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Florida bishops ask governor to stay planned execution

Tallahassee, Fla., Oct 23, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have called on Governor Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of James Dailey, who is on death row for murder in a controversial case from nearly 35 years ago.

The bishops leading the seven dioceses of Florida signed a joint letter Oct. 21. While they noted their objections to any use of the death penalty in the state, they said Dailey’s case is “especially alarming” because of the evidence of innocence surrounding him.

“There is strong evidence that James Dailey’s death sentence was yet another failure of justice,” the bishops said. “Another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio.”

Dailey, a 73-year-old veteran, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose body was found repeatedly stabbed and drowned near St. Petersburg.

There is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connecting Dailey to the murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Rather, Dailey’s housemate and co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, accused him of taking part in the crime. Pearcy is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.

Inmates at the prison where Dailey was being held were interviewed, initially yielding no results. A few days later, however, three inmates said they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. The inmates received reduced charges in return for the information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One of the inmates was known as a prolific informant, giving testimony over the years that has sent four men to death row and being convicted himself of more than 20 crimes of deception.

Pearcy has acknowledged at least four times that Dailey was innocent of the crime, Dailey’s lawyers maintain, including in a 2017 affidavit, signed by Pearcy, which said, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”

However, in January 2018, Pearcy took the witness stand and was questioned about the affidavit. He said some of the statements in it were untrue. When pressed further about which statements, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Dailey’s appeal, which argued that new evidence discrediting the jail informant testimony against Dailey should be permitted to be introduced. The court said Dailey should have raised this objection earlier. It ruled that all of his “newly discovered evidence claims were either correctly rejected as untimely or based on inadmissible evidence.”

The bishops of Florida voiced concern over the state’s high number of executions - and exonerations.

“Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations,” they noted. “Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death.”

Dailey would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state revived the death penalty in 1976.

“This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community,” the bishops said.

Concerns over the scheduled execution have also been raised by three men who were sentenced to death but later exonerated due to poor evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The men, Juan Melendez, Herman Lindsey, and Derrick Jamison, have written a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to reconsider Dailey’s case.

“The same types of evidence that led each of us to be exonerated are also present in James’ case,” they wrote. “The only difference allowing us to be spared from execution while James is set to be killed is whether or not a judge and jury has had the opportunity to review all the evidence.”

The bishops of Florida announced more than 30 prayer vigils throughout the state on Nov. 7, where Catholics and other community members will gather “to pray for the victim and aggressor, their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

“As Pope Francis has stated, and as the Catechism has been updated to reflect, the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ due to modern penal systems,” the bishops said. “At certain times in history, the teachings of the Church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty when it was the only means by which to protect society and guilt was properly determine.”

“Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe,” they continued, stressing that these alternatives “do not degrade us by ending yet another life - perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence.”

Former finance director sues Jackson diocese

Jackson, Miss., Oct 22, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Jackson and its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, are being sued by the diocese’s former director of finance, who says he was unjustly fired last year.

Arie “Aad” Mattheus de Lange was fired from the diocese Oct. 3, 2018, which was later changed to an administrative leave. In May, he was told that he was no longer employed by the Diocese of Jackson. He filed the lawsuit earlier this month, saying his firing was in retaliation for his complaints about how the budget is handled.

“The reasons proffered for de Lange’s termination were false, pretextual, and did not rise to the level of grave reason,” claims the lawsuit. The suit further states that it is “inexplicable” that de Lange was fired for a grave reason due to the lack of any sort of performance review during his employment.

“De Lange’s discharge was retaliatory in nature based upon his reasonable objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities and the potential adverse impact it posed to the diocese,” said the suit. According to the filing, the Diocese of Jackson serves as the guarantor of Catholic Charities, and Catholic Charities does not need permission to remove money from the diocese’s checking account.

In the suit, de Lange claims he was wrongfully terminated, and that he had been defamed by the diocese, which negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. He is not asking for a certain amount in damages, but requested that the jury determine an appropriate amount.

