1. Slow Progress Toward Free Exercise, By Nicole Stelle Garnett and Tim Rosenberger, The Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2023, Pg. A13, Opinion Religious liberty has had a good run at the Supreme Court. Law professors Lee Epstein and Eric Posner reported in 2021 that religious claimants had enjoyed an 81% success rate at the high court since 2005. Yet assaults on religious freedom continue. Colorado created a publicly funded universal pre-K program that excluded certain religious providers. Religious preschools filed suit, and on Oct. 20 a federal judge ruled that excluding them violates the First Amendment. Five days later, Orthodox Jewish families and schools asked a federal appeals court to hold that California’s special-education policies unconstitutionally discriminated against them. On Nov. 6, a federal court in Minnesota considered a free-exercise challenge to a new law that prevents some religious colleges from participating in a dual-enrollment program, under which high-school students earn tuition-free college credit. Two weeks later, on Nov. 21, a Christian school filed a lawsuit alleging that Vermont unconstitutionally expelled it from a tuition-assistance program for students in rural school districts. Catholic and Protestant schools filed two similar lawsuits earlier this year after being excluded from a nearly identical program in Maine. The Supreme Court has clarified that when the government invites private organizations to advance public goals, it must include religious participants. The most recent example is Carson v. Makin (2022), which held that Maine violated the Free Exercise Clause by excluding religious schools from a school-choice program. This reaffirmed its reasoning in similar cases such as Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (2017) and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (2020). Yet dozens of public programs at all levels of government continue to do exactly that. In a Manhattan Institute report issued Thursday, we document such discrimination across several areas  Why does discrimination persist? Some government officials may be hostile toward religion, but many more are likely uninformed, erroneously viewing religious entities and activities as constitutionally suspect. Still others may have yet to consider the import of recent decisions for the programs they administer. Whatever the reason, unconstitutional restrictions inhibit the freedoms of religious organizations and preclude them from cooperating with the government to advance the common good. To be sure, the justices have yet to answer difficult questions about the Free Exercise Clause’s nondiscrimination mandate, including what regulations the government may impose on religious organizations participating in public programs. Yet there is no ambiguity about the impermissibility of religious discrimination in public programs. Lawmakers and regulators should head off more lawsuits by resolving to identify and eliminate these discriminatory rules now. Ms. Garnett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where Mr. Rosenberger is a legal policy fellow. https://www.wsj.com/articles/slow-progress-toward-free-exercise-religious-education-social-services-d59401a5__________________________________________________________ 2. Most ‘Transgender’ Kids Turn Out to Be Gay, Subjecting them to medical interventions is the modern-day version of ‘conversion therapy.’, By Roy Eappen, The Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2023, Pg. A15, Opinion In Canada, where I practice, and in the U.S., physicians provide what’s euphemistically known as “gender-affirming care” to patients as young as 8, and the leading transgender health association has opened the door to interventions at even earlier ages. Under this framework, those who feel uncomfortable with their bodies may receive a medical regimen including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and sex-change surgeries. These interventions typically stunt, remove or irreversibly modify a patient’s sexual development, genitals and secondary sex characteristics. Any endocrinologist or other physician who rejects this approach is alleged to be endangering the health and even the life of his patients. But are these patients really “transgender”? Research shows that some 80% of children with “gender dysphoria” eventually come to terms with their sex without surgical or pharmaceutical intervention. Multiple studies have found that most kids who are confused or distressed about their sex end up realizing they’re gay—nearly two-thirds in a 2021 study of boys. This makes sense: Gay kids often don’t conform to traditional sex roles. But gender ideology holds that feminine boys and masculine girls may be “born in the wrong body.” In this light, “gender-affirming care” looks a lot like conversion therapy. In the past, it took the form of electroshock therapy, chemical castration and even lobotomy. Now it takes the form of rendering teenagers sterile and sexually dysfunctional for life.  Children who take this road face a lifetime of pain, infertility and anguish. They deserve real mental-health care to address common underlying comorbidities, not mind- and body-altering medical interventions that try to make them into something they aren’t.  