1. Trump, global religious freedom needs US ambassador to lead.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, The Hill, April 23, 2017, 10:00 AM, Opinion

The Religious Freedom Institute and Center on Faith and International Affairs in March made the call to appoint an IRF Ambassador (U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom) as its most important policy recommendation to the Administration and Congress.  A Feb. 1 letter from over 700 religious leaders, educators, scholars, business leaders and human rights activists prepared by the Wilberforce Initiative similarly did so.  As Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C. in his keynote address at the symposium encouraged, these experts “raise their voices to amplify the muffled cries of those who suffer.”

Sadly, despite increased attention to religion in U.S. Foreign Policy, religious persecution remains dangerously high.

International religious freedom is not a “Republican” or “Democrat” issue. It is not even a “bipartisan issue.”  It is a non-partisan issue — an American issue.  The United States was the first nation to constitutionally guarantee religious freedom.  Our protection of this freedom here and our leadership abroad is consistent with international norms of justice and the protection of minorities.  Where religious freedom is protected, all other freedoms are more likely to be recognized. It is the “freedom of freedoms.”

And it’s not simply a human rights matter.  Responding to the plight of the persecuted promotes greater international stability and security here at home.

President Trump has spoken of his deep concern for the persecution of religious minorities abroad.  The prompt nomination and confirmation of an IRF Ambassador among the first wave of non-Cabinet Presidential appointments will have symbolic and substantive import. It will show the importance our country continues to place on religious freedom. It will show our invigorated leadership in promoting both our ideals and our security and, God willing, make the volume of our voices on behalf of those persecuted difficult to ignore.


2. A Blow to Blaine Amendments: An anti-Catholic law has a bad day at the Supreme Court.

By The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2017, Pg. A16, Review & Outlook, (appeared in 4/20 edition)

Religious liberty had a good day at the Supreme Court last week as the Justices heard arguments in a case about whether Missouri could bar a church from a playground-resurfacing program merely because it’s a church. The state didn’t get many converts.

Discrimination against the church is a “clear burden on a constitutional right,” Justice Elena Kagan said, because “people of a certain religious status are being prevented from competing in the same way everybody else is for a neutral benefit.” Can you say Hallelujah?

Progressives have rallied in opposition to Trinity Lutheran’s case for fear that acknowledging the principle of government neutrality toward religion will undermine their claims that public vouchers for religious schools are unconstitutional. They should have picked a better case.


3. The Justices and the Church-State Division.

By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, April 23, 2017, Pg. SR10, Editorial

In the interest of child safety, Missouri provides a limited number of state grants to playground operators to replace hard surfaces with rubber. Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town of Columbia, applied for one of those grants in 2012 to upgrade the playground for its day care and preschool. The state refused to provide the funds because Missouri’s Constitution bars spending any money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church.”

If the court invalidates Missouri’s prohibition — versions of which exist in the constitutions of 38 other states — the effects could reach far beyond playground surfaces. For starters, religious schools would have a much easier time taking advantage of state-funded voucher programs, which are likely to grow under the Trump administration.

The justices delayed hearing it until now, presumably out of a concern that an eight-member court would split evenly and be unable to issue a decision.

In light of Wednesday’s arguments, during which all but two justices appeared sympathetic to the church’s position, that fear may have been misplaced. And with Justice Gorsuch now on the court, advocates for the recently evolved, misguided notion of religious freedom are feeling a lot better about their chances.


4. If Pope wants to honor martyrs, fast-track their sainthood causes.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, April 23, 2017

There’s no questions that anti-Christian persecution around the world today is staggeringly bad, and getting worse. The hard part is knowing what to do about it, and on that front, alas, a pope’s options often are as limited as everyone else’s.

Popes can, of course, use their bully pulpits to raise awareness about such situations, which was the point of Francis’s visit to the memorial on Saturday. They can also use the diplomatic leverage of the Vatican to try to exert pressure on offender countries to change their ways.
In principle, however, lots of other actors can do similar things. There is, however, one thing a pope and a pope alone can do, which would make a powerful statement about the importance of the new martyrs: Fast-track their sainthood causes.

Pope Francis has a natural opportunity coming up to fast-track a group which perfectly embodies today’s realities: The martyrs of Kandhamal, India.

Kandhamal is a district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, formerly known as Orissa, where an orgy of violence descended upon the impoverished Christian minority in August 2008. A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced

The martyrs of Kandhamal are ideal representatives of contemporary martyrdom, because in addition to being Christians, they were poor, members of downtrodden ethnic minorities, largely illiterate, and basically forgotten. It was also an ecumenical sacrifice, as Catholics died in the company of Anglicans, Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

Pope Francis is set to travel to India this fall. If he were to announce his plans to canonize the martyrs of Kandhamal, and add a stop there to his itinerary, it would cast the brightest spotlight imaginable on their memory, and on the broader panorama of Christian suffering.


5. Kate Walsh O’Beirne R.I.P.

By Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online, April 23, 2017, 3:05 PM

Kate O’Beirne was part of National Review’s world before she joined the staff. When she became the magazine’s Washington editor in 1995 her resume already included stints at Senator Jim Buckley’s office, the Reagan administration, and the Heritage Foundation. She served NR in that position for eleven years and then became president of National Review Institute for six more. 

She enlivened every party, taking special care for the people who seemed shy or left out. This same impulse led her to take in young colleagues, or classmates of her children, who had nowhere to go for holidays. 

And it made her one of the most beloved people of Washington, D.C. 

You had to get to know her very well before you realized she was an introvert, one who was making a titanic effort to make sure everyone was happy. 

Kate was a quiet apostle for the Catholic faith, taking great satisfaction in the people she had brought, or brought back, to it, and cooking for priests who would “eat me out of house and home.” Reverence was never a chore for her. Leaving last year’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast — one of her final public outings — she saw a favorite priest tipping a bellman, she thought, inadequately. She gently corrected him: “Father, you took a vow of poverty, not him.” 

In her final days she clutched a rosary while surrounded by her devoted husband Jim, her adored sons Phil and John, her sisters Mary Ann, Virginia, and Rosemary, and many friends. Her great regret was that she would not be able to spend more time doting on her grandchildren. She died at noon on this Divine Mercy Sunday

Phil noted that his mother had believed in the show-business adage, Leave them wanting more. She has done that. R I P.


6. Landmark study examines responses of Christians to religious persecution.

By Mark Zimmermann, Crux, April 22, 2017

“The persecution of Christians is for real. It’s global in scope, brutal in nature and daily in occurrence,” said Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and one of the leaders of the Under Caesar’s Sword global research project, who presented the report titled In Response to Persecution.

The project’s report was carried out by 17 leading scholars of global Christianity, who studied how Christians are enduring religious persecution in 25 countries representing most of the nations where the most severe persecution is taking place.

The report’s authors in its introduction noted that the researchers focused on Christians because studies have shown that at least 60 percent of the cases of global religious persecution and 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination are directed against that group.

“Christians are the most widely targeted religious community, suffering terrible persecutions globally,” the report said, noting that the 21 men, mostly Coptic Christians, beheaded on a beach in Libya by members of the Islamic State in 2015 were among 7,100 Christians who died for their faith that year – a more than 300 percent rise from the 2012 figure of 2,123.