When de Lange was initially fired in October 2018, Kopacz sent him a letter stating that he was being fired due to a “weakened financial and administrative condition of the diocese,” an “unexpected large deficit” during that fiscal year, “internal problems reflected in the prior year’s audit report and anticipated in this year’s report,” and a “lack of leadership, communication and collaboration” between his office and diocesean leadership.

de Lange disputes these claims, and instead says that Kopacz had been looking to terminate him since 2016. That year, de Lange did not support Kopacz being named as the interim executive director of the diocesesan board of directors. De Lange said that he believed Kopacz being in this position created a conflict of interest, as board members of the board of directors were employees of the bishop and therefore could not fire him.

Normally, the board is able to terminate the executive director – but this would not be possible if the interim executive director is the bishop himself.

In a statement given to the Clarion Ledger, the Diocese of Jackson said they stood by their reasons for dismissing de Lange in 2018 and that is the “general policy of the Diocese not to comment on pending litigation and personnel matters.”

Pompeo highlights religious freedom, pro-life goals as among US priorities 

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Secretary of State listed promoting international religious freedom and fighting abortion as among U.S. foreign policy priorities in a Tuesday speech on diplomacy.

In his remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department in July, with religious leaders and survivors of religious persecution from all over the world in attendance as well as delegations from more than 100 countries.

He also spoke about a joint statement of the U.S. and 20 other countries at a recent meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, “rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right.”

Secretary Pompeo addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting on Tuesday, at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C.

During his speech on “Trump Administration Diplomacy: The Untold Story,” Pompeo outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities such as pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program. Pompeo said that Iran was “the aggressor, not the aggrieved” in the Middle East.

Pompeo also addressed the recent controversy over President Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops away from the Turkey-Syria border. The White House had announced the troop withdrawal as Turkey was beginning a “long-planned operation” into Syria with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

The U.S. ultimately ceded responsibility to Turkey for ISIS militants in the area who had been captured in the previous two years. There have been reports of hundreds of detainees with links to ISIS escaping from camps in the region; around 950 ISIS supporters reportedly escaped one displacement camp in Northern Syria on Oct. 13.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians warned that the Turkish invasion could prove perilous for around 40,000 Christians in Northeast Syria. On Oct. 14, Trump announced economic sanctions on Turkey for its invasion of Syria.

Pope Francis, in his Oct. 13 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, prayed for “beloved and tormented Syria” and “the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions.” He called for the international community to undertake “the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions.”

“It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined,” Pompeo said on Tuesday.

During a question-and-answer portion of his appearance with Heritage’s executive vice president Kim Holmes, Pompeo explained in greater detail the administration’s strategy in promoting religious freedom.

The U.S. has a “selfish interest” in promoting religious freedom around the world, he said, because “nations that have more religious liberty tend to view the world much closer to the way the United States views the world.”

Pompeo said that his goal is to ensure U.S. ambassadors and embassy staff are trained to promote freedom of religion, saying that “if you travel to visit a U.S. embassy and meet someone on our team, an ambassador or whomever, I would have failed as a leader if they don’t understand that this is a real priority for this administration.”

The administration has even worked to hold U.S. allies accountable on religious freedom in the agency’s annual human rights report, Pompeo said. For example, the State Department’s 2018 report noted abuses in Saudi Arabia including “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”

“We identify every single incident where we found some violation of human rights. So we do it; we list our friends,” Pompeo said.

Other countries “are watching what we’re doing,” he said, “they’re watching how America does this. They’re watching how President Trump addresses this set of issues. And I am convinced that the work we’re doing will enhance religious freedom for millions and millions of people around the world.”

Pompeo was also asked about the creation of an advisory commission to the State Department on human rights.

He answered that he had long been interested in human rights since he studied just war theory as a soldier, and that his interest was influenced by his evangelical Christian faith.

When he entered the State Department in 2018, however, Pompeo said he saw a lack of “clarity” and “grounding” in human rights at the agency.

The aim of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, he said, is to “lay down with clarity not only what these human rights are, these fundamental rights are, but from what it is they are derived, how we got there.” The commission will examine human rights in light of the Declaration of Independence and the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

“When you see Venezuela get on the Human Rights Council at the UN, it cries out for a re-examination of these fundamental first principles,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. issued a critical statement in light of Venezuela’s election last week to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Mauritania, a country where slavery is still reportedly practiced, was also elected to the Human Rights Council.