Dr. Eappen is a practicing endocrinologist in Montreal and a senior fellow at Do No Harm. https://www.wsj.com/articles/most-transgender-kids-turn-out-to-be-gay-gender-affirming-care-conversion-therapy-58111b2e__________________________________________________________ 3. Republicans struggle as they keep getting forced to talk about abortion, The contrast between GOP candidates’ maneuvering toward the middle and real-world events that remind the public of the party’s most aggressively anti-abortion faction shows how vexing the issue remains for the party, By Madison Fernandez, Politico, December 15, 2023, 5:00 AM  The contrast between the GOP candidates’ maneuvering toward the middle and the real-world events that remind the public of the party’s most aggressively anti-abortion faction shows how vexing the issue remains for the party. Eighteen months after the fall of Roe v. Wade, even Republicans who try to moderate — or, like Donald Trump, try not to talk about it — are struggling mightily to get on the right side of popular opinion.  Democrats’ message got another boost with the announcement that the court will once again weigh in on abortion rights with the mifepristone case. The Democratic National Committee issued a statement taking aim at “Trump’s Supreme Court majority,” saying the eventual ruling could be “MAGA Republicans’ latest attack on freedom in their war on a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.” After a series of losses in 2022 for anti-abortion causes and Republicans who supported them, 2023 only further demonstrated the staying power of abortion rights in the longer-term aftermath of Roe being overturned. Voters overwhelmingly backed abortion rights — twice — in Ohio, a state that has trended deep red in recent years. It also played out in elections across the country, like when Virginia Democrats seized full control of the state legislature by centering abortion rights in their campaigns and a liberal justice flipped ideological control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by leaning into the issue.  https://www.politico.com/news/2023/12/15/republicans-abortion-kate-cox-00131921__________________________________________________________ 4. A faith healer in skinny jeans is bringing Catholics back to Mass, By David Feliba and Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, December 15, 2023, 7:00 AM They came by the thousands, praying for a miracle.  At the front of a packed warehouse, 44-year-old Leda Bergonzi placed her hand on each of their foreheads and whispered into their ears. As she blessed them, some grabbed onto her, sobbing uncontrollably. Others collapsed into her arms or dropped onto the concrete floor. Members of her team stood by, ready to catch people as they fell. “I told myself, I’ll go with all my faith and give it a try,” said Jorge Fernández, a 56-year-old former bricklayer who lost his vision after a traffic accident in 2019 and had traveled to Bergonzi’s ceremony for the sixth time. “Thanks to God and Leda’s touch, I started seeing again.” Argentina has seen previous cases of “charismatic” priests attracting large crowds in search of healing, including here in Rosario, Argentina’s third largest city. But Bergonzi looks nothing like them. A lay person, she doesn’t wear robes or veils. She favors skinny jeans and high-top sneakers. In the weekly programs, she sings alongside a band while speaking spontaneously in tongues, beneath bright, colorful lights. It’s a scene that would appear at home in an evangelical church, a movement that has rapidly gained ground in Latin America. Bergonzi, though, is Catholic. She describes herself as an intermediary — an instrument for God. And local Catholic leaders are fully behind her.  Here in the home country of Pope Francis, where Catholicism is facing a steep decline, Bergonzi is giving people a reason to return to Mass. The question is whether her movement can reconnect people to the Catholic Church — and keep them coming back.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/15/leda-bergonzi-argentina-catholic-church/ __________________________________________________________ 5. Christmas festivity provokes curiosity over the First Cause, By The Washington Times, December 15, 2023, Editorial Each holiday season, festivities for their own sake, complete with mouthwatering delicacies and eye-opening gifts, are sufficient for some. For others, the key to a merry Christmas is appreciation of the religious nature of the season: the gift of new life bequeathed by the Creator through the birth of Christ. Then there is a middling course — an attitude of gratitude for being alive, but interest in pondering the origin of human existence, not so much. Skipping past the elementary question of from whence we came, though, risks a painful void of meaning that no amount of merriment can fill. A new survey by the Pew Research Center reveals where contemporary Americans stand regarding religion, spirituality and the distinction between the two. Most telling, a preponderant majority, 83% of respondents, claim an embrace of the spiritual — including the belief in the existence of a spirit or soul beyond the physical body.  To be sure, there is nothing wrong with holiday festivities, which echo with the call to “eat, drink and be merry.” But the disconcerting remainder of that biblical idiom — “for tomorrow we die” — is worth recalling. With a reminder of human mortality comes an incentive to ask: Does God exist as the creator and consummator of life? That query is noticeably absent from Pew’s new spirituality survey, but it’s one that Americans — the spiritual, the religious and neither — owe themselves to ask. It was Christ — the subject of Christmas — who urged, “Seek and ye shall find.” https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2023/dec/14/editorial-christmas-festivity-provokes-curiosity-o/ __________________________________________________________ 6. Ohio clinics want abortion ban permanently struck down in wake of constitutional amendment passage, By Associated Press, December 14, 2023, 4:53 PM Abortion clinics in Ohio are pushing for a court to strike down abortion restrictions now that voters have enshrined abortion rights into the state Constitution, arguing that even the state’s Republican attorney general says the amendment invalidates the