Ben Johnson

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UPDATED: Supreme Court unanimously shoots down Obama admin in religious freedom case

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 12, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a breakthrough decision for religious freedom, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that religious institutions have a constitutional right to determine their ministers without government interference.

Although the High Court has long recognized churches’ First Amendment right to choose priests and senior pastors, yesterday’s 9-0 decision marked the first time it upheld the “ministerial exception” for religious schools and other parachurch ministries.

“[T]here is a ministerial exception grounded in the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 36-page ruling. “Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision.

“Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs…According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.”

Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, hailed the ruling as “a great day for the First Amendment.” He said, “This decision makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government – because whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asked the court to overturn the ministerial exception, which was first adopted by lower courts in 1972, a legal precedent that precedes Roe v. Wade. Mark Rienzi, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the radio program Kresta in the Afternoon on Thursday the EEOC’s position “said in essence religion gets no special treatment here.”

The Court’s decision called the EEOC’s view of the ministerial exception “untenable,” “extreme,” and “remarkable,” according to religious organizations no greater rights than those enjoyed by “a labor union, or a social club.”  The 9-0 ruling amounted to a “very emphatic rejection of this administration’s very narrow view of religious liberty,” Rienzi said.

The Obama administration sued a Detroit-area Lutheran school for dismissing Cheryl Perich, a teacher and “commissioned minister,” for breaking a church doctrine requiring disputes to be resolved internally. Perich, who was diagnosed with narcolepsy, claimed the school really fired her because of her medical condition. Rather than attend a church tribunal, she filed a discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) joined in litigation against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School, arguing all church employees other than priests or senior pastors should be able to sue for discrimination.

Douglas Laycock, the University of Virginia Law professor who argued the school’s case, said no court could evaluate whether a minister had been fired under a pretext without first ruling whether his views and conduct were sufficiently orthodox, something forbidden under the First Amendment. The First Amendment forbade state intrusion into church hiring practices, Laycock said, adding that Perich referred to herself as a minister and claimed a ministerial housing allowance on her taxes.

The EEOC argued since lay teachers performed the same duties, and ministry took up only 45 minutes of her workday, Perich was entitled to lost wages, damages, and attorneys’ fees. Justice Roberts ruled, “The issue before us, however, is not one that can be resolved by a stopwatch.” In his concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito stated, “the constitutional protection of religious teachers is not somehow diminished when they take on secular functions in addition to their religious ones.”

Religious liberties advocates argued the case had far-reaching consequences for church ministries of all backgrounds. Government interference in church personnel decisions could lead to a chilling of free speech not favored by the current administration, argued John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, which filed an amicus brief on the school’s behalf. “When a church is forced to make employment decisions based on a lawsuit rather than spiritual needs, the end result is that its core activities and spiritual message are inevitably altered in order to accommodate or protect against government pressures or expectations,” he stated.

Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council described the lawsuit as a “profoundly troubling claim of power over churches.” 

Proponents of the administration believed the plaintiff’s civil rights outweighed potential First Amendment concerns. Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stated, “Clergy who are fired for reasons unrelated to matters of theology — no matter how capricious or venal those reasons may be — have just had the courthouse door slammed in their faces.”

The Obama administration’s lawsuit was supported by the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and People for the American Way, American Humanist Association, and several other organizations.

One Catholic organization, BishopAccountability.org, offered an amicus for the EEOC.

Justice Clarence Thomas offered a concurring opinion broadening the ministerial exception and stating the Church should be free to select its ministers entirely free of government regulation. The state, he wrote, should “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as a minister.” Justices Alito and Elena Kagan added in their concurrence that the term “ministers” should not be definitive, to assure Christian sects and non-Christian religions that have no notion of ordained ministry enjoy the same protections.

The issue is likely to come before the court again, as this ruling did not offer a blanket definition of who qualifies for the ministerial exception, or what other kinds of lawsuits may be allowed. Roberts ruled, “There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances if and when they arise.” 

The case is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, speaks to Thomas McKenna of Catholic Action Insight. Catholic Action Insight
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Catholics shouldn’t sue one another: Cardinal Burke comments on Fr. Rosica’s lawsuit against blogger

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Citing Scripture, Cardinal Raymond Burke told an interviewer this week that Catholics should not sue each other: “Our Lord in the Gospel and St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians instruct us not to take our disputes to the civil forum, that we should be able, as Catholics, to resolve these matters among ourselves.”

The cardinal’s comments to the Traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Caeli follow an uproar in the Catholic media world last week when it was revealed that Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica has threatened to sue a Canadian blogger for defamation in the civil courts.