 

Letter urges Congress to guard pro-life protections in foreign spending

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- A coalition of pro-life leaders has sent a letter calling on federal lawmakers to oppose an amendment to a foreign funding bill that would give money to organizations that promote abortion overseas.

The letter, dated Oct. 17, was signed by nearly four dozen pro-life leaders, including the associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and the presidents of the March for Life and National Right to Life.

It was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif).

The Trump administration has already updated the Mexico City Policy into the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance (PLGHA) rule, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

However, organizations that exist domestically but do work overseas are still permitted to perform and promote abortions.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) funding bill before the Senate left for its October recess. This amendment would increase U.S. international family planning assistance, as well as reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA), which the U.S. has declined to support for the past three years.

“We are deeply concerned by the increase of funds for international family planning in the Senate SFOPs bill, which would provide even more money” to domestic organizations that promote abortion overseas, said the letter.

The bill includes $29 million allocated to Pathfinder International, which works with governments to build abortion facilities, as well as $6.7 million to Population Council, an organziation that promotes abortion in rural India, among other groups.

“Senator Shaheen’s amendment is clearly designed to undermine the life-saving policies of the Trump administration,” the signatories said.

In January, President Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), promising that he would veto any legislation that weakens existing pro-life law. The Bipartisan Budget Agreement for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 specifically states that there may be no policy changes increasing spending levels relative to the FY 2019 without approval from Congressional leaders and the president.

The Shaheen amendment “must be eliminated in any SFOPs bill going forward,” said the letter. “Consistent with the bipartisan budget agreement, we ask that you reject the Shaheen amendment.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony list and leader of the coalition of signatories, said the language in the funding bill is a “nonstarter” and should be dropped under the bipartisan budget agreement.

“We trust that President Trump, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Minority Leader McCarthy will continue to stand against efforts to weaken the extraordinary progress made by the Trump administration in implementing pro-life policies internationally by rejecting the Shaheen amendment,” she said.

Meet the Catholic chaplain to the Washington Nationals

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 11:53 am (CNA).- A professional baseball clubhouse might not be considered a particularly religious place today, but one chaplain says the Catholic priesthood is needed—and desired—as much as ever there.

“When I walk in the [clubhouse], they kind of light up a little bit,” Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a chaplain to the Washington Nationals professional baseball team, told CNA. “It’s not me,” he clarified, “it’s that they see a Catholic priest.”

“I think that the priesthood continues to be a sign that God is with us,” he said. “You see ‘okay, despite how secular this world is, there is a need in all of us to have God as part of our lives’.”

Monsignor Rossetti, who is also a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and former president of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, said he has been a chaplain to the Washington Nationals for 10 years.

In that decade, Rossetti has observed the organization from the inside during its low point of floundering last-place finishes in 2009 and 2010, its ascendancy to one of the winningest clubs in Major League Baseball from 2012 through 2019, four disheartening first-round playoff exits, and now the pinnacle of success.

On Tuesday night, the Nationals will be introduced to the “Fall Classic” as they are set to play in their first World Series game since the organization moved to Washington, D.C. from Montreal in 2005. They will be facing off against the Houston Astros.

The television broadcast of the Nationals’ World Series-clinching win last Tuesday evening showed Monsignor Rossetti in the General Manager’s booth, intently watching the game.

What is it like being a chaplain to a professional sports team? One thing that must be considered, Rossetti told CNA, is that the 162-game baseball season from April through September—not counting the October playoffs or Spring Training which runs around six weeks in February and March—is a “grind,” and the players are “human beings” with needs like everyone else.

“It’s a lot of pressure. These guys, most of them are in their twenties, and the world’s watching them,” Rossetti said. “I just try to be supportive.”

Catholic players may have their home parishes elsewhere, but as they spend much of their time at or near the stadium during the season, Rossetti administers the sacraments as any parish priest would, celebrating Sunday Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, or teaching marriage prep.

However, he also seeks to evangelize any way he can, whether through speaking an encouraging word, asking players about their families, or giving them blessings.

“If you’re waiting for people to come into your church, some will, but most people won’t,” he said. “So I think that a key point is that we try to go where people are and bring Church to them.”

