Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Useful background reading regarding the Hobby Lobby lawsuit

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Nina Martin of ProPubica has compiled an excellent set of annotated links. Check out the article at Pacific Standard. Interesting how a corporation believes that it has the right to decide medical questions between a woman and her doctor, overriding the doctor’s authority (and mission). And it’s the corporation, not the owners, who would pay for contraception: a distinction whose utility is more appreciated in the other direction, in which it is the corporation, not the owners, who is held liable, fined, and otherwise punished for breaking the law. In that case, the owners are quick to draw a sharp distinction between owner and corporation. Well, that sharp distinction cuts both ways.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:44 pm

Hobby Lobby thoughts

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The articles of incorporation not only create a legal “person,” they erect an impermeable wall between the shareholders/owners and the outside world: lawsuits, judgments, and penalties cannot reach the shareholders directly, stopping at the corporation: that’s the idea of limited liability.

That protection is why we have corporations, and that protection seems to define a discontinuity or gap between the shareholders/owners and the corporation, I would argue that this same wall is/should be impermeable in the other direction: stopping the religious beliefs of the owners/shareholders from being expressed in, for example, obedience to laws regarding healthcare of corporate employees  of the corporation. The corporate “person” is not only without a soul or a religion, that “person” is (theoretically) required to obey the law of the land. The corporation, having no religion in itself, also is free of religious doctrines (because otherwise a corporation jointly and equally owned by a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Quaker, and a Fundamentalist Christian zealot (however unlikely such a group of owners might be) would be pulled this way and that.

So the only finding that makes sense to me is that corporate entities are required to obey the law of the land (e.g., cover contraceptives in their healthcare plans), regardless of the religious beliefs of the current owners. If religious beliefs trump the law, then I’m sure we’ll be seeing very many interesting and unusual religious beliefs appear. (The test of a religious belief is, so far as I can tell, is to ask, “Do you truly and religiously believe that?”, with a positive answer being the defining proof. Example: Scientology.)

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2014 at 11:21 am

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

Where we are headed with Hobby Lobby and “religious liberty” arguments

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Ian Millhiser reports at ThinkProgress:

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga Wood Specialties’ claims that they should be exempt from their legal obligations to provide a full range of health coverage — in this case, contraceptive care for women — because they object to providing this coverage on religious grounds. Yet, for women who worked for a California private school in the 1980s, this lawsuit must feel like déjà vu. Nearly three decades ago, the Fremont Christian School claimed a similar right to deny health coverage to its female employees, citing its religious beliefs as justification for doing so. Fremont Christian’s case does bear one important difference from Hobby Lobby’s, however, they did not just want to deny birth control to their employees — they wanted to deny all health coverage to many of the women in their employ.

Fremont was owned by a church which claimed that “in any marriage, the husband is the head of the household and is required to provide for that household.” Because of this belief, they had a very unusual compensation package for their employees — though Fremont offered a health plan to its workers, the plan was only available to “heads of households” which Fremont interpreted to mean single people or married men. When a woman became married, she was to rely on her husband for health care.

(In what Fremont described as an “act of Christian charity,” there was an exemption to this rule. A married woman could receive health benefits if “the husband is incapable of providing for his family, by virtue of non-working student status, or illness” though the school also emphasized that “the husband is still scripturally the head of the household.”)

Offering one set of employee benefits to men and a different, inferior package to women is a blatant violation of federal civil rights law, which prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” While Fremont claimed that their religious liberty gave them a trump card, a federal appeals court disagreed. “Congress’ purpose to end discrimination,” the court explained, “is equally if not more compelling than other interests that have been held to justify legislation that burdened the exercise of religious convictions.”

So could a victory for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cause the courts to rethink Fremont Christian? Probably not. Society’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against women is widely accepted, even by conservative judges, and Fremont Christian is an extreme case. Nevertheless there is reason to be concerned about what happens with religious employers who push the envelope only slightly less than Fremont Christian School did.

The Supreme Court has long recognized that the “First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” But a decision in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood’s favor would place courts in the awkward position of picking and choosing among religious faiths. What happens to sects of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, who have religious objections to blood transfusions? Or to faiths that object to certain vaccines? Or to Scientologists who object to psychiatry? Or to Christian Scientists who object to modern medical science altogether?

If Hobby Lobby wins, are these faiths now empowered to deny health coverage to their employees as well? And if not, why not? If the Court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor, it will either need to abandon its longstanding neutrality among religions, or it will need to allowevery sect to exempt itself from health coverage laws that it does not want to follow — including, potentially, sects like the one in Fremont Christian. Moreover, Hobby Lobby’s brief argues that any law burdening an employer’s religious exercise must survive “the most demanding test known to constitutional law.” That is not a good position to be in if your employer objects to blood transfusions or mental health care.

Although there is a superficial basis for Hobby Lobby’s argument, they are asking the Court for a massive shift in the law. For decades, the Supreme Court has respected the principle that one person’s religious liberty stops at another person’s body — and this is especially true in the business context. As the Court explained in United States v. Lee, “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” If the law were otherwise, Leewarned, employers could “impose” their “religious faith on [their] employees.”

