1. Trump may be readying dramatic religious freedom order. 

By Crux, February 2, 2017

As President Donald Trump addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday, reports circulated that his administration may soon seek to dramatically expand what defines a religious organization and offer broad protections to individuals and organizations that oppose same-sex marriage, contraception coverage and more based on religion.

Trump did not directly address the rumored executive order at the breakfast, but he did issue a ringing defense of religious freedom.

“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it’s also a right under threat all around us,” he said. “My administration will do everything in its power to protect religious liberty in this land.”

Trump did announce one new domestic move with implications for religious freedom, vowing to eliminate a 1954 amendment to the tax code barring 501(c)3 tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

A draft copy of the possible executive order on domestic religious freedom protections was obtained by The Investigative Fund and The Nation. The White House refused to comment on its status.

Titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” the draft would afford religious freedom protections to “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations, operated for a religious purpose, even if its purpose is not exclusively religious.”

Among other things, the order would allow religious organizations to deny contraception coverage to employees, presumably ending the standoff between the U.S. bishops and other Catholic groups and the Department of Health and Human Services over that issue.


2. Trump’s Gorsuch Pick: Promises Made, Promises Kept. 

By Ann Corkery, Real Clear Politics, February 2, 2017

Well, that was quick. Once again proving himself to be no ordinary politician, President Trump took a New York minute to deliver on one of the most important promises of his presidential campaign. Make that promises, because Monday’s nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court fulfills a basket of Trump promises from the campaign trail.

Gorsuch would also help Trump keep another important promise made to voters when he was running for the White House: a commitment to religious liberty in the United States.

It’s an originalist jurisprudence that advances one of the key policy goals Donald Trump championed in his run against Hillary Clinton, but does so squarely within the confines of the Constitution: the protection of religious liberty.

Donald Trump has fulfilled his promises with this exceptional nominee. Now, it is time for the Senate to promptly do its part. It’s time for the Senate to give Judge Gorsuch a full and fair hearing and an up-or-down vote so the Supreme Court can get back to work at full capacity.


3. Gorsuch’s Case Against Assisted Suicide.

By Jacob Gershman, The Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2017, 4:28 PM

In law journal articles and in a 300-page book, Judge Gorsuch pushed back against “aid-in-dying” advocates who support giving terminally ill patients the authority to end their lives with the assistance of a physician.

He boiled down his argument to the idea that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Such a principle, he argued, is rooted in secular moral theory and common law and consistent with long-established medical ethics.

Judge Gorsuch says his “inviolability-of-life principle” doesn’t extend to capital punishment. And he said it would “do nothing to preclude patients from discontinuing even basic life sustaining medical care when death is foreseen.”

He wrote that his opposition to assisted suicide springs not just from his “recognition of human life as a fundamental good” but from his concern about the unintended consequences and “slippery-slope problems” of legalization.


4. Bishops want Trump to end order on gender, sexual identity. 

By Catholic News Service, February 1, 2017

Archbishops Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and William E. Lori of Baltimore, heads of two bishops’ committees, have expressed concern that President Donald Trump won’t overturn an Obama executive order barring discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

Trump’s action is “troubling and disappointing” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The executive order, they said in a joint statement, is “deeply flawed.”

In their Feb. 1 statement, Chaput and Lori said, “The church steadfastly opposes all unjust discrimination, and we need to continue to advance justice and fairness in the workplace,” but the Obama executive order “creates problems rather than solves them.”

Instead, the order “creates new forms of discrimination against people of faith,” the two prelates said.


5. Three things to understand about Trump’s order and Christian refugees. 

By Crux, February 1, 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees has generated a great deal of confusion, with a number of points either lost or distorted in the discussion. Some blame the way it was rolled out, others the way it was presented in the media, and others the substance of the order itself. Here’s a rundown of three areas in which political fireworks sometimes have gotten in the way of seeing what’s at stake.

“Muslim Ban”

It’s understandable that many have seen the order as a ban on Muslims, given that it targets seven predominantly Muslim nations. Yet while arguing that the travel ban has hurt ISIS’s victims, Eli Lake insisted in a recent column at Bloomberg that the policy is not actually a “Muslim ban.”