Rossetti has found that the players to whom he ministers, Catholic or not, love to receive blessings. “They want to be blessed, and they can feel like it’s a sign that God still loves them and supports them and wants to give them His help,” the priest said.

“God blesses people through the Church,” he said. “They want to be prayed with, they want to be prayed over.”

Rossetti is the author of the book The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, in which he writes about the history and power of priestly blessings, what the Church teaches about blessings and sacramentals, and the importance of rediscovering blessings and sacramentals as a part of everyday life.

Priestly blessings, he said, are a key part of the mission of the priesthood—yet one that might be overlooked by many Catholics today.

“Despite our weaknesses as a Church,” he said, “there still is this notion—which I think is true, the Vatican Council supported it—there is a ‘sacred power’ to the priesthood.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1667 says that sacramentals “are sacred signs instituted by the Church,” which “prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.”

This last line, the sanctification of everyday life, is a characteristic that needs to be rediscovered today, Rossetti said.

Priestly blessings of persons, objects, or places, or sacramentals such as the sprinkling of holy water, are a concrete way “to realize that God wants to be part of our everyday lives, not just Sunday for an hour,” Rossetti said.

Holy water fonts, crucifixes, and prayers before meals used to be more common in homes, he said, and showed that “our total lives were lived in the presence of the Lord” without “compartmentalizing religion.”

One genius of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on ecology “Laudato Si” was that “it recognizes the sacramentality of creation, the fact that we need to care for it, and it becomes taken up and transformed in some way,” he said.

As the Nationals now turn their attention to the 2019 World Series, Rossetti is excited to be watching - and cheering them on. He described the atmosphere in the clubhouse as nothing short of “electric.”

The 2019 Nationals season has been a roller coaster ride, from the team’s woeful 19-31 record at the beginning to their red-hot finish.

An unofficial team motto is “Stay In the Fight,” adopted from an oft-spoken mantra of team manager Davey Martinez. It fits this year’s team, Rossetti said, because it is often viewed as an underdog to juggernauts like the Dodgers, Yankees, or Astros. “Just when you think they’re down and out,” he said, “they come from nowhere.”

“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” Rossetti said of the clubhouse atmosphere after the team clinched the National League pennant. “The place is on fire.”

 

 

 

How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

Some 27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”


An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

Louisiana court skeptical, but lets challenge to abortion regulations continue

Baton Rouge, La., Oct 21, 2019 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s pro-life legislation will be allowed to continue, but the state is confident that it will prevail after the lower court re-examines whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the regulations.

The 5th Circuit’s Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the case altogether, but also stated that those suing the state did not have standing for many of their claims, and that the case never should have been allowed to go forward.

The case was heard by Chief Judge Priscilla Owen, along with Judges Don Willett and Andrew Oldham.

The state was being sued by an abortion clinic and two doctors, who were seeking an injunction blocking “virtually all of Louisiana’s legal framework for regulating abortion.” They argued that even if some of the regulations and provisions were constitutional, the entirety of them as a whole were not.

The panel of judges on the court said that a good number of the things the plaintiffs were challenging do not meet the legal standard to actually bring a case to court.

“Plaintiffs challenge a bevy of legal provisions that appear incapable of injuring them,” said the opinion. The plaintiffs stated they were attempting to get an injunction under what they have termed the “cumulative effects” theory.

“The plaintiffs’ theory, as we understand it, is that Louisiana’s various laws and regulations regarding abortion cumulate to an undue burden,” said the opnion. “But before any federal court can analyze the ‘cumulative effects’ of Louisiana’s laws, we must know which laws plaintiffs have standing to challenge. Again, jurisdiction first.”

Among the provisions challenged in the case are regulations concerning the privacy of medical records, a law that forbids abortion facilities from having a name that would make someone think the state is operating the facility, laws that require the suspected sexual abuse of a child be reported to authorities, and a law that requires abortion facilities to have clean bathrooms. The opinion stated that it is simply not possible for the plaintiffs to claim that they have been somehow harmed by these laws.

The opinion also contained a list of 10 provisions that were challenged in court by the plaintiffs without alleging how or if the regulations actually applied to them. These included regulations regarding proper flooring and wall finishes for new or relocated abortion facilities, regulations regarding laundry facilities at clinics with “in-house laundry,” and provisions requiring that only “qualified medical staff” and “qualified nursing staff” be employed at abortion facilities.