Any decision favoring Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood will have to drive a massive hole through Lee. The essence of both businesses claims is that they should not have to follow the same health care laws that apply to all other businesses, and that employers should be able to limit their employees’ ability to obtain contraception because the employer objects to its use. But once Lee falls, it is not at all clear what rises in its place, or how easily courts are going to be able to draw a distinction between relatively narrow claims like Hobby Lobby’s and sweeping attempts to deny health care like Fremont Christian’s — not to mention the many grey areas in between.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 11:43 am

Along with debtors’ prisons, it’s becoming a crime to be homeless

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Being homeless is increasingly treated as a crime—indeed, being poor is becoming a crime. Adam Peck reports at ThinkProgress:

On Sunday night, the temperature in Rockford, Illinois is expected to drop below 20 degrees. On Monday and Tuesday, the area could see several more inches of snow. And yet the city has informed leaders at the Apostolic Pentecostals of Rockford church that they are no longer permitted to act as a temporary warming center and homeless shelter because they do not have the adequate zoning permits.

David Frederick, the owner of the church, told WIFR that he was warned by city officials that if he kept opening his doors to the city’s homeless, he would be doing so illegally. It’s unclear if the city is prepared to levee any kind of penalty against the church if they ignore the warning.

“The people that came to the center have feelings just like everyone else, and they need their necessities. food, water, shelter, and love. They were able to get it all here, and now they can’t,” said Thomas Sterling, a worker at the church.

Cities across the country have been cracking down on both the homeless and those who have tried to offer relief. In Raleigh, a church group was threatened with arrest for trying to provide dozens of free meals and hot coffee to the city’s homeless, and an Indiana restaurant was forced to end its practice of serving up free meals every Thursday by the city after neighboring businesses complained about the presence of poor people nearby. [It's unclear to me what law the restaurant was breaking. - LG]

The situation in Illinois is the latest example of a growing trend in municipalities across the country: the criminalization of homelessness as opposed to taking steps to address the fundamental problems that lead to it. Cities have shown a willingness to jail their homeless population rather than provide things like housing even though it is more expensive, while others have made it nearly impossible for outside groups to provide services for the poor that remain on the streets.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 11:39 am

Healthcare Suit Against Catholic Bishops

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The Catholic Bishops are loath to address the central issue of the lawsuit and are working hard to get the suit dismissed on procedural grounds. Nina Martin reports at ProPublica:

The story of Tamesha Means and her miscarriage three years ago, if it happened the way her lawyers claim it did, is truly awful: Means was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke and she was rushed to a hospital in Muskegon, Mich. The fetus wasn’t viable, and the pregnancy — Means’ third — was doomed.

But doctors at the hospital, part of the Catholic healthcare network knows as Mercy Health Partners, didn’t tell her that, Means’ lawyers say. Instead of the normal course of treatment — inducing labor and terminating the pregnancy to stave off potentially risky complications — Means was allegedly kept in the dark about her condition, given painkillers, and sent home.

Bleeding and wracked with pain, she returned to Mercy twice over the next day or so and received more or less the same response, her lawyers claim. Just as she was about to be sent home a third time, by now feverish from a severe infection, she began to deliver. The baby died.

The case has received an enormous amount of attention because of who Means’ attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union chose to sue last November: not her doctors or the hospital but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Means’ lawyers claim that she was subjected to dangerously substandard treatment, that her own health was placed in peril, and that she was deprived of information about her condition because of rules issued by the bishops conference that govern all Catholic health care in the U.S. The rules — which Mercy and its staff are required to follow — prohibit abortion, and as a result, according to Means’ lawyers, doctors would not give up on the pregnancy.

The move to sue the bishops was unprecedented, and everyone from the New York Times to the National Catholic Register heralded the case as a new front in the culture war over religious liberty, gender equality and reproductive care — a version of the same raging conflict that will play out before the Supreme Court next week when it hears arguments in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Industries contraception cases. Those cases challenge the Affordable Care Act’s rules requiring employers to provide birth-control benefits to their workers, even if the employers have religious objections.

When the Means suit was filed, the bishops called the allegations “baseless” and “misguided” and defended Catholic health care’s “stellar history of caring for mothers and infants.” Otherwise, though, they were silent. [Because they could simply not address the facts of the case. Their approach to this case reminds one of the way that for decades they approached the problem of pedophiles in the church.- LG]

Now, the bishops and their attorneys have followed up with a motion to dismiss the case, and ProPublica has taken the first sustained look at their arguments.

The bishops, for the most part, have chosen to avoid sweeping language about constitutional rights and freedoms, instead focusing on the nitty-gritty procedural issues that are basic to high-stakes civil litigation. They argue, essentially, that the ACLU has chosen the wrong venue — federal court in Detroit — to sue (the USCCB is based in Washington D.C.) and is mistaken in blaming the USCCB for decisions made by individual bishops in their own dioceses. . .

Continue reading. Clearly the bishops do not want to face the outcomes from their senseless and unyielding decision.

Read the entire article. A little later, Martin writes:

. . . Some background: The ACLU and women’s groups have been voicing concern since the 1990s about the growing role of Catholic health care operations around the country and what they see as the resulting threats posed to women’s reproductive rights. Those complaints have grown louder in recent years as Catholic facilities have moved aggressively to merge with secular hospitals and reports have surfaced about the challenges – some say contortions — that doctors and nurses have sometimes had to face to comply with church teachings on abortion, birth control, and end-of-life care while fulfilling their duty to patients.

Catholic hospitals now account for about 16 percent of hospital beds in the U.S. And in eight states — including Washington, Oregon, Iowa, and Missouri — they control more than 30 percent of beds. Ten of the 25 largest health-care networks in the country are Catholic-sponsored.

