland funded a fraction of the embryonic stem cell research projects that they did in 2007. Likewise, Maryland funded nearly twice as many stem cell research projects in 2012 as it had in the prior year -- but only one of the grants was done for an embryonic research project.

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Catholic couple fined $13,000 for refusing to host same-sex ‘wedding’ at their farm

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By Kirsten Anderson
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Robert and Cynthia Gifford

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) has ruled that the Roman Catholic owners of an Albany-area farm violated the civil rights of a lesbian couple when they declined to host the couple’s same-sex “marriage” ceremony in 2012.

Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, were ordered by DHR Judge Migdalia Pares and Commissioner Helen Diane Foster to pay $10,000 in fines to the state and an additional $3,000 in damages to the lesbian couple, Jennie McCarthy and Melissa Erwin for “mental pain and suffering.” 

Additionally, the Giffords must provide sensitivity training to their staff, and prominently display a poster highlighting state anti-discrimination laws.

The Giffords’ attorney, Jim Trainor, told LifeSiteNews that the two-year-legal drama and resulting fines all stemmed from a single brief phone call in 2012 that caught his clients off guard.

“The entire interaction between the Complainants and the Giffords transpired during a two to three minute telephone conversation which, unknown to Mrs. Gifford, was being tape recorded,” Trainor said.

“After communicating the fact that they chose not to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies at the farm because to do so would violate the Giffords’ sincerely held beliefs (that God intended marriage to be between a man a woman only), Mrs. Gifford invited the couple to visit the farm to discuss handling their wedding reception, which the couple refused.” 

The Giffords draw a line, Trainor explained, between a ceremony that solemnizes a homosexual relationship and a reception that celebrates the union after the fact.  To participate in the former, they argue, would be a violation of their own religious beliefs, especially because marriage ceremonies on the farm typically take place in and around the couple’s home, where they live full-time and are raising their two children. 

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But the Giffords are willing to serve gay couples in other ways – for example, they allowed another lesbian couple to throw a birthday party for their adopted child on the farm.

Trainor said he believes the decision by DHR goes too far in that it seeks to regulate what the Giffords can or cannot do in their own private home, even though state law only requires “places of public accommodation” to adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

“They consider the farm their home,” Trainor said. “They live there, they work there, they raise their kids there.”

Trainor also said that the Judge and Commissioner should have taken into account the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which came down weeks before the DHR notified the Giffords of their decision.

“We're disappointed that neither the Administrative Law Judge nor the Commissioner considered the Gifford's Constitutional (1st Amendment) rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a ‘marriage’ ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor said. 

Trainor said he and the Giffords are evaluating their options for further legal action.

The Giffords could simply ask the DHR to reconsider their decision, but Trainor said he doubts that approach would be successful. In order to formally appeal the ruling the couple would have to go to the New York State Supreme Court. 

But there is another option: The Giffords could file a fresh lawsuit in either state or federal court challenging the constitutionality of the DHR ruling.

While religious liberty has been a hot topic in federal court lately, Trainor said New York’s state constitution “actually offers a lot” of protection when it comes to religious freedom. “Many people view it as more expansive than the U.S. Constitution in terms of religious freedoms.”

However, Trainor emphasized that the Giffords have not yet decided which avenue, if any, they are planning to take in terms of pursuing further legal action.

In the meantime, the Giffords will continue hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions at the farm, Trainor said. However, they are considering hiring a dedicated employee to handle the ceremonies in order to avoid having to directly participate in any future same-sex “weddings.”

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