1. Court Weighs Aid to Religious Schools.

By Adam Liptak, The New York Times, January 23, 2020, Pg. A23

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed poised to rule that states may not exclude religious schools from state programs that provide scholarships to students attending private schools.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr…. seemed to be searching for a limiting principle, one that would allow the scholarships but stop short of requiring state support for religious education in other contexts.

“I wonder,” the chief justice said, “if there’s a difference between general funding of the public schools and the decision to provide aid to private schools, except not religious schools.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a member of the court’s liberal wing, asked questions along the same lines.

Jeffrey B. Wall, a lawyer for the federal government arguing in favor of the scholarship program, offered a limiting principle that seemed to respond to their concerns: If state aid is made available to private schools, religious ones may not be excluded. But government spending on public schools, he added, does not require aid to private schools, religious or not.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said the amendments were “rooted in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics.” 


2. Justices Split on Religious Schools.

By Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2020, Pg. A4

The Supreme Court has been moving away from a strict separation of church and state through opinions that extend religious exemptions from general laws as well as other decisions forbidding government from denying some benefits to religious organizations. Conservative groups backing the Montana suit hope it will pave the way for broader taxpayer subsidy of religious schools through vouchers and other programs.

That prospect concerned Justice Stephen Breyer, who often has sought a middle path in cases involving church and state.

In a 2017 case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a 7-2 Supreme Court held that a Missouri program providing grants to resurface playgrounds must be opened to religious schools.

Justice Samuel Alito saw the Montana case as the next logical step.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the Montana constitutional bar on aid to sectarian schools stemmed from “grotesque religious bigotry” against Roman Catholics in the 19th century.

Justice Elena Kagan, had voted to strike down the Missouri program in the Trinity Lutheran case. But she said there were greater justifications for excluding religious education from state subsidies than playgrounds that happen to belong to church schools.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked how the Montana court’s decision discriminated against religion, since it cancelled the scholarship program for all private schools.

“Under the Montana judgment, these parents are treated no differently than parents of children who are going to secular private schools,” she said. “So where is the harm?”

Chief Justice John Roberts asked how the Montana court’s ruling differed from decisions some Southern communities took in the 1950s and ‘60s to shut down parks, pools and even schools rather than desegregate them.


3. Trump to become the first president speak at March for Life in person.

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post, January 23, 2020, Pg. A4

President Trump announced Wednesday that he will attend Friday’s March for Life, the annual gathering of anti-abortion protesters commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision on abortion.

While other U.S. presidents have addressed the annual rally by phone or sent video greetings, Trump would be the first to address the crowd in person.


4. Pope Francis Replaces Conservative Archbishop of Philadelphia: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Pope Francis.

By Jason Horowitz and Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times, January 23, 2020, 7:22 AM

Pope Francis significantly shifted the ideological balance of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States on Thursday by replacing one of the country’s most prominent conservative prelates as the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis announced in a statement that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was retiring, and that Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a former Philadelphian and relative newcomer to the national scene, would assume the role.


5. Pope accepts Charles Chaput’s resignation as Philadelphia archbishop; Bishop Nelson Pérez of Cleveland to succeed him.

By Associated Press, January 23, 2020, 7:28 AM

Pope accepts Charles Chaput’s resignation as Philadelphia archbishop; Bishop Nelson Pérez of Cleveland to succeed him.


6. Supreme Court’s conservatives seem open to some state aid for religious schools.

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, January 23, 2020, Pg. A8

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared inclined to endorse a Montana program that provided tax incentives to those who fund scholarships for families to use at religious schools.

While liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned at Wednesday’s oral argument that it would be a “radical” departure for the court, her ideological counterparts said excluding religious institutions from government programs open to others could amount to unconstitutional discrimination.

The outcome and breadth of the decision seem to depend on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who generally has been part of the court’s modern movement to loosen the rules regarding church and state separations. He usually prefers the court to move in incremental ways.

But liberal justices defended the Montana Supreme Court’s action to level down (getting rid of the program) rather than level up (making it available for use at all schools).


7. ‘Call it a comeback’: Religious liberty’s upswing continues in Oval Office announcement.

By Kristen Waggoner, The Washington Times, January 23, 2020, Pg. B4, Opinion

If you’re into comeback stories, you’ll love Chase Windebank’s. Just a few short years ago, Chase had to go to court against his high school just to host a student-led prayer group during a free time in the school day. Last Thursday, Chase was in the Oval Office with Donald Trump as the president took action to assure that the freedom Chase had to ask a court to reaffirm applies to every public school student in the nation.

That’s the good news about the president’s suite of regulatory changes and guidance — rolled out on National Religious Freedom Day — all aimed at ensuring that religious freedom remains protected across the nation. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Chase, the president announced updated guidelines on prayer and religious expression that every public school must certify compliance with. These ensure that students’ First Amendment rights don’t vanish when they set foot on school property.

