1. Contraceptive Rule To Be Reversed: Trump takes aim at Obama requirement for employee benefits; opponents plan suit.

By Michelle Hackman and Louise Radnofsky, The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2017, Pg. A4

The Trump administration is poised to issue a rule unwinding an Obama -era requirement that employee health benefits include contraception, which will spark a fresh round of litigation over the issue.

Federal health officials are expected to finalize a regulation that would allow employers with religious or moral objections to birth control to omit coverage for contraception from their workers’ plans, according to two people familiar with its contents. The regulation closely mirrors an earlier, leaked draft, they said.

The rule would fulfill a promise by President Donald Trump to social conservatives, who backed his candidacy but have been frustrated by the pace of his administration has moved to address one of their most significant grievances.

Based on early indications, the expected rule “would go a very long way to restoring religious freedom and conscience rights,” said Hillary Byrnes, assistant general counsel at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump pledged support for Catholics and evangelical Christians who sued President Barack Obama and his top officials over the contraception requirement, contending that it forced them to violate their religious beliefs.


2. Let Prisoners Learn While They Serve.

By The New York Times, August 17, 2017, Pg. A22, Editorial

Criminal justice officials across the country are struggling to break the recidivism cycle in which prisoners are released only to land right back behind bars. These prisoners are among the most poorly educated people in the country, and that fact holds the key to a solution. Decades of research has shown that inmates who participate in prison education programs — even if they fail to earn degrees — are far more likely to stay out of prison once they are freed.

That prison education programs are highly cost effective is confirmed by a 2013 RAND Corporation study that covered 30 years of prison education research. Among other things, the study found that every dollar spent on prison education translated into savings of $4 to $5 on imprisonment costs down the line.

Other studies suggest that prisons with education programs have fewer violent incidents, making it easier for officials to keep order, and that the children of people who complete college are more likely to do so themselves, disrupting the typical pattern of poverty and incarceration.

Prison education programs were largely dismantled during the “tough on crime” 1990s, when Congress stripped inmates of the right to get the federal Pell grants that were used to pay tuition. The decision bankrupted many prison education programs across the country and left private donors and foundations to foot the bill for those that survived.

Despite limited and unreliable funding, these programs have more than proved their value. New York lawmakers who continue to block funding for them are putting ideology ahead of the public interest.


3. Vietnam criticizes US religious freedom report.

By Associated Press, August 17, 2017, 7:04 AM

Vietnam on Thursday criticized the U.S. State Department’s annual international religious freedom report, describing it as containing partial and false information about the country.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters that the government respects and ensures citizens’ right to freedom of religion and belief, which is enshrined in the constitution and ensured in practice.

The State Department’s report, which covers religious freedom around the world, said this week that the Vietnamese Communist government continued to limit activities of unrecognized religious groups and that religious leaders, particularly those of unregistered groups and those from ethnic minorities, reported various forms of governmental harassment, including physical assaults, short-term detention, prosecutions, monitoring, restrictions on travel and property seizure or destruction.


4. Pope, in Book Foreword, Vows Crackdown on Sexual Abusers and Protectors.

By Reuters, August 16, 2017, 12:39 PM

Pope Francis – in comments in the foreword of a new book – has branded sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests a “monstrosity” and pledged action against perpetrators and bishops who protected them.

The book titled “Father, I Forgive You: Abused But Not Broken” was written by Swiss man Daniel Pittet, 58, who was first raped by a priest when he was eight years old.

Francis, whose repeated promises of zero tolerance have been criticized by victims who say the Vatican needs to do much more, called sexual abuse “an absolute monstrosity, a terrible sin that contradicts everything that the Church teaches”.

The foreword was published on Wednesday by the mass circulation German daily Bild.


5. Nazism and extreme nationalism ‘must be opposed in word and deed,’ says papal advisor.

By Claire Giangravè, Crux, August 16, 2017

Following the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia where a white nationalist rally turned violent and resulted in the death of a young woman and left nearly 35 people injured, a member of Pope Francis’s Council of Cardinals advisory board has called U.S. citizens to stand against “the pagan ideas of Nazism.”

“Those who seek to resurrect a new form of Nazism and extreme nationalism – those who denigrate African Americans, who preach and practice anti-Semitism, who disparage Muslims, those who threaten and seek to banish immigrants in our land – all these voices dishonor the basic convictions of the American political and constitutional traditions. They must be opposed in word and deed,” Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said in a statement dated August 15.


6. Motown and the Turbocharged Church.

By George Weigel, First Things, August 16, 2017

Detroit hasn’t gotten a lot of good press in recent decades, as it’s struggled to cope with the myriad problems of rustbelt American cities in the age of globalization. But the Church in Detroit is not playing defense. Under the leadership of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, it’s going on offense, challenging itself to become a diocese of missionary disciples.

The plan is laid out in Archbishop Vigneron’s recent pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel,” issued from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the Vigil of Pentecost. The letter synthesizes the conclusions and convictions of a remarkable process that began three years ago. 

Finally, in November 2016, clergy, religious, and laity from across the archdiocese met in synod to pray together and discuss together how to become, in a phrase that recurs throughout Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, “a joyful band of missionary disciples.” This was not the kind of diocesan synod often seen in the United States: an administrative exercise, internally focused on the Church-as-institution. Detroit’s synod had a different goal: in Archbishop Vigneron’s words, “nothing less than a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit, a complete reversal of our focus from an inward, maintenance-focused church to an outward, mission-focused church.”

Motown may no longer be the epicenter of the global automobile industry. The Archdiocese of Detroit, however, is well on its way to becoming a shining model of how to gather and organize a local Church for the New Evangelization.


7. Vatican envoy: Vietnam’s government must respect religious freedom.

By Catholic News Service, August 16, 2017

The Vatican envoy to Vietnam called on the Southeast Asian nation’s communist government to respect religious freedom.

Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the nonresident representative of the Vatican to Vietnam, presided at the August 13 opening Mass of the Marian Congress, held at the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in central Vietnam’s Quang Tri province.

In his homily, Girelli spoke of the state of religious freedom in the country, reported ucanews.com.

“In some provinces, civil authorities are anxious and complain about the Catholics and their deeds,” the archbishop said during Mass, where he was joined by Vietnamese bishops and some 200 priests.

Earlier this year, the Vietnamese bishops criticized the new Law on Belief and Religion, which will take effect January 1. They said abstract phrases in the law “are easily abused to shift responsibility onto and condemn religious organizations when the government is dissatisfied.”