The Means case touched a nerve because it seemed to bring together many of the issues that have worried women’s advocates the most. Indeed, if the allegations are true, what happened at Mercy Health Partners was even worse than has been reported at the time of the initial filing of the lawsuit.

According to the suit, Means’ alleged mistreatment came to light in late 2012 or early 2013 when an unidentified researcher working on a federally funded project at Mercy uncovered what she said were not one, but five instances in which doctors there failed to terminate the pregnancies of women who were clearly miscarrying.

When the researcher asked hospital officials to explain, they allegedly told her that they were following the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, or ERDs — guidelines that govern medical treatment at every Catholic hospital and health system in the United States.

The ERDS — which are issued and regularly updated by the bishops council — ban abortion and limit many other medical options, including sterilization and birth control, and apply to patients and medical staff no matter what their religion.

Their impact, the advocates say, is greatest in places like Muskegon, where the only hospitals in the county are Catholic. Doctors who fail to comply with the ERDs risk losing their admitting privileges; other employees who similarly fail to abide by the ERDs face losing their jobs. (In Colorado recently, a cardiologist at a Catholic facility was reprimanded for merely mentioning abortion as a treatment option for a woman for whom pregnancy could have been deadly.)

“The bishops aren’t doctors, and yet they issue rules that tie doctors’ hands, preventing them from giving their patients full information about their health care options and, in some cases, preventing them from providing medically appropriate care,” the ACLU’s deputy legal director, Louise Melling, blogged on the organization’s website in December. “That’s not right.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2014 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Healthcare, Law, Religion

A true violation of religious liberty, and no one seems to care

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The same people who think that a greeting of “Happy holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” is a perfect example of how the religious are persecuted in this country seem not to care about actual infringements of religious liberty. I imagine that it’s the reason these same people hate the ACLU: they don’t want to support outcasts and marginalized people even when they are in the right.

Matthew Bruenig writes in Salon:

A federal judge in Missouri dealt a huge blow to religious liberty last week when he upheld a law forbidding individuals from picketing within 100 yards of a funeral. Passed nearly a decade ago, the law is clearly targeted to prevent members of the Westboro Baptist Church from practicing their religion, a religion that they claim commands them to provide witness at funerals.

This effort to destroy the religious liberty of the Westboro Baptist Church comes on the heels of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s recent decision to (according to some) destroy the religious liberty of business owners by vetoing a law that would endorse their ability to discriminate against gay people. Conservatives cried oceans of tears at the prospect of enforcing economic anti-discrimination against bigot bakers, citing their abstract commitment to content-neutral religious liberty. Yet, here we are presented with exactly the same situation, and conservatives are strangely quiet.

Their quiet is particularly odd because the Missouri law targeting the WBC is a much greater infringement on religious liberty than economic anti-discrimination laws are.

In the case of economic anti-discrimination, the law neither forbids individuals from doing things required by their religious beliefs nor forces individuals to do things that are prohibited by their religious beliefs. Individuals with religious objections to operating discrimination-free businesses are free not to operate a business. Nobody forces them to do so. Insofar as religions don’t require individuals to open businesses, anti-discrimination regulations that dissuade them from doing so do not keep them from adhering to their religion either.

In the case of the funeral rules though, the law is forbidding the WBC from doing things required by their religious beliefs. From their voluminous TV interviews, it is clear that their deeply held religious beliefs command them to witness at funerals in the manner that they do. It is an article of their faith that they must spread the truth of God’s condemnation of America’s embrace of homosexuality and worship of the military at funerals, especially those of dead American soldiers whose deaths they regard as a function of God’s punishment of America. But now Missouri law forbids them from doing so.

So the funeral anti-picketing law actually forbids people from doing things that are specifically required by their religious beliefs while economic anti-discrimination law does not. The anti-picketing law generates a world where the WBC must necessarily violate the commandments of their religion while the anti-discrimination law does not. If you seriously believed in the principle of content-neutral religious liberty, the WBC case would be far more troubling and elicit far more outrage. Yet somehow it doesn’t.

The reason why it doesn’t is not mysterious. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

More on religious exemptions

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I reread the article I blogged earlier on how some companies are seeking a religious exemption to some laws that, they say, are counter to their religious beliefs. The most obvious problem is that corporations (the subject of the law), although legally considered “persons”, do not have religious beliefs—or, for that matter, a soul. Corporations cannot try to achieve salvation, in the religious sense, and instead of sinning, they break laws. Indeed, corporations exist to profit from sin (corporations that  run casinos, produce alcoholic beverages, and—in some religious—produce movies, dance music, or playing cards).

So the onus is on the corporation to obey the law: corporations do not get a religious exemption for the simple reason that corporations are not religious. Stockholders may or may not be religious, but that doesn’t affect corporate obligations to follow the law of the land. Stockholders who don’t like what the corporation does can see their stock—I don’t imagine Baptists, for example, invest heavily in casinos and companies that make whiskey.

The article at the link above makes a careful argument and in particular illuminates how religion conflicts with the enlightenment ideal of equal rights for all persons: religions, in general, are not interested in equal rights for all and often are in direct opposition to such a thing. As stated in the article at the link above:

Part of the problem is the way we’re currently framing the issue. On the one hand, we have the free exercise of religion, which is largely based in an appeal to revelation, to the truths of religious texts and religious doctrine. And on the other hand we have rights of equality and liberty, which are based in rational arguments — what are people entitled to as a matter of their humanity because we should all be treated equally under law. It’s an incommensurable confrontation between revelation and rationality. What ends up happening is that religion ends up like a trump card — you throw it down, it’s a conversation stopper, and we don’t know how to get out of this impasse. Law is really ill equipped for adjudicating between the claims of revelation and the claims of rationality.