Lake notes that “it does not ban travel from countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are Muslim-majority and whose citizens have conducted terrorist attacks in the U.S.”

Preference to Minorities
Past attempts to prioritize religious minorities from the region in terms of refugee resettlement, on the basis that they faced genocide at the hands of ISIS, have likewise generated little controversy. HR 5961, proposed last year, would have given priority to such genocide survivors, and boasted both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.

Lake’s column defended the executive order’s preferential admission provision, noting: “While it’s true that Muslims are victims of the Islamic State (not to mention the Syrian regime and other actors in the Middle East), non-Muslims are at a special risk. John Kerry made this point in March when he said the Islamic State was perpetrating a genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims.’”

Unlike their Muslim neighbors, Christians and Yazidis don’t have the natural support the majority groups have. Shiite Muslims have Iran. Sunni Muslims have Turkey and the Gulf States. Christians have no equivalent regional protector – and typically don’t fare well in Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf States.

Christians and other minorities are often presented as equal victims of ISIS along with their Muslim neighbors. When their neighbors were the Shiite Muslim Shabak group in Nineveh, there is some truth to that claim. But when their neighbors were Sunnis in Mosul, for instance, the analogy is false.

Unlike the Christians and other religious minorities who had to flee, rather than face slavery or death, Sunnis could stay without fear of such targeting, and most did. Everyone in the region understands that ISIS – a radical Sunni group – may be oppressive to everyone, and may demand a strict theological interpretation, but focuses its genocidal impulses on non-Sunnis.

Christian Entry into the U.S.

Though some see the claim as controversial, much evidence shows that Syrian Christians up to this point have had a difficult time gaining admission to the United States.

As of October of last year, the United States had admitted 14,460 Syrian refugees since 2011. Of these, 97.3 percent were Sunni Muslims (Syria’s majority community), and only .8 percent were Christians according to a published report.

Yazidis and Shiite Muslims – also targets of ISIS genocide – were also hardly represented.
In 2016 alone, less than half of one percent of refugee admissions from Syria were Christian, but Christians make up 10 percent of Syria’s population according to the CIA.

The fact is that Syrian Christians were not admitted in anything close to the percentage of their population in Syria.


6. German Church OKs Case-By-Case Communion for Remarried.

By The Associated Press, February 1, 2017

Pope Francis’ outreach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics opens the door to letting them receive Communion, Germany’s bishops declared Wednesday.

In a statement, the German bishops’ conference said a document by Francis entitled “The Joy of Love” sets out how pastors can provide “differentiated solutions” to individual cases through a process of accompaniment. That process “opens the possibility of receiving the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist,” the bishops’ statement said.

Argentine and Maltese bishops already have issued similar guidelines based on Francis’ divisive 2016 document, which was the fruit of a two-year canvassing of church leaders during two Vatican meetings, or synods, of bishops.

The Maltese bishops have gone even further than the pope, saying the Eucharist cannot be denied to civilly remarried or divorced Catholics if, after a path of spiritual discernment, they are at peace with God.

Francis’ own doctrinal czar, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, said church doctrine prevents Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the church from receiving Communion unless they abstain from sex.

“It cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin,” Mueller said in an interview with Italian publication “Il Timone.” ”For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace” necessary to receive Communion.

He further admonished bishops for trying to interpret the pope, saying they should first know their doctrine.

Backing Mueller is the archbishop of Philadelphia, who issued guidelines for his archdioceses saying civilly remarried Catholics can only receive Communion if they live as brother and sister.


7. Pro-life movement praises Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court pick: Trump ‘kept his promise’. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, February 1, 2017

The pro-life movement is thrilled with the nomination of federal appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, saying President Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to appoint a pro-life justice to the bench.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Judge Gorsuch is an “exceptional choice” to fill the seat left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association, said Judge Gorsuch is poised to “follow Justice Scalia as a fair and impartial defender” of the Constitution.

“In nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch, Mr. Trump makes good on one of his most important campaign promises: to nominate a fitting replacement for the late, great Justice Scalia,” Ms. Christie said.