1. Supreme Court, including Gorsuch, to hear church-state case.

By Mark Sherman and Maria Danilova, Associated Press, April 17, 2017, 3:51 AM

Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the Supreme Court bench features an important case about the separation of church and state that has its roots on a Midwestern church playground. The outcome could make it easier to use state money to pay for private, religious schooling in many states.

The justices on Wednesday will hear a Missouri church’s challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds. Missouri is among roughly three dozen states with constitutions that explicitly prohibit using public money to aid a religious institution, an even higher wall separating government and religion than the U.S. Constitution erects.


2. A playground fight with substance. 

By George F. Will, The Washington Post, April 16, 2017, Pg. A21

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider the constitutional significance of this incontrovertible truth: “A scraped knee is a scraped knee whether it happens at a Montessori day care or a Lutheran day care.”

That assertion is in an agreeably brief amicus brief written by Michael McConnell, a Stanford University law professor specializing in church-state relations. He requires just 13 pages to make mincemeat of Missouri’s contention that a bit of 19th-century bigotry lodged in its constitution requires it to deny shredded tires to Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, which runs a preschool.

Practices during the Founders’ era demonstrate, McConnell argues, that “including religious groups in neutral public benefit programs was not viewed as an establishment.” And: “Shredded tires have no religious, ideological, or even instructional content . . . a rubberized playground is existentially incapable of advancing religion.”

Missouri cites, in defense of its practice, an utterly inapposite case in which the Supreme Court upheld a state’s refusal to fund students seeking degrees in devotional theology, even though it funded degrees in secular subjects. This involved entirely different issues than Missouri denying an organization access to a public safety benefit simply because the organization is religious. Spreading shredded tires beneath a jungle gym hardly (in the Supreme Court’s language) “intentionally or inadvertently inculcates particular religious tenets.” And Missouri’s denial of this benefit is, McConnell writes, “the clearest possible example of an unconstitutional penalty on the exercise of a constitutional right,” the free exercise of religion.

“The religious status of the Trinity Lutheran day care bears not the slightest relevance to the purpose of the state’s program.” Which pertains to knees.


3. Pope decries ‘vile’ attack on Syrians in Easter address.

By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, April 16, 2017, 8:02 AM

On Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis lamented the horrors generated by war and hatred, delivering an Easter Sunday message that also decried the “latest vile” attack on civilians in Syria.

Francis prayed that God would sustain those working to comfort and help the civilian population in Syria, “prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.”

He cited the explosion Saturday that ripped through a bus depot in the Aleppo area where evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100 people.


4. The Profound Connection Between Easter and Passover: It’s not just that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Both holidays are about the dead rising to new life.

By R.R. Reno, The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2017, Pg. C1, The Saturday Essay

This year, Easter Sunday falls as the eight-day Jewish festival nears its end. Over the years, I have come to see that Christianity’s most important day recapitulates Passover. Both holidays face head-on the daunting power of death—and both announce God’s greater power of life.

Because I’m married to a Jewish woman who decided that having a Christian husband was a reason to become more Jewish, not less, I’ve been repeating the biblical pattern for more than 30 years. This has led me to see that Easter doesn’t just share the same week with Passover. They are about the same thing: In both, the dead rise to new life.

This profound connection is not evident to most Christians. Our understanding of Passover emphasizes the blood of the Passover lamb, which Moses commands the Israelites to put on their door frames so that the Angel of Death, sent to kill the firstborn of Egypt, will “pass over” them. This image—the lamb whose blood saves—is taken up in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.

As a consequence, the religious imagination of most Christians connects Passover to Good Friday, the day on which we remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The theological meaning is plain: Jesus himself is the Passover lamb, offered as a sacrifice for the whole world.

It took me many years to realize that my Christian assumptions were almost entirely wrong. Blood and sacrifice are integral to the meaning of Jesus’ death, to be sure. But that turns out to have very little to do with the way in which Jews actually celebrate Passover.

The blood of the lamb is mentioned in the Passover Seder, but only in passing. What comes to the fore instead is the obligation to recall what God has done for his people: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

Put in Christian terms: The Passover Seder recalls and celebrates the resurrection of the people of Israel.

Mr. Reno is the editor of the religious journal First Things. He was formerly a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University.