Cardinal Burke, who served under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis as the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a noted expert on canon law. He told Rorate Caeli, “Unless the blogger has committed a calumny on someone's good name unjustly, I certainly don't think that that's the way we as Catholics should deal with these matters.”

“I think contact should be made. I presume that the Catholic blogger is in good faith, and if there’s someone in the hierarchy who is upset with him, the way to deal with it would be first to approach the person directly and try to resolve the matter in that way,” Burke added.

Fr. Rosica, a Canadian Basilian, is the English language press officer for the Vatican and founder of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television network.

He sent the legal letter to David Domet, a Toronto music composer and part-time Catholic blogger who has long criticized what he says are Fr. Rosica’s departures from Catholic orthodoxy. The priest’s lawyer told Domet to remove nine separate items from his blog and apologize, but added that this would not necessarily remove the threat of the civil action.

The conflict was covered in a feature by Michael Voris’ Church Militant TV, and the internet’s Catholic blogger world exploded with indignation. So furious was the backlash that it got coverage by the US conservative news site, Breitbart. This followed dozens of blog posts, nearly unanimously calling the threatened legal action of a well-placed priest against a lay pensioner a “PR disaster” for Rosica. 

The uproar has launched Domet’s small blog, Vox Cantoris, into the international limelight, and has earned Fr. Rosica an avalanche of criticism. “Though Rosica publicly defends the right to freedom of speech and press, he is attempting to silence the blogger who has criticized him,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote for Breitbart.

Among Domet’s criticisms of Fr. Rosica is his apparent support for the proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and others in “irregular” sexual unions, to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Rosica has also recently come under fire for comments he made a year ago, in a lecture in Windsor, Ontario, in which he argued that Catholic doctrine could change. (See video below. Quotes can be found at 48:12.)

“Will this Pope re-write controversial Church doctrines?” Fr. Rosica said in the lecture, which was posted to Youtube. “No. But that isn't how doctrine changes. Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particularly doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God's transforming love.”

Fr. Rosica continued: “Doctrine changes when the Church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights. It changes when the Church has pastors who do what Francis has been insisting: leave the securities of your chanceries, of your rectories, of your safe places, of your episcopal residences go set aside the small-minded rules that often keep you locked up and shielded from the world.”

In the Rorate Caeli interview, Cardinal Burke refuted the idea that the Church can change its “pastoral practice” without changing doctrine.

“I think it’s very important to address a false dichotomy that's been drawn by some who say, ‘Oh no, we’re just changing disciplines. We’re not touching the Church's doctrine.’ But if you change the Church’s discipline with regard to access to Holy Communion by those who are living in adultery, then surely you are changing the Church's doctrine on adultery.”

“You’re saying that, in some circumstances, adultery is permissible and even good, if people can live in adultery and still receive the sacraments. That is a very serious matter, and Catholics have to insist that the Church’s discipline not be changed in some way which would, in fact, weaken our teaching on one of the most fundamental truths, the truth about marriage and the family,” Cardinal Burke said.

Fr. Rosica recently criticized Cardinal Burke on his Twitter account by posting an article by Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on “dissent” in the hierarchy, saying, “Cardinal Wuerl’s response to Burke (and dissenters).”

The priest has also had a confrontational relationship with the pro-life movement for years.

In 1996, Fr. Rosica called the police on pro-life advocates who were leafletting in protest at a lecture by famous dissident Gregory Baum at the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre.

In 2009, Fr. Rosica wrote against objections to the lavish Catholic funeral for US Senator Ted Kennedy’s in Boston. He excoriated the pro-life movement for what he called their lack of “civility.”

“Civility, charity, mercy and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon,” Fr. Rosica wrote. “To recognize and bring out the sin in others means also recognizing one’s self as a sinner and in need of God’s boundless mercy.

“Let us pray that we will become more and more a people, a church and a community overflowing with mercy.”

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Greg Rohrbough, J.D.

Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s CPAC speech was viral in so many ways

Greg Rohrbough, J.D.
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Last week, the winner of the 2015 Citizens United/CPAC Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award was “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson, paterfamilias of the Duck Dynasty Robertson family. In doing so, they were giving Phil the CPAC stage for a speech, knowing that he would speak his unvarnished thoughts. One doubts they expected his topic.

After bringing out his heavily-duct-taped Bible and telling politicians to keep theirs with them, Phil went on the offensive – against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). He quoted the federal Centers for Disease Control, which estimates that more than 100 million Americans now have a sexually transmitted infection.

“I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early,” Robertson said.

Phil’s solution? One older than Christianity, as old as common sense itself. “If you’re disease-free, if she’s disease-free, you marry. You keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually-transmitted disease!”