In search for that article—I remembered the argument, couldn’t recall the article—I came across an extremely interesting series of articles in the NY Times:

SERIES: In God’s Name
Articles in this series examine how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government.

Part 1: Favors for the Faithful
Religion Trumps Regulation as Legal Exemptions Grow
From day care centers to nursing homes, rules don’t apply to faith groups.

Part 2: Limiting Workers’ Rights
Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights
For years, U.S. judges have used the separation of church and state to shield religious employers of all faiths from labor laws and most employee lawsuits.

Part 3: Giving Exemptions
As Religious Programs Expand, Disputes Rise Over Tax Breaks
As religious organizations extend their scope beyond traditional worship, government at all levels is increasingly extending their tax exemptions.

Part 4: The Personal Exemptions
Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books
Churches and odained clergy of all faiths get a series of tax exemptions that secular organizations and workers do not.

Part 5: Ministry for Medicine
Sharing the Health Bills
Religious exemptions are being tested as more medical bill-sharing ministries compete with businesses that are not eligible for the same breaks.

Part 6: Christ’s Mission, Caesar’s Money
Religion for Captive Audience, With Taxpayers Footing the Bill
Government agencies have been repeatedly cited by judges and government auditors for not doing enough to guard against taxpayer-financed evangelism.

Part 7: Religious Grants
Religious Groups Reap Federal Aid for Pet Projects
Earmarks for religious organizations have increased sharply, and some of the groups have hired lobbyists.
Interactive Interactive Feature: A Searchable List of Religious Earmarks

Related Article: Federal Grant for a Medical Mission Goes Awry
A case of two Coast Guard cutters shows that earmarks to faith-based groups may not achieve their stated purpose.

Part 8: Branching Out
Megachurches Add Local Economy to Their Mission
The business interests of America’s megachurches are as varied as basketball schools, aviation subsidiaries, investment partnerships and even a limousine service.
Interactive Interactive Graphic: Where Megachurches Are Concentrated

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Religion

Sex, Gender, and the Familiar Fight Over Religious Exemptions

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In ProPublica Nina Martin interviews Professor Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School:

As conservatives grapple with the reality of gay marriage and the Supreme Court weighs whether companies should be forced to offer birth control to employees, it’s very clear: The conflict between religious freedom and gender/sexual equality has become “the most important civil rights issue of this time.”

So says Professor Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School and one of the driving forces behind the school’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, a new initiative that seeks to shift the way people look at religious and secular values — and to bridge a divide that has come to seem insurmountable. Here, Franke talks with ProPublica’s Sex and Gender reporter, Nina Martin.

NM: Let’s start with why these two things — religious belief and civil rights — have come to seem so at odds.

KF: Part of the problem is the way we’re currently framing the issue. On the one hand, we have the free exercise of religion, which is largely based in an appeal to revelation, to the truths of religious texts and religious doctrine. And on the other hand we have rights of equality and liberty, which are based in rational arguments — what are people entitled to as a matter of their humanity because we should all be treated equally under law. It’s an incommensurable confrontation between revelation and rationality. What ends up happening is that religion ends up like a trump card — you throw it down, it’s a conversation stopper, and we don’t know how to get out of this impasse. Law is really ill equipped for adjudicating between the claims of revelation and the claims of rationality.

NM: How did we get to this point?

KF: In part it’s historical. Really since the late 19th century, when opponents of expanding notions of equality have lost in the public arena, their plan B has been to seek refuge in religion. We first saw it in racial equality cases, and more recently in the areas of reproductive rights and gay rights. When Congress or a state legislature or a federal court mandates the integration of public schools or upholds sex equality in the workplace or allows same-sex couples to marry, opponents of those efforts fall back on religion to say, “You can have those laws, they just don’t apply to me.”

NM: This year marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Educationand the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What role did religious exceptions play in the fight over desegregation and civil rights?

KF: Right after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown, Strom Thurmond and other segregationist politicians issued the Southern Manifesto. Central to that strategy was the setting up of religious schools. Segregationists could opt out of the public school system and re-segregate their white children into religious schools. Some 168 private schools opened in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina between 1964 and 1967. And for a time, the federal government was willing to grant tax-exempt status to those schools.

Then, in July 1970, the Nixon administration withdrew its support, stating that it would no longer allow tax exemptions for private schools unless they adopted racially nondiscriminatory admissions policies.

But many Southerners continued to insist that they be allowed to maintain private, religious, all-white schools on the grounds that God “separated mankind into various nations and races,” and that such separation “should be preserved in the fear of the Lord.” In 1983, in a case involving Bob Jones University, the Supreme Court once again decided that, no, this is not a legitimate assertion of religion, but a way to justify the ongoing maintenance of racial segregation, and that tax exemptions for religiously segregated schools are unconstitutional.

NM: A decade or so after Brown comes the women’s movement. What kinds of religious exemptions were most common in those early battles? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2014 at 12:11 pm

The on-going effort to legalize discrimination in public accommodations

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Linda Greenhouse has an excellent op-ed in the NY Times:

Once Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona yielded to the country’s political, business and sports establishment last week and vetoed the nasty measure known as S.B. 1062, the furor died down. The bill would have offered a legal defense for business owners who claim a religious reason for failing to abide by nondiscrimination laws in their dealings with the public. But the question remains what lesson to draw from the outcome of this particular effort to privilege claims of religious conscience over the general societal principle of nondiscrimination.