ban. The push comes on the heels of an amendment that Ohio voters approved last month that ensures access to abortion and other reproductive health care. It took effect last week. A law signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine in April 2019 prohibited most abortions after the first detectable “fetal heartbeat.” Cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/12/14/ohio-abortion-ban-constitutional-amendment/44c41d58-9ac4-11ee-82d9-be1b5ea041ab_story.html__________________________________________________________ 7. Virginia court revives lawsuit by teacher fired for refusing to use transgender student’s pronouns, By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, December 14, 2023, 4:12 PM A lawsuit filed by a Virginia high school teacher who was fired after he refused to use a transgender student’s pronouns was reinstated Thursday by the state Supreme Court. Peter Vlaming, a former French teacher at West Point High School, sued the school board and administrators at West Point High School after he was fired in 2018. A judge dismissed the lawsuit before any evidence was heard in the case. But the Supreme Court overturned that ruling and said the lawsuit can proceed to trial. Vlaming claimed in his lawsuit that he tried to accommodate a transgender student in his class by using his masculine name and avoiding the use of pronouns, but the student, his parents and the school told him he was required to use the student’s male pronouns. Vlaming said he could not use the student’s pronouns because of his “sincerely held religious and philosophical” beliefs “that each person’s sex is biologically fixed and cannot be changed.” Vlaming also said he would be lying if he used the student’s pronouns. His lawsuit, brought by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, alleged that the school violated his constitutional right to speak freely and exercise his religion. The school board argued that Vlaming violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy. All seven justices of the state Supreme Court agreed that two of Vlaming’s claims should move forward to trial: his claim that his right to freely exercise his religion was violated under the Virginia constitution and his breach of contract claim against the school board.  https://apnews.com/article/teacher-fired-transgender-student-pronouns-6fd28b4172fb5fca752599ae2adfb602__________________________________________________________ 8. Private schools, child care legislation pass in Pennsylvania as lawmakers move past budget feud, By Marc Levy And Brooke Schultz, Associated Press, December 13, 2023, 8:59 PM Lawmakers moved past a monthslong budget feud in Pennsylvania’s Capitol on Wednesday, advancing legislation to tie up loose ends and send millions more to subsidize private school tuition and child care tax credits for parents. After days of negotiations that typically play out before June 30’s end of the fiscal year, the House and Senate traded a flurry of just-unveiled legislation, each agreeing to concessions in bills that Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said late Wednesday night he would sign. Shapiro suggested that the dragged-out process of passing budget legislation carried a silver lining, in that leaders of the politically divided Legislature overcame partisanship to finish important pieces of legislation long in the making. Under the bill, the state will expand that private school tax credit program by $130 million — from $340 million to $470 million. Republicans also agreed to scale back the amount of money that middleman administrators could keep — from 20% down to 10% — and to require the disclosure of more demographic information about the students who benefit. The bill also boosts the amount of tax credits — from $12 million to $60 million — for donations that go to private schools that serve a larger proportion of students from lower-income families.  https://apnews.com/article/pennsylvania-budget-private-schools-teachers-funding-7c758e9c3f17f988d94fdb62835da6a5 __________________________________________________________ 9. Iowa Satanic Temple display not protected by First Amendment, Catholic legal expert says, By Peter Pinedo, Catholic News Agency, December 14, 2023, 6:15 PM The Satanic Temple display in the Iowa state capitol building is not protected by the First Amendment, a Catholic legal expert told CNA.  Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, a legal analyst for EWTN, told CNA that the display installed at the request of a prominent atheist group is not religious expression but rather about making a mockery of religion.  The temporary statue, which portrays a larger-than-life-size goat-headed figure cloaked in red and black and surrounded by candles, was erected at the request of Iowa’s Satanic Temple (TST) alongside several religious holiday displays. According to Forbes the Iowa state capitol holiday display this year also includes a Christmas tree, a Nativity scene, and a holiday banner by another atheist group. Local news station KCCI Des Moines reported that the display will remain in the capitol through Dec. 15.   Since its unveiling, the TST display has inspired outrage as well as calls to prayer. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the display “absolutely objectionable” and encouraged “all those of faith” to join her in “praying over the Capitol and recognizing the Nativity scene that will be on display — the true reason for the season.”  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/256287/iowa-satanic-temple-display-not-protected-by-first-amendment-catholic-legal-expert-says__________________________________________________________

TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
Subscribe to the TCA podcast!
“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.