Ben Johnson

Democrats repeatedly invoke Sr. Keehan endorsement during hearings on HHS mandate

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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 17, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Seeking to prove that President Obama’s accommodation on the HHS mandate does not infringe on Christian institutions’ freedom of religion, Democratic congressmen on Thursday repeatedly cited the controversial endorsement of the mandate Sister Carol Keehan made on behalf of the Catholic Health Association (CHA). 

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport testified before Congress Thursday that the new version of the policy - which shifts the distribution of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs from religious employers to their health insurance companies, but does not allow anyone to opt out of coverage - would force the nation’s largest denomination to fund and provide products it simultaneously denounces. 

The House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, asked Bishop Lori about “all the other Catholic entities that praised the Obama administration last week for allowing” them to follow the dictates of “their faith and the law.”

“Unlike you, they believe these remaining issues can be worked out,” Cummings said.

He then quoted a series of endorsements by private Catholic organizations, beginning with Sr. Keehan’s statement that the CHA was “very pleased” with the adjustment, as well as an initial reaction from Catholic Charities that it “welcomes” the president’s efforts. Catholics United similarly “called the White House’s plan ‘a win-win,’” that showed Obama was “willing to rise above” partisan politics, Cummings said.

Bishop Lori responded, “Catholic Health Association does not speak for the church as a whole. Catholic bishops speak for the Church as a whole.”

CHA, the bishop said, “is a lobbying group. It is a trade association. It is not the Church, as such…Catholic Charities is in the same position.” 

“I don’t know much about Catholic United except it doesn’t have any particular standing in the Church,” he said.

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The nun’s actions played a part in the most dramatic moments of the hearings. As Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly accused the testifying clergy of “trampling” on freedom, he said, “The Catholic hospitals supported the compromise. They’re not afraid of closing down hospitals in America.”

Almost immediately following the president’s nationally televised speech announcing the “adjustment” to the mandate last Friday, Sr. Keehan sent out a press release that CHA was “pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.” Planned Parenthood issued a statement at the same time, praising the president for not folding on the matter of mandatory contraception coverage. Meanwhile the bishops, who had not been privy to inside discussions on the revised mandate, were scrambling to make sense of the “accommodation,” and only issued a statement denouncing it later that evening.

In the meantime the media juxtaposed the CHA’s and Planned Parenthood’s reactions as though the accommodation had answered all parties’ objections. John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, told LifeSiteNews.com CHA’s actions amounted to “a scandal.”

Sr. Keehan sent her statement to the White House even before Obama’s speech had been made. Darron Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE), had e-mailed a copy of her statement to “friends” last Friday morning, writing, “I wanted to be sure you saw Sister Carol Keehan’s statement on the new regulation being proposed and finalized later this morning.”

Keehnan’s apparent advance knowledge of the policy contrasts with the administration’s treatment of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The president’s accommodation policy “came upon the bishops’ conference of a sudden,” Bishop Lori testified on Thursday. He said, while Obama called him before last Friday’s speech, the president had not conferred with the bishops nor gotten their input.

“There was no consultation. It was not given to us in writing, and it was told to us not long before it was announced,” Bp. Lori said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, confirmed “I did not speak with the Catholic bishops” during Senate testimony on Wednesday. She added that she had not asked the Justice Department for its opinion about whether the accommodation was constitutional.

“When we first heard it ourselves, we wondered if there might not also be a glimmer of hope,” the bishop said yesterday, “but upon further analysis within that same day we immediately began to see problems…There are serious problems at the level of principle and the level of practicality.”

The bishop and Congressman Cummings clashed again later in the hearing over objections the Obama administration’s denial of grants to a Catholic service that refuses to refer sex trafficking victims for abortions, which was the subject of a two-hour hearing before the Oversight Committee last year. The congressman said Roman Catholic institutions still receive “millions and millions of dollars in all kinds of contracts.”

“We don’t get a handout,” Bishop Lori replied. “We contract for services, and we deliver, and we bring to those services some moral convictions. And we shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because we bring some moral convictions to the table.”

“We also bring the generosity of the Catholic people, and we bring volunteers,” he added. “When you contract with the Church, you get a bang for your buck.”

Bishop Lori was one of ten people to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday during a hearing entitled, entitled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

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