The judges said that the plaintiffs did not properly explain how these regulations actually applied to them, as their clinic was not relocating, nor were the plaintiffs seeking to hire unqualified medical staff at the clinic.

Louisiana’s attorney general was hopeful about the future of the case.

“This lawsuit was always an overreach—it was filed by abortion clinics and doctors with poor safety records to evade regulation, even on common sense safety measures that benefit and protect women,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed very basic rules that apply when State laws are challenged in federal courts.”

Democratic US presidential candidates seek to limit charter schools

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 02:28 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan that, among other proposals, pledges to quadruple federal funding for schools that serve low-income students, but also would place some limits on charter schools.

The New York Times notes that Vermont Senator and fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders issued a similar proposal to limit charter schools in May.

Charter schools receive public funds but are privately operated. Warren’s plan would end “high-stakes testing”— tests that are used to make important decisions affecting the school — as well as ending federal funding for opening new charter schools and banning for-profit charters.

The New York Times notes that charter schools expanded in popularity and support under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, but there is evidence that public opinion is turning away from charter schools as a means of facilitating school choice.

The Times reports that Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.

Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA in March that the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

The NCEA’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

While the group mainly advocates for Catholic education and schemes such as tax credits to help low-income families send students there, the NCEA has also supported charter schools as a means of providing additional school choice to parents.

In guidelines on school choice published in May 2018, the NCEA stated of charter schools that they “typically provide for a clear, focused mission, a smaller student population that facilitates creation of community, more innovative teaching practices, greater parental and local community involvement, clear educational and fiscal standards and accountability measures and fewer state and local school board bureaucratic regulations.”

A major school choice case regarding tax credits for students who choose religious schools, a scheme that the NCEA supports, is currently pending in the Supreme Court. The court in July agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states  can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.

Questions raised as Satanic Temple asks to hold meeting at Naval Academy 

Annapolis, Md., Oct 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- As an outside group is asking to hold “satanic religious services” at the U.S. Naval Academy, questions have arisen as to its actual motives for doing so.

The Satanic Temple (TST), a group recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service, has threatened legal action against the U.S. Naval Academy if Midshipmen are not allowed to hold “satanic services” on campus as members of other religions are allowed to do.

However, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that the group’s efforts at the Naval Academy are “misleading” because what they wish for “is not a satanic service.”  Rather, what certain Midshipmen wish to host “is a discussion about how the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

On Oct. 8, an internal email was sent to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that “‘satanic services’ would start this week,” according to a Wednesday statement issued by Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the United States Naval Academy.

“This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, as required by command policy; it did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program,” Garas said.

The academy had previously walked back an original email announcement of satanic services and had said that services would not be taking place on campus.

The Satanic Temple then said on Wednesday that it would pursue legal action if the group was “discriminated against” on campus by being denied official services at the academy.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called the idea of the group being denied services at the Naval Academy on the grounds that it constituted political advocacy “self-evidently absurd.”

Under that reasoning, he said, the academy would also “be obligated to deny the services of Catholics for their Church’s political lobbying against abortion, the services of LDS-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both.”

Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt, while temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance.

The group’s mission statement does not include any statements of satanism, but rather claims that it exists “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits by the individual will.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, the temple’s leader, Lucien Greaves, revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner said, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

Lorence contended that despite adopting the name of The Satanic Temple and using satanic imagery, the group is just “anti-supernatural and rationalistic” rather than satanic like the Church of Satan.

Previously, the group tried to push an “After School Satan” program in 2016, which Lorence saw as an effort to undermine Christian after-school programs at public schools. The group’s strategy, which cited religious freedom laws to demand a space at public schools alongside other religious after-school programs, aimed to use fear of the promotion of satanism as a means to shut down all religious after-school programs.

“The Satanic Temple does not worship Satan,” Lorence said. “They use this ‘Satanic Temple’ label to confuse people.”

And the group could be trying to adopt a similar strategy at the Naval Academy, Lorence said. As a public institution, the academy “is by law open to groups that are student-oriented and student-led.”

According to the academy, a group of Midshipmen whose “beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” did make a request for a space at the academy, but they asked for a “study space” and not a space to hold “satanic services,” Commander Garas said.