5. For Iraqi Christians After Islamic State, Hope Amid the Ruins: Christian towns in Iraq’s Kurdistan region show both heartbreaking damage and signs of resilience.

By Lauren Ashburn, The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2017, Pg. C2

THE CRUCIFIX over the church’s door had been spray-painted with a large X. Inside, another cross had been pockmarked by bullet holes.
The further I ventured into the modest church in the small northern Iraqi town of Batnaya on April 9—Palm Sunday—the more overwhelming the destruction appeared. A statue of the Virgin Mary had been decapitated, and other statues had been smashed to bits. The face of Jesus had been ripped from a painting. Every Christian symbol I could see had been defaced or obliterated. I couldn’t hold back my tears.

In a nearby graveyard, headstones had been uprooted or desecrated. Even a final resting place hadn’t been safe from the fury of Islamic State.

Iraq has been home to several hundred thousand Christians, known as Chaldeans, Syriacs or Assyrians, for centuries. This Christian community has long endured periods of persecution, most recently in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But when Islamic State jihadists took over swaths of Iraq in 2014—including nearby Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and the adjacent Nineveh Plain—between 100,000 and 120,000 Christians fled, according to the archdiocese of Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The Catholic Church in Iraq, which estimates that 1.5 million Christians lived in the country in 2003, says that fewer than 300,000 remain today. The CIA says that Iraq’s Christian population may have dropped by as much as 50% since Saddam Hussein’s fall, and the ravages of war and despair could shrink that number further.

Ms. Ashburn is the anchor and managing editor of “EWTN News Nightly” on the global Catholic network.


6. Pope denounces corruption, injustices that ‘crucify’ dignity.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, April 15, 2017

Pope Francis on Saturday denounced how migrants, the poor and marginalized see their “human dignity crucified” every day through injustice and corruption, and urged the faithful in an Easter Vigil message to keep hope alive for a better future.

He called for Catholics to “break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.”


7. A Child of Holy Saturday: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Turns 90.

By Matthew Bunson, National Catholic Register, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday brings the 90th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was born on Schulstraße 11 in Marktl am Inn, Germany, at 8:30 in the morning. It was Holy Saturday, making the future pontiff quite literally a child of the Triduum. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote of the importance of being born on Holy Saturday in his 1998 memoir, Milestones:

“I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter mystery, since this could only be a sign of blessing. To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems to be fitting for the nature of our human life: We are still awaiting Easter; we are still not standing in the full light, but walking toward it in full trust” (8).

A child born on Holy Saturday has been shaped by the mystery of that sacred day for 90 years.

Like all of us, he is still not standing in that full light of Easter; but unlike so many of us, he truly does walk toward it in full trust.


8. Study finds religious persecution spread to more countries in 2015.

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, April 15, 2017, 3:01 AM

Global religious persecution spiked from 2014 to 2015, the Pew Research Center noted in a new report released this week.

“Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years,” the latest annual Pew Research Center report on “Global Restrictions on Religion” began.

In 2015, there were “very high” or “high” levels of animosity shown towards religious groups in 40 percent of countries, the report noted, either through restrictive government laws targeting religious groups or violence or harassment toward adherents of specific religions by other members of society.

The 2015 percentage was up six points from 2014, when 34 percent of countries reported such levels of hostility to religious groups.


9. The sharp stop of Good Friday.

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Fox News, April 14, 2017, Opinion

Hurrying on our way to the perfect happiness of Easter Sunday, Christians come to a sharp stop on Good Friday.  It’s an odd name for the day in which we remember in vivid detail the torture and death of an innocent man.

To understand it is necessary to contemplate a central mystery of Christianity: Christ died for us, to cancel out our sins, and by his dying and coming back to life he defeated death itself. … He performs the ultimate act of repentance on behalf of a humanity that has too much to repent of—the gulags and the killing fields, enslavements and tortures, even our individual acts of cowardice and pettiness.

So we stop on the way to the glory of Easter and remain a while at the foot of the cross – the instrument through which goodness was restored to the world.  And although we are confronted there with the unspeakable results of human wickedness, we are also given the key to their defeat.  We are liberated, inexplicably, from the weight of our past failings, and pointed into a brighter and better future – in which we can freely follow His example of perfect love.