1. Discrimination Without Discriminating?: The Supreme Court next week will hear another challenge to an anti-Catholic law.

By Michael A. Helfand, The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2020, Pg. A13

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Jan. 22 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which tests the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding. The case raises a unique question: What happens when a state court invokes a religiously discriminatory rule, but ensures there is no discriminatory impact? Call it discrimination without discriminating.

The cases concerns Blaine amendments, provisions in state constitutions inspired by Rep. James G. Blaine’s failed attempt in 1875 to ban funding for religious schools nationwide, originally intended as a way to hobble Catholic education.

Espinoza involves a scholarship program the Montana Legislature created in 2015 to promote school choice. The state offered a $150 tax credit for donations to nonprofits that award scholarships to students attending any private ‘“qualified education provider,” a definition that initially included religious schools. But the law conflicted with Montana’s Blaine amendment, which bars “any direct or indirect” funding to religious schools. The state Department of Revenue redefined “qualified education provider” to exclude religious schools. That exclusion triggered a set of lawsuits arguing that the modified rule violated the First Amendment—a strong argument given Trinity Lutheran.

The solution lies in recognizing that Blaine amendments are discriminatory on their face. By their text, they single out religious institutions for worse treatment than their secular counterparts. Any time government gives effect to such a provision, it violates the First Amendment’s requirement of religious neutrality.

Reaching the opposite conclusion would encourage states to sacrifice broader educational benefits for a range of citizens simply to hide the kind of discriminatory logic the First Amendment prohibits. The better path is for the U.S. Supreme Court finally to declare what has been obvious for a long time: State laws that single out religious institutions for inferior treatment cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Mr. Helfand is a professor of law at Pepperdine University and a visiting professor at Yale Law School.


2. White House Issues New Guidance To Protect Right to Pray in School.

By Rebecca Ballhaus, The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2020, Pg. A3

The White House released fresh federal guidance on prayer in public schools on Thursday, clarifying that state education departments must report to the federal government complaints or lawsuits claiming students were denied the right to prayer in schools.

President Trump hosted an Oval Office event announcing the new guidance, which was last updated in 2003. He was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and several students who said they had been harassed for expressing their religious beliefs in school.

The White House guidance emphasized that students are permitted to read religious texts and pray during recess, organize prayer groups and express religious beliefs in schoolwork.

In addition, the administration released nine proposed rules aimed at protecting religious organizations from “unfair and unequal treatment” by the federal government.


3. Senate Republicans’ attempt to define abortion as not health care faces stiff opposition.

By Ryan Lovelace, The Washington Times, January 17, 2020, Pg. A3

Republican lawmakers aiming to curb government-subsidized abortions by defining the practice as not health care face a stiff battle from pro-choice proponents in the medical community, who consider the move reprehensible.

Senate Republicans are pushing legislation arguing that the IRS should not categorize abortions as medical care, recognizing the future of government-subsidized abortions depends on whether the practice is defined as a medical procedure or not.

The “Abortion Is Not Health Care Act of 2020” seeks to undo the tax-deductibility of abortions and is led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee with 15 GOP co-sponsors in the Senate. Companion legislation in the House was introduced last year by Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

One major hurdle for the Republican effort will be health care advocacy groups and pro-choice proponents. The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest association of physicians, does not support the proposal.

The legislation’s sponsors have worked closely with influential pro-life advocates on the opposite side of the issue. March for Life Action helped the House develop its legislation, which was endorsed by such groups as Heritage Action for America, Concerned Women for America and the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops.


4. Trump issues new rule ensuring prayer in schools is protected.

By Dave Boyer and Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, January 17, 2020, Pg. A6

President Trump issued updated rules Thursday to ensure that public school students are allowed to engage in constitutionally protected prayer, calling his action “the Right to Pray.”

“Government must never stand between the people and God,” the president said during an Oval Office meeting with students of faith from across the country.

Mr. Trump warned that there is a “growing totalitarian” bent on the Left against religion. He said blocking prayer in schools “is totally unacceptable.”

Taking the action on National Religious Freedom Day, Mr. Trump announced updates to federal guidance on school prayer, which is required by federal law every two years but hasn’t been done since 2003.