The academy’s official statement on Wednesday said that the Command Religious Program “provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs.”

Furthermore, “[a]rrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members,” per the Navy instructions, Garas said. However, the group would not be able to “engage in partisan political activities.”

Archdiocese of Washington opposes local bill to legalize prostitution 

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of many organizations that testified Thursday during a hearing on a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. Council is currently considering B23-0318. Should the bill pass, Washington, D.C. would become the second place in the country to decriminalize prostitution. The practice is currently legal in parts of Nevada.

The bill was sponsored by Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

“Because we believe that each of us possesses inherent dignity and is entitled to respect as a person created in the image of God, it is also part of the mission of the archdiocese and the Catholic Church to defend the dignity of the human person against all forms of exploitation,” Mary Forr, Director of Life Issues for the archdiocese, said during the hearing.

“This includes prostitution, which reduces the person to an article of commerce and a mere possession to be bought, used, and discarded without regard for any physical and psychological trauma to the person in the process,” she added.

She outlined the various programs the archdiocese offers to anyone who has been victimized by traffickers, which include counseling, medical and dental care, and job training.

“We provide hope to those struggling on the margins of society and strive to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“The archdiocese will always strive to be a source of support for anyone in need; however, full decriminalization of the sex trade will exacerbate the struggles many residents of the District already face,” said Forr.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) - also known as the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019 - is modeled after similar legislation in New Zealand.

Unlike the “Nordic Model,” which decriminalizes the act of a person selling themselves but instead heavily penalizes the act of buying the services of a sex worker, the DC proposal would also decriminalize brothels, pimping, and buying sex.

Sex trafficking, or the act of forcing someone into prostitution against their will, would still remain illegal, although advocates against the bill warned repeatedly that passage of B23-0318 would encourage the sex trade and increase prostitution. Child prostitution would also remain illegal under the proposed legislation.

Supporters of the bill argued that adults have a right to engage in consensual sex work.

Laws criminalizing prostitution “impede sex workers’ ability to negotiate safer sex practices, screen clients, report incidents of violence, and access basic needs like housing and health services,” the ACLU of DC said in a statement.

“Criminalization has placed vulnerable D.C. residents at greater risk of violence, police harassment, and exposure to exploitation. It has led to a cycle of violence, poverty, and incarceration that only creates additional barriers to more traditional employment for those engaging in survival sex work.”

Tamika Spellman, a biological male who identifies as transgender, testified in favor of the bill. Spellman has worked as a prostitute for some four decades - since age 14.

Spellman, who was one of the bill architects, according to the New York Times, argued that the bill is a matter of empowerment and safety for sex workers, particularly racial minorities and members of the LGBT community.

Opponents of the bill include D.C. government officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has led the District of Columbia since 2015, is vehemently against the bill. She says it would make it harder for the city to successfully target sex traffickers and would not make the sex trade any safer for those who engage in it.

“The mayor’s position is rooted in the need to maintain a safety net to identify and assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and her belief that decriminalization will lead to an increase in sex trafficking,” Michelle Garcia, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants said in the hearing.

Garcia said there are steps that should be taken to improve the lives of sex workers, but that this bill is not the correct approach. Mayor Bowser has long been concerned about the lives of sex workers in the city, said Garcia. The city has had a working group since April 2019 that is aimed at creating a program to divert sex workers away from the criminal justice system and into alternative assistance programs, she explained, and Bowser was given their proposals and recommendations for review earlier this week.

The D.C. Attorney General’s office also raised concerns about the bill, and how it could put children at increased risk from sex trafficking. The bill repeals part of the “safe harbor law” that requires children be referred to services if they are found to be victims of trafficking, and it also “negatively impacts” the use of nuisance laws that are used to target traffickers, said Erin Cullen, deputy attorney general for the Family Services Division at the D.C. Attorney General’s office.

Opponents of the bill also claimed that should prostitution be decriminalized, there will be an increased demand for prostitution, which could potentially turn the nation’s capital into a destination for sex tourism. There were repeated claims that this increased demand for commercial sex would naturally result in an increased number of people who are trafficked into sex work.

The hearing lasted approximately 17 hours. Public comments can be submitted until November 1.