For years now, the religious right and its political allies, for example, Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign, have been accusing the Obama administration of waging a “war on religion.” That’s preposterous, of course; the real threat comes from precisely the opposite direction, a war on civil society waged in the name of religion.

For a brief moment following the Arizona veto, I thought the lesson might be that this war, having finally seized the country’s attention to its divisive potential, had hit a wall and was playing itself out. After all, days before Governor Brewer’s veto, the conservative Republican leadership of the Kansas State Senate suddenly came to its senses and decided to kill an even nastier “religious liberty” bill that would have permitted anyone, on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” to withhold “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges” from same-sex couples. (Unlike the Kansas bill, the Arizona bill did not guarantee that such a defense would necessarily prevail and was drafted more deftly in more general terms, permitting its defenders to deny that it had anything to do with gays and to claim with a straight face that any assertion to the contrary was just a reflection of left-wing media distortions.)

But I quickly realized how naïve it was to assume even for a minute that the genie unleashed by the remarkably rapid cultural shifts the country is experiencing on questions of sexuality and marriage can be so easily confined. Events are conspiring to keep clashes of church and state in the spotlight.

On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear the Hobby Lobby and related Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, which pose the question of whether for-profit corporations can claim a religious-conscience exemption from covering all forms of birth control in their employee health plans. These cases have nothing to do with same-sex marriage — but everything to do with the toxic brew of sex and politics.

Until compliance with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate became a hot political issue, Hobby Lobby’s insurance plan for its 13,000 employees (this is no mom-and-pop operation) in fact covered the very contraceptives, Ella and Plan B, that the company’s evangelical owners now describe as religiously intolerable, as Hobby Lobby had to acknowledge when it filed its lawsuit in September 2012. It explained then to the Federal District Court in Oklahoma City that it had removed the two drugs from its approved formulary “recently, after learning about the nationally prominent HHS mandate controversy.”

The Hobby Lobby case and the Arizona bill are analytically distinct, but they inevitably converge on the question of when religion is permitted to trump a generally applicable law. (There is no law in Arizona protecting gays against discrimination, but neighboring New Mexico does have such a law, and it was New Mexico’s enforcement of that law against a claim by a commercial photography studio that its owner’s religion entitled her to refuse to accept a same-sex couple as customers that provoked the Arizona legislators to take pre-emptive action. More on the New Mexico case shortly.)

This is not new territory for the Supreme Court. In a 1990 decision,Employment Division v. Smith, the court rejected the religious claim of two American Indians who lost their jobs for using an illegal substance, peyote, in a religious ceremony. The men argued unsuccessfully that their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion entitled them to unemployment insurance despite having been dismissed for cause.

The Smith decision, with a majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, provoked an outcry across the religious spectrum and led to the swift congressional passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law, passed unanimously in the House and by a vote of 97 to 3 in the Senate, purported to overturn the court’s interpretation of the First Amendment and “restore” the more protective one offered by earlier decisions. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the statute provided that a “substantial burden” on religious exercise had to be justified as serving a “compelling governmental interest” by the “least restrictive means” available.

The court responded with City of Boerne v. Flores, holding that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to impose this structure on the states. But the law remained in effect as applied to the federal government, and is the statutory basis for Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the contraception mandate.

Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act even applies to a for-profit corporation is the first question the court has to answer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2014 at 12:08 pm

A sinking realization regarding certain types of disagreement

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When you disagree with someone about evolution, global warming, vaccines, or the like, I believe that you’re likely to encounter a way of thinking that is sufficiently foreign to me that I just now figured out what might be going on. What I have experienced in such arguments has convinced me that some people view a strong belief as in itself evidence that the belief is true (presumably because “if it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t believe it so strongly—duh!”). In other words, belief is treated as though it were evidence, and the intensity of the belief measures the evidence for it: intense belief equals strong evidence, just by itself.

When you try to argue against such a belief, you probably usewhat we normally think of as evidence, namely facts. You then run into another problem. The person who views beliefs as constituting evidence for the beliefs also views facts as opinions. Thus when you point out a fact that contradicts their belief (for which they have loads of evidence, in their sense: that is, they believe it strongly), a common response is, “That’s (just) your opinion.” That is, just as they weigh beliefs as we normally weigh evidence, actual evidence—that is, verifiable facts—is weighed as we normally weigh opinions: an opinion being something that’s perfectly fine for you to accept, but really has nothing whatsoever to do with whether I accept it—that is, whether it is also my opinion/fact. Just as someone can have an opinion on something without affecting my own opinion on the same thing, so the facts you present (which are viewed as merely your opinion) don’t really effect what the other believes. Daniel Moynihan specifically warned that, while you are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts, and that was not an empty warning: some, I think, do view facts as opinions (as shown by their reasoning).

That does seem to describe what happens and shows why the arguments go nowhere: the rational person has been offering something that simply has no weight for the believer—the rational one thinks he’s offering evidence, but the believer views him as offering opinion, and of course his opinion is beside the point: “I have my own opinions.”