Ready for more good news? The administrative actions didn’t stop with speech and religious exercise on public school campuses. The significant, newly proposed rules involved several federal agencies, sending each the message that federal and state agencies — as well as schools and other groups receiving federal taxpayer dollars — must all respect the First Amendment.

Kristen Waggoner is general counsel and senior vice president of U.S. legal division and communications at Alli-ance Defending Freedom.


8. Big Montana Case at Supreme Court Is All About Religious Freedom for Parents and Students.

By Paul Strand, CBN News, January 22, 2020

Montana was giving tax breaks to those who donated to scholarships helping Montana students attend private schools. But when it realized most of those scholarships were going to children at religious schools, Montana stopped that from happening. Parents went to court saying that was blatant discrimination. It’s a case that ended up before the nation’s highest court this week.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal advisor for The Catholic Association who filed an amicus brief in the case, says religious families are facing the discrimination here. She states, “Justice Kavanaugh highlighted how families are ensnared by centuries-old laws designed to target religious and ethnic groups…in ‘grotesque anti-Catholic bigotry.’ We look to the Supreme Court to end the legal sanctioning of religious discrimination, and, in doing so, uphold our nation’s longstanding commitment to religious pluralism and allow parents to decide where best to educate their children.”


9. Federal government backs Ohio on Down syndrome abortion law.

By Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press, January 22, 2020, 12:57 PM

The federal government took Ohio’s side Tuesday in a lawsuit over a state law prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

“Nothing in Ohio’s law creates a substantial obstacle to women obtaining an abortion,” the Justice Department said in a filing, “and nothing in the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent requires States to authorize medical providers to participate in abortions the providers know are based on Down syndrome.”

Ohio joins Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota and Kentucky among states that have enacted abortion restrictions in cases of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. Four of the five enacted laws have drawn legal challenges, and a similar proposal sent in November to Pennsylvania’s governor was vetoed.


10. US bishops speak up on school choice as Supreme Court hears case.

By Catholic News Agency, January 22, 2020, 4:05 PM

States should not deny tax credit programs to families who choose religious private schools, said members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case addressing the issue of school choice.

“The case before the Supreme Court today concerns whether the Constitution offers states a license to discriminate against religion,” said Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, head of the Committee on Catholic Education.

“Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status,” they said in a Jan. 22 statement.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Kendra Espinoza, a mother of two daughters attending a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, is the lead plaintiff in the case.


11. Revision of Criminal Code could legalize abortion throughout Mexico.

By Catholic News Agency, January 22, 2020, 1:31 PM

Pro-life advocates in Mexico are speaking out against a leaked draft copy of Mexico’s revised National Criminal Code, which would legalize abortion throughout the country at all stages of pregnancy.

The draft copy, which was leaked to the press in recent days, is expected to be presented to Mexico’s federal congress in the coming weeks. The new criminal code is one of 14 reforms announced recently by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The document omits the entire section of the current code that criminalizes abortion and establishes the penalties for the practitioner and pregnant woman involved.

The current Federal Criminal Code imposes penalties ranging from one to three years in prison for anyone performing an abortion, although the penalty can be to eight years in prison “if physical or moral violence is involved.” A doctor or midwife who performs an abortion can also lose their medical license from two to five years.


12. Reconsidering Roe v. Wade: Louisiana Leads the Way to the Supreme Court: We are at a crucial moment in 2020.

By National Catholic Register, January 22, 2020, Editorial

Every year, the throngs of protesters peacefully and publicly show their solidarity with the unborn children who have been killed and the women and men who have been harmed by the long-term effects of abortion’s sting. But on Jan. 24, as these tens of thousands of pro-life advocates wind their way down Constitution Avenue on their way to the steps of the Supreme Court building, where the march traditionally ends, there will be palpable excitement.

That’s because barely one month later, the high court’s justices will begin their review of a Louisiana abortion law that could signal a major turning point in the long movement against abortion in America.

What makes the Louisiana law before the Supreme Court in March so potentially significant?

For one thing, the law belies the abortion lobby’s accusation that pro-life advocates are unconcerned about the welfare of women. The 2014 law requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the abortion facility. And as Katrina Jackson — the pro-life Democratic state legislator who wrote the law — explains on the front page of this issue of the Register, it was passed to remedy the disturbing reality that women at abortion facilities were afforded a lower standard of care than anyone else, because the admitting-privilege requirement already applies to every other kind of surgery performed in the state’s ambulatory medical clinics.

So it’s the abortion activists fighting to overturn the law who are prepared to sacrifice women’s well-being, not Jackson and her principled pro-life colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Louisiana Legislature.

But even more importantly, a somewhat similar law from Texas was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 on the ground that it imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. The Louisiana case will mark the first major abortion case heard since then by the Supreme Court, with both of the justices appointed since 2016, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, participating.

The pro-life movement deserves to be applauded for its determination and ingenuity. And, while retaining our hopeful anticipation, we must dig in and stand the ground on this most pressing and preeminent cause of our time.


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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