The guidance states that school officials “may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities, nor may school officials use their authority to attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities.”


5. Trump administration moves to protect prayer in public schools and federal funds for religious organizations: The White House announced it is proposing to ease restrictions on religious groups that provide social services.

By Moriah Balingit and Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post, January 16, 2020, 6:35 PM

The Trump administration is moving to strengthen protections for students who want to pray or worship in public schools and proposing changes to make it easier for religious groups that provide social services to access federal funds, a development that comes as the president seeks to shore up support among evangelicals.

Nine federal agencies, including the Education Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, are advancing rules that would reduce requirements for those religious organizations. The rules would lift an Obama-era executive order that compelled religious organizations to tell the people they serve that they can receive the same service from a secular provider.

DeVos said her department plans to remind schools that students and teachers have a constitutional right to pray in public schools, and that student-led religious organizations should get access to public facilities just as secular groups do.

The guidance also clarifies that teachers, administrators and coaches are not permitted to lead school prayers or devotional readings of the Bible, “nor may school officials use their authority to attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities.”

The guidance, which largely updates guidelines issued by the Bush administration in 2003, will also require school districts to certify they do not have regulations that conflict with students’ right to pray at school and instructs states to notify the Education Department if a complaint arises against a school district over prayer. The department does not have similar reporting requirements for states when a school district is accused of other types of discrimination.


6. Amid Benedict Book Controversy, Vatican Officials See Need for Rules on Ex-Popes.

By Reuters, January 16, 2020

An imbroglio over former Pope Benedict’s involvement in a book has sparked calls by some Vatican officials for clear rules about the status of any future pontiffs who may resign rather than rule for life.

Senior official sources said they hope Pope Francis addresses the issue after the death of Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope in 700 years to abdicate and who is now a frail 92-year-old.

The idea of such rules, which is being discussed informally, is important because, as people live longer than they did in the past, it may become the new normal for popes to step down, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Francis, 83, has said he too would resign if ill health prevented him from properly running the 1.3 billion-member Catholic Church, as Benedict did.


7. Bishop calls Americans to build ‘culture of religious freedom’

By Catholic News Agency, January 16, 2020, 2:00 PM

The head of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee called on Americans to build a “culture of religious freedom” that respects the ability of all people to live out their beliefs in peace.

Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a statement for Religious Freedom Day, observed nationally on Jan. 16.

Bishop Murry applauded the actions taken by the Trump administration, which late last year proposed a rule change to ensure that religious social service providers would not be refused federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services based on their belief in marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The proposal would particularly shield religious adoption and foster agencies that only place children in homes with a mother and a father.

“On this Religious Freedom Day, we are grateful that the right of religious liberty is cherished in this country,” the bishop said. “I appreciate concrete actions the Administration has undertaken, such as recent steps to protect faith-based social service providers.”


8. Report: Around the world, 260 million Christians face persecution.

By Catholic News Agency, January 17, 2020, 2:45 AM

Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.

Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.

The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.


9. Critics: Utah bill on confession would criminalize priests, not counter sex abuse.

By Kevin J. Jones, Catholic News Agency, January 16, 2020, 3:01 PM

A Utah legislator’s proposal to remove protections for priests and other clergy who hear confessions of the sexual abuse of minors has drawn significant criticism from Catholics and other commentators.

“The motivation for the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children, but H.B. 90 will not have this intended effect,” said Jean Hill, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace and Justice Commission.

Removing the clergy exemption would be “making it a crime for the priest to maintain the Seal of Confession,” Hill said in a column for the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of the Intermountain Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. The proposal “could permanently destroy the relationship between our priests and ourselves in the confessional, without furthering the stated goal of the legislation.”


10. Mike Pence to meet Pope Francis in Vatican next week.

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 16, 2020, 2:00 PM

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Vatican next week to meet with Pope Francis.

Pence’s office confirmed with CNA on Thursday that the Vice President is scheduled to be received by the Pope during his overseas trip next week. No details have yet been released about the topics that might be discussed at the meeting.


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.
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