So: the question becomes, what does have weight for the believer and thus triggers a change in view? It may be couching ideas in terms the believer already accepts: e.g., “I say to you in the name of Jesus our Lord and Savior, send a donation now.” The demand for money is accepted because of the accompanying incantations from the belief system: the system passwords, in effect. And as we’ve seen from a long string of huckstering ministers, those incantations actually work: when the ministers demand money, they tie in salvation, and so it sounds like a pretty good deal: something real and of paramount importance (salvation) for mere money. I recall that Oral Roberts once advised his radio audience that God was going to take him if his listeners didn’t contribute $44 million before some date. (I believe this may have been for Oral Roberts University.) The listeners came through (or at least the Rev. Roberts said that they did, and it’s certainly true that he did not die at the time, which sort of proves it). The response seems a little odd given that the penalty—God taking Oral Roberts into His Kingdom and Arms—actually sounds like exactly what Roberts claims to want and has been working toward.

At any rate, perhaps we must cast our case for evolution, global warming, and vaccines in theological terms—invoking the name of our Savior liberally, but also sticking with the facts: rational Christianity, in effect. And isn’t that exactly what the Moral Mondays in North Carolina are all about? Aren’t the Moral Mondays an effort to get people to look at recent public policy and legislation and view the effects in religious terms. This seems natural enough: it’s what Jesus Himself did when facing in His time circumstances similar in some ways to the US today: helping and caring for the poor and humble—and, you will recall, He condemned wealth harshly. In effect, He was head of the Occupy Jerusalem Movement. And He suffered for it, as is often the case for those who try to help the poor and humble and protect them from the wealthy and powerful.

So it’s been done before. That indicates it might work.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2014 at 1:05 pm

Very nice recounting of key events in the demise of the Arizona pro-discrimination bill

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Well–written. And note the sub-text: to fix so many things—environmental, societal, legal, financial/jobs—requires fundamental and enormous changes in our society. And she describes exactly such a change as it happens: you can practically see the wave curl over in triumph. So perhaps other such changes are possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 2:32 pm

A new low for the Catholic church: It blames the parent of children who were victims of pedophile priest

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The Catholic church seems to have become a deeply corrupted and immoral institution. Travis Gettys reports in Raw Story:

A Minnesota mother says Catholic Church officials are blaming her for not protecting her two sons from the priest who abused them.

The Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul, pleaded guilty in 2012 to abusing the boys, ages 12 and 14, and possessing child pornography.

Wehmeyer is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

The family has sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which claimed in a Feb. 7 court filing that the mother – who worked at the church — knew that one of her sons was spending time with the priest.

“She was aware of the time [he] spent with Mr. Wehmeyer, and she knew that such interaction was contrary to established Archdiocese policy,” the filing said.

The woman spoke last week to Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune about her family’s ordeal.

MPR News reported in September that archdiocese officials knew about Wehmeyer’s risky sexual behavior, such as cruising for sex in a park and approaching young men in a bookstore, when he was appointed pastor in 2009 of two churches that later merged.

“The fact that there were memos flying around that were dated before certain events of abuse happened is bloodcurdling to me, that they had the opportunity to stop this man dead in his tracks before he ever harmed any of my children,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her sons.

The woman said she thought Wehmeyer was odd, but she just thought he was lonely and never suspected he was sexually interested in children.

“I sort of felt that he was the geeky kid,” she said. “He needed some friends. I thought it was almost like a, for lack of a better word, like a pity project to take this priest under our wing.”

Wehmeyer lured the boys into a white camper he kept parked outside the parish with drugs, alcohol, and pornography.

He made the boys touch themselves, investigators said, and he also touched the boys on multiple occasions. . .

Continue reading.

It seems very much as though the Catholic church has no shame as well as no moralityl.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

The Catholic church shows its priorities

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Michael Powell writes in the NY Times:

KEARNY, N.J. — Mater Dei Academy sits shuttered, blue drapes pulled across its windows, atop a hill in this working-class city. From its steps, you can peer across the mist-shrouded expanse of the Meadowlands to the distant spires of Manhattan.

For generations, this blond brick Catholic elementary school tossed a lifeline to the immigrants who, wave upon wave, washed ashore here. The Archdiocese of Newark closed it two years ago. Church officials offered deep regrets; the church’s wallet is thin to the touch these days.

“It was a loved place, that school,” said Dorothy Gawronski, a crossing guard holding a red “Stop” sign. “But the church, I don’t think it’s rich anymore.”

All of which brings me along a winding and narrow road that switches back and forth across the wooded Capoolong Creek to a splendid 8.5-acre spread in the hamlet of Pittstown. This is rural and rather affluent Hunterdon County, 49 miles from Mater Dei.

John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.

This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.

There’s no need to fear for the archbishop’s bank account. The Newark Archdiocese is picking up the bill.

Jim Goodness, the spokesman for the archdiocese, has the thankless job of explaining this. “The press says it’s a hot tub; it’s a whirlpool,” he says of one of the wing’s accouterments. “He’s getting older — there are therapeutic issues.”

The proceeds from the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese, he explained, will pay for the expansion. “It is not going to cost our parishioners anything,” he said.

I felt compelled to ask: Couldn’t this half million dollars go to, oh, more meals for the homeless? . . .

Continue reading. Photos of the mansion are at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Religion

Camels Had No Business in Genesis

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John Wilford has an interesting article in the NY Times.Projecting current customs into the past is pretty common, so no wonder it happened. People tend to think things have always been pretty much like current times…

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of “how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another.”

For two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, the anachronisms were motivation to dig for camel bones at an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley in Israel and in Wadi Finan in Jordan. They sought evidence of when domesticated camels were first introduced into the land of Israel and the surrounding region.

