1. The Last Gasp of James G. Blaine?: The Supreme Court weighs tax credits and a 19th-century bigotry.

By The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2020, Pg. A16, Review & Outlook

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case touching on education, religious liberty, and whether 19th-century bigotry still has a place in American law.

The Montana scholarships worked similar to tax-credit programs in many other states. People or companies donated to a private nonprofit fund. In return the state gave them a tax credit, dollar for dollar, up to $150. The money was awarded to families like Ms. Espinoza’s to defray tuition at the schools of their choice.

One complication: Montana’s constitution has a clause saying public funds can’t be spent for “any sectarian purpose.” Many states adopted such language in the late 19th century, amid that era’s anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic fervor. These are often called Blaine Amendments, since a federal version was unsuccessfully pushed in 1876 by Congressman James G. Blaine (“the continental liar from the state of Maine,” as his political opponents chanted).

The state says its “No-Aid Clause” isn’t anti-Catholic bigotry, but rather a “distinct intellectual tradition.”

Yet the longer history remains. So does the effect: to cast out religious believers from a program enacted in the general interest. Such bias in law requires strict judicial scrutiny.

Given the incrementalism of Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps it’s too much to hope that the Supreme Court will relegate James G. Blaine to the 1800s where he belongs. In Trinity Lutheran, the Chief’s opinion came with a pregnant footnote, saying it only covered “express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.” But as the Justices have shown in a long line of cases, religious freedom doesn’t end at the playground blacktop.


2. Taiwan president complains to Pope Francis about Chinese pressure.

By Reuters, January 21, 2020, 5:02 AM

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has written to Pope Francis to complain about Chinese pressure on the island Beijing claims as its own, saying China seeks to threaten its democracy and freedom.

The Vatican is one of just 15 countries that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan and the only one in Europe. But Taiwan has been concerned by the Vatican’s moves to normalize ties with China, especially after a landmark 2018 pact on appointing bishops.

China, which believes Tsai wants formal independence for Taiwan, has heaped pressure on the president, who won re-election by a landslide this month on a platform of standing up to Beijing.


3. Religious-schools case heads to a Supreme Court skeptical of stark lines between church and state.

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, January 21, 2020, Pg. A1

Parents who believe religious schools such as Stillwater absolutely are the places for their children are at the center of what could be a landmark Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding available to others. In this case, the issue rests on whether a scholarship fund supported by tax-deductible donations can help children attending the state’s private schools, most of which are religious.

A decision in their favor would “remove a major barrier to educational opportunity for children nationwide,” plaintiffs said in their brief to the Supreme Court. It is part of a movement by school choice advocates such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to allow government support of students seeking what she recently called “faith-based education.”

Said Erica Smith, a lawyer representing the parents: “If we win this case, it will be the U.S. Supreme Court once again saying that school choice is fully constitutional and it’s a good thing and it’s something parents should have. And that will provide momentum to the entire country.”


4. Legion vows probe into cover-up of abused little girls.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 20, 2020, 5:39 PM

The Legion of Christ religious order, already discredited because of its pedophile founder, announced a joint Vatican investigation Monday into the botched handling of a priest who sexually abused girls as young as 6 and suffered no punishment.

The Legion announced Monday it would conduct the joint investigation with the Vatican into the handling of the case, vowing that all superiors involved would cooperate. A new commission would welcome victims and propose ways to repair the damage they suffered.

It also announced that the Legion priest who first took the complaints from Martinez’s victims would stand down from a big meeting of superiors that opened Monday in Rome.


5. Vatican orders sex abuse investigation of Brooklyn bishop.

By Associated Press, January 20, 2020, 7:40 PM

The Vatican has ordered an investigation of a sexual abuse allegation against Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who was previously named by Pope Francis to investigate the church’s response to clergy sexual abuse in Buffalo.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York received instructions on Jan. 7 to begin an investigation of allegations that DiMarzio molested a child while he was a parish priest in New Jersey in the mid-1970s, according to a statement released over the weekend by Dolan’s spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

“As is our practice, the Cardinal will rely on outside professional forensic investigators to assist him in this matter,” Zwilling said.


6. Pope: Populism is fertile ground to foment anti-Semitism.

By Associated Press, January 20, 2020, 10:59 AM

Pope Francis on Monday denounced populism, saying it is born of “selfish indifference” and provides fertile terrain for hatred, including anti-Semitism.

Francis spoke while meeting with a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization that fights anti-Semitism.


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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