Logic and mathematics would seem to agree. According to Robertson, his goal was to show love to the listeners. But several left-wing websites didn’t see it that way.

“He certainly used his speech to hate very well. I guess that's the criteria. Who can say the sickest, most vile things about center-left Americans wins!” according to John Amato of Crooks & Liars.

The Huffington Post took offense at his attributing the rise in STDs to the beatniks and hippies.

To their credit, MSNBC acknowledged Phil’s numbers, saying, “For the record, Robertson’s [sic] has his numbers correct. A CDC report from February of 2013 estimated more than 110 [million] cases of sexually transmitted infections in America with about 20 billion [sic, MSNBC’s number] new infections each year at a cost of ‘nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs.’”

The network site then blasted him for comparing ISIS to the Nazis, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.

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Robertson clearly didn’t care what MSNBC thought, though. “You want a Godly, Biblical, medically safe option? One man, one woman, married, for life,” he said.

“What do you call the 110 million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses?” he continued. “It’s the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have come back to haunt us in a bad way!”

But the big question is – is Phil right or wrong? According to the CDC’s website, “Almost every sexually active person will acquire HPV [Human Papillomavirus] at some point in their lives.”

“Sexually active” would seem to indicate activity with new or multiple partners, rather than this Duck Doctor Phil’s Prescription.

But still – “Almost every…person.” That’s quite a few – the website also says, “about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.” While it is the most prevalent venereal disease, HPV is only one of many.

Generally, HPV’s symptoms are more a painful nuisance than life-threatening – genital warts, often only appearing years after the initial infection. But there are also life-threatening illnesses such as cervical cancer, which HPV causes.

Much more frightening, however, is the specter of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, there are about 1.2 million people currently living with HIV, and as many as 50,000 new cases a year, with 63 to 66 percent of those being “MSM,” or “Men who have Sex with Men.” Sadly, the lion’s share of new HIV infections is found in the 13-24 age group; despite being 16 percent of the nation’s population, they account for 26 percent of all new infections, with 72 percent of those being young MSM. While HIV is treatable, there is still no cure.

Although HIV, as well as the current increase in syphilis and hepatitis, are primarily targeting homosexual males, heterosexuals with multiple partners are by no means off the hook. As well as HPV, herpes, drug-resistant gonorrhea and chlamydia are on the rise, as well. The year 2013 saw 1.4 million cases of chlamydia and 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, and the CDC estimates that one person in every six in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 has herpes.

Criticize Phil all you like, folks – he doesn’t mind. He’s only saying this because he cares.

Listen to him again: “I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early.”

“And if you hate me because I told you that,” he said, “I told you, my love for you is not contingent on how you feel about me. I love you anyway. I don’t want you to see you die early or get sick. I’m trying to help you, for cryin’ out loud! America, if I didn’t care about you, why would I bring this up?”

From this CPAC attendee’s perspective, Phil’s speech was not only important from a physical health perspective, it also, along with that duct-taped Bible of his, reminds us of the words of Charles Spurgeon: “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”

Greg Rohrbough, J.D., has been director of government relations for the Meredith Advocacy Group since 2006.

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Steve Weatherbe

Former abortionist who failed to kill unborn baby hit with $1 million lawsuit: baby was born with hole in heart

Steve Weatherbe
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OTTAWA, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Ontario mother of a baby born by mistake is suing the former doctor who botched her abortion for $1 million for his “gross negligence” and “medical malpractice.”

Tania Brown already had four children when she went to Dr. Michel Prevost in Almonte, Ontario in early 2011 for a medical (or pharmaceutical) abortion to prevent a fifth, which her doctor had advised might have birth defects. Several months later she suspected Prevost’s one-two punch of methotrexate (a poison to kill the baby) and misoprostol (to expel the corpse a week later) had not worked. An ultrasound confirmed a beating heart.

Too late for an abortion now, she gave birth, in May, to a baby with “a smaller brain; he had a hole in his heart; he had something wrong with his palate.” She gave him up for adoption.

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Dr. Prevost relinquished his medical licence earlier this month with the certainty that if he didn’t, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons would expel him after an investigation found him “incompetent in his practice of obstetrics and gynecology.”  They looked into 28 abortion cases, two so badly “botched” that the babies survived.

Small wonder the whole business sent Brown into a “debilitating depression,” but her lawyer Ralph Lee told the CBC the case “brings up larger issues…the issue of a woman’s access to abortion.”

Basically, Prevost couldn’t get the dosages right. Methotrexate, MedicineNet.com warns, “has infrequently caused serious (sometimes fatal) side effects.” These include severe azotemia (too much blood urea nitrogen), severe blood infection, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation.

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