The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century B.C. — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Some bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr. Sapir-Hen could identify a domesticated animal by signs in leg bones that it had carried heavy loads. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2014 at 12:39 pm

A detailed look at what is implied by “political backlash”

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Very good and detailed description. I feel a glimmer of hope. And read the comments as well. One by tmservo433 caught my eye:

Gandhi’s Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2014 at 1:31 pm

Recognizing the weaknesses of the AA approach

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Maia Szalavitz writes at Pacific Standard:

For much of the past 50 years or so, voicing any serious skepticism toward Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program was sacrilege—the equivalent, in polite company, of questioning the virtue of American mothers or the patriotism of our troops. If your problem was drink, AA was the answer; if drugs, Narcotics Anonymous. And if those programs didn’t work, it was your fault: You weren’t “working the steps.” The only alternative, as the 12-step slogan has it, was “jails, institutions, or death.” By 2000, 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs employed the 12-step approach.

In any other area of medicine, if your doctor told you that the cure for your disease involved surrendering to a “higher power,” praying to have your “defects of character” lifted, and accepting your “powerlessness,” as outlined in the original 12 steps, you’d probably seek a second opinion. But, even today, if you balk at these elements of the 12-step gospel, you’ll often get accused of being “in denial.” And if you should succeed in quitting drinking without 12-step support, you might get dismissed as a “dry drunk.”

Fortunately—just in time for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that substance misuse be covered in a way that is equivalent to coverage for physical illnesses—a spate of new books is challenging the 12-step hegemony. Last year, the bestselling author David Sheff published Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, which includes a chapter aimed at debunking the idea that AA is the only way. The author Anne Fletcher released Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment and How To Get Help That Works, a deeply reported exposé on the poor results and exorbitant prices of upscale rehab centers. And the journalist Gabrielle Glaser came out with Her Best Kept Secret, which illustrates, among other things, how forcing AA attendance on women makes them easy prey for sexual predators.

The latest salvo comes from Dr. Lance Dodes, the former director of Harvard’s substance abuse treatment unit at McLean Hospital, who weighs in with a book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. While much of Dodes’ diagnosis of the problems with rehab and 12-step programs was originally made by maverick psychologist Stanton Peele in books like The Meaning of Addiction (1985), Dodes benefits from several decades of additional data, and he covers complicated scientific issues lucidly. The results are largely persuasive.

Dodes doesn’t pull his punches. “Alcoholics Anonymous was proclaimed the correct treatment for alcoholism over seventy-five years ago despite the absence of any scientific evidence of the approach’s efficacy,” he writes in his introduction, “and we have been on the wrong path ever since.”

Dodes shows that much of the research that undergirds AA is a conflicted mess that confuses correlation with causation. It’s true that people with alcoholism who choose to attend AA regularly drink less than those who do not—but it’s not proven that making people attend works better than other options, including doing nothing.

In fact, some studies find that people mandated into AA do worse than those who are simply left alone. (If true, that would be no small problem. AA’s own surveys suggest that some 165,000 Americans and Canadians annually are court-mandated into the program—despite the fact that every court ruling on the issue has rejected such coercion as unconstitutional, given AA’s religious nature.)

Contrary to popular belief, most people recover from their addictions without any treatment—professional or self-help—regardless of whether the drug involved is alcohol, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, or cigarettes. One of the largest studies of recovery ever conducted found that, of those who had qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism in the past year, only 25 percent still met the criteria for the disorder a year later. Despite this 75 percent recovery rate, only a quarter had gotten any type of help, including AA, and as many were now drinking in a low-risk manner as were abstinent.

Unfortunately, compared to the rehab narrative, the stories of people who get better without treatment are rarely as compelling. They tend to consist of people leaving college and realizing they can’t binge drink or take drugs and hold a job and care for a family. And since most people who straighten out on their own never show up in treatment, the worst cases congregate in rehab and make addiction recovery seem quite rare.

This is not to say that there is no benefit at all to 12-step programs: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2014 at 2:05 pm

The Catholic laity as the Mystical Body of Christ

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Based on many discussions following the Second Vatican Council, I have the belief that the laity of the Catholic church are the Mystical Body of Christ and, as such, do not err in moral and religious beliefs commonly held. That is, the laity will not go wrong on matters in which there is substantial agreement—like the Pope speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, they too share in infallibility.

If my belief is correct, then the findings reported in this story are intriguing: worldwide, 78% of Catholics believe that contraception is acceptable, and 65% (almost two-thirds) say that abortion should be allowed in some or all cases. I think the Mystical Body are ahead of the Vatican on these things.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2014 at 8:23 am

Posted in Religion

The stories we tell ourselves to make things seem consistent

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Linda Greenhouse has a very interesting column in the NY Times:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously wrote in her essay collection “The White Album.” It’s a haunting line, because it’s so universally applicable. We tell ourselves stories not only for profound reasons but for mundane ones as well: to process the ambiguous and complex events that unfold every day around us, or even to try to understand the issues presented in a major Supreme Court case.

Last month, the court heard arguments in an abortion-related case from Massachusetts. The question was whether the 35-foot buffer zone that the state maintains around medical offices where abortions are performed violates the First Amendment. The case is McCullen v. Coakley. Coakley is Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, whose office is defending the 2007 law. McCullen, in whose name the challenge to the law was brought, is Eleanor McCullen, and the story many people seem to be telling themselves about this case is hers.

