Knights of Columbus: Do The Right Thing

There's an online petition making the rounds that calls on the Knights of Columbus to stop funding far right wing social agendas. It may come as a surprise to learn that the totals spent by the Knights on such things as anti-gay marriage legislation are in the millions of dollars.

The nonprofit group Catholics United is behind the petition. To learn more:

Scott Brown Is Threat To Women's Rights

letter to the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield (MA)

Thursday October 11, 2012
I am an independent voter, family man, and practicing Catholic. For the last few weeks our parish bulletin in Lee has carried helpful hints about what sort of candidates should be elected. Our bishops tread a fine line between information (permissible) and advocacy (impermissible). These hints take the long way round. Yet, once the insert is read, and the recommended web sites found, the dots are easily connected. The road signs may be nonpartisan, but there is no mistaking that the preferred destination this year is the Grand Old Party.

During the first debate of the Senate candidates, incumbent Scott Brown stressed his support for the aptly-named Blunt amendment, the attempt by Republicans to limit reproductive choices for women. We know that this issue is dear to Brown because he co-sponsored the amendment. He continues to support the purported rights of the bishops, and secular employers, to dictate to their employees which health options they may choose, based solely on the employers’ moral viewpoint.

This alone would be cause for alarm. But, there is a larger worry. Even though Brown asserts that he is pro-choice, his votes on key issues have so consistently sided with Republican creed that it’s entirely possible a last-minute conversion on the issue of abortion could take place, with disastrous results. The GOP’s desire to overturn Roe v. Wade has grown so strong that they’ve written it into the party platform. Nor are they alone in working toward a change.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made the overturning of Roe v. Wade a priority in their position paper: "A Call To Political Responsibility." In paragraph 42, we find that ". . .  a candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion. . . " IS sufficient to guarantee a voter’s condemnation.

Thus, there are powerful forces at work to criminalize abortion. This background must be considered in the Senate race. We know that Mr. Brown stands for denying reproductive rights for women, and that it’s possible he may stand for overturning Roe v. Wade. The contrast with the positions of his challenger is striking. Elizabeth Warren, besides being passionate, articulate, and intelligent, is a staunch supporter of women’s rights.

This is no time to mince words. Abortion is sad. It is revolting. And, it is wrong. Yet, in a pluralistic society, religious views, however well-intentioned, are held to a standard. They must fit within the framework of the greater public good. All are bound to respect the rights and welfare of all. A workable democracy is not easy. It requires a moral commitment to reasonable discourse as well as tolerance, and Catholics, no less than others, must not shy from the challenge. As bad as legal abortions may appear, the alternative of botched and back-alley illegal abortions would be far worse.

I support whole-heartedly the rights of my wife and daughter and all women of the commonwealth to make their own choices about reproduction services. The candidate who will safeguard these rights is Elizabeth Warren.


Contraception and Religious Liberty

[published in the New York Times on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012]

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, prominent Republicans and other social conservatives have spent the past year making inflammatory allegations that an Obama administration rule requiring employer health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay tramples on religious freedom. An important federal court decision issued Friday rejected that attack as without foundation.

Judge Carol Jackson of Federal District Court, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dismissed the lawsuit filed against the administration brought by a mining company and its owner, who said that providing contraceptive coverage in the company health plan violated his personal religious views.

[link to her decision is here:]

Judge Jackson, based in St. Louis, correctly pointed out that the rule exempts churches, mosques and other houses of worship. The mining company — a secular, for-profit employer — clearly does not qualify for that exemption or for the accommodation the administration is fashioning to relieve colleges, hospitals and other organizations with religious affiliations from having to provide contraceptive coverage directly, by putting the burden on insurance companies. Her legal analysis, however, applies broadly, providing a useful framework for assessing claims by varied religious objectors.

The plaintiffs argued that the contraception mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that prohibits the federal government from taking actions that “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that action advances a compelling government interest and is the “least restrictive means” of achieving it.

Judge Jackson said she did not have to address whether the act’s strict test should be applied in this case to a company because the contraception coverage requirement does not rise to the level of a “substantial” burden needed to trigger the law.

Any imposition on religion is trivial and remote, she explained. The health care coverage would offend the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an employee “makes an independent decision to use the plan” to obtain contraceptives; and that independent decision is no different from an employee using part of a salary to pay for contraceptives, which clearly would not harm the employer’s right to free exercise of religion.

The 1993 statute “is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others” and “does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own,” Judge Jackson wrote.

She also forcefully dismissed the claim that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. Her ruling accurately said the regulation is a “neutral” attempt to expand women’s access to health care and combat gender bias, and applies equally to all denominations. Under legal precedents, the First Amendment does not exempt individuals or entities from complying with neutral laws of general applicability based on a religious objection, however sincere.

Judge Jackson’s powerful ruling is a victory for women and religious freedom. The many other courts hearing similar lawsuits by companies, individuals and groups with religious affiliations should follow her approach.