Eleanor McCullen is a 77-year-old grandmother whose photograph, with an oversize cross hanging from her neck over a bulky winter coat, has been ubiquitous in accounts of the case. For many years she has positioned herself outside the entrance to a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Boston with the mission of dissuading women from going ahead with their scheduled abortions. Her argument in the case is that the buffer zone means she can’t engage the women in low-key conversation as she wishes, but instead has to raise her voice in order to get their attention and deliver a message that as a result is inevitably perceived differently.

Justice Antonin Scalia, for one, channeled Mrs. McCullen from the bench during the Jan. 15 argument, when he instructed Jennifer Grace Miller, the state’s lawyer, that “what this case involves, what these people want to do, is to speak quietly and in a friendly manner.” Returning to this theme later in the argument, he scolded Ms. Miller: “I object to you calling these people protestors, which you’ve been doing here during the whole presentation. That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protestors?”

Missing from the story of the cherubic grandmother, of course, is context — the reason that Massachusetts enacted its buffer zone, adapted from one the Supreme Court upheld in a Colorado case 14 years ago. (The vote in that case, Hill v. Colorado, was 6 to 3, but the departure since then of two members of the majority, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, could make a crucial difference, leaving the durability of the precedent is very much in doubt.)

Abortion clinics in Massachusetts have witnessed not only orchestrated harassment but also deadly violence; 20 years ago, amid other such incidents around the country, two clinic staff members were shot to death in Brookline, adjacent to Boston. Ms. McCullen has long been affiliated with Operation Rescue, a group that at its height in the 1990s regularly massed hundreds of people to blockade abortion clinics with the goal of shutting them down. Viewing the law in context, and in light of the Supreme Court’s precedents, the federal appeals court in Boston upheld itas a reasonable regulation designed to protect public safety, leaving any impact on speech both incidental and justifiable.

I mention these facts not to assign guilt by association or to impugn the sincerity and peaceful nature of Ms. McCullen’s mission. Nor do I mean to simplify the tricky free-speech issues that have made defense of the statute the object of contention in some progressive circles. But it’s important to get beyond the storytelling and recognize this case for what it is: not a grandmother’s tale but a vehicle in a nationally designed effort to get the Roberts court to reopen settled questions concerning abortion.

The First Amendment question in the McCullen case is at least debatable. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are simply fantastical. The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor is a prime example. The narrative that has come to define the dispute between an order of nuns and the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate is fundamentally divorced from the facts of the McMullen case, and yet the Supreme Court — all nine justices — appears to have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I’ve been watching the Supreme Court long enough that I can almost always come up with a plausible explanation for what goes on there, even when I think the court is wrong-minded. But this time, I have to confess, I’m stumped.

Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of nuns who offer end-of-life care to the elderly poor in the United States and more than two dozen other countries. As a nonprofit religious organization, the order is exempt from the requirement to provide contraception coverage under its group health insurance plan. Ordinarily, that would mean that the organization’s “third-party administrator” would have to pick up the cost. But because the Little Sisters’ administrator, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, which handles insurance for hundreds of Catholic organizations, is also a religious organization, it, too, is exempt from the mandate. It could choose to offer the coverage, but it has announced that it won’t do so.

In other words, there is no chance — none — that the Little Sisters will ever have to have anything whatsoever to do with birth control. All the government is asking the order to do is sign the standard one-page form that sets the exemption machinery in motion. Here is the language:

“I certify that, on account, of religious objections, the organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services that would otherwise be required to be covered; the organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity; and the organization holds itself out as a religious organization.”

That’s it. There is no government investigation of the merits of the religious claim — or of the unfounded belief that some of the contraceptives to which the nuns object can actually terminate what the medical profession regards as an existing pregnancy. The administration has made clear that it will accept the Little Sisters’ self-certification at face value. But they do have to sign — just as someone who objects on religious grounds to registering for the draft nonetheless is required by law to show up and register as a prerequisite for claiming conscientious objector status. In any other way lies chaos. As Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. explained to the Supreme Court in the government’s brief last month opposing the Little Sisters’ request for an injunction: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2014 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Law, Religion

UN condemns Vatican for protecting and assisting pedophiles

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Nick Cumming-Bruce reports in the NY Times:

A United Nations panel sharply criticized the Vatican on Wednesday for putting the reputation and interests of the Holy See above the interests of children who had been sexually abused by priests, effectively allowing priests to continue abuse and escape prosecution.

In a series of hard-hitting observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”

The panel expressed particular concern that “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”

The criticism came in the concluding observations of a U.N. panel that examined the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a hearing last month attended by senior Vatican officials, including Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse until 2012.

The panel noted the Holy See’s commitment to upholding the “inviolable” dignity of children but pointed out that it had moved priests well-known as child abusers to different parishes in an attempt to hide their crimes, allowing them and to remain in contact with children and to continue their abuse. In doing so, the Vatican “still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children,” it said.

At last month’s hearing, the first time the Vatican had faced public examination by an international body, Monsignor Scicluna said “the Holy See gets it” that certain things “need to be done differently” but argued that legal action to prosecute and punish abusers was the responsibility of civil authorities.

The panel challenged that position and criticized the Vatican’s lack of transparency in dealing with the issues. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: McClatchy reports that the Vatican is being asked to turn over offenders.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2014 at 10:24 am

Posted in Law, Religion

Too much crazy in Texas

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2014 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Law, Religion


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