1. Supreme Court declares churches eligible for some public funds

By Richard Wolf, USA Today, June 26, 2017, 10:13 AM

The Supreme Court ruled decisively Monday that religious institutions should be eligible to receive public funds for purely secular purposes.

Like, for instance, playgrounds.

The justices ruled 7-2 that Missouri stretched the constitutional separation of church and state too far by declaring a Lutheran church ineligible to receive a competitive state grant for playground resurfacing. The decision could have implications for more than 30 states that block public funds from going to religious organizations.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“It does seem as though … this is a clear burden on a constitutional right,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan said then, in reference to the state’s refusal to treat Trinity Lutheran Church equally to other non-profits seeking state grants. The church had met all the neutral criteria for the program.

The case dates back to 2012, when the Columbia, Mo., church applied for a state grant to replace the unforgiving, pea gravel surface of its child learning center’s playground with material made from recycled tires. It placed fifth among 44 applicants, 14 of which were awarded grants, but the church was passed over based on a provision in the state constitution.


2. A guidebook for Christians experiencing cultural vertigo

By Ashley E. McGuire, The Washington Times, June 26, 2017, Pg. B2

In his [Archbishop Charles J. Chaput] latest book, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” the prelate tackles the question vexing so many Christians today: In a culture increasingly hostile to the religion that nourished its roots, should Christians retreat or engage? Archbishop Chaput’s response is unambiguous: engage, with vigor.

As the head of one of America’s grittiest and most urban dioceses, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput is an authoritative voice weighing into this debate. But his book speaks beyond the streets of Philly all the way to into the corners of the broader culture, where the traditional family structure is imploding, the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution is still ravaging, new dogmas of gender identity and hyper-individualism are emerging, and Americans are increasingly beholden to the “idolatry of progress,” which, stripped of any Christian meaning, is a wayward monster that devours anything in its trajectory.

Archbishop Chaput recognizes the choice that Christians face in today’s disorienting times. Now is not the time for Christians to retreat, he argues, nor has it ever been. To the contrary, despite all the talk of marching progress, his book shows that in fact it is Christianity that has always stayed the course in the quest for souls. “Strangers in a Strange Land” is an essential tool and weapon for every man and woman willing to battle on in this essential and eternal struggle.


3. Supreme Court to take case on baker who refused to sell wedding cake to gay couple

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, June 26, 2017, 9:41 AM

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will consider next term whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Lower courts had ruled that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had violated Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.


4. Vatican worries about ‘forcibly removed’ bishop in China

By Associated Press, June 26, 2017, 7:34 AM

The Vatican is expressing “grave concern” for a Chinese bishop who it says was “forcibly removed” from his office several weeks ago.

The Holy See in a statement Monday said neither Catholics in Wenzhou diocese nor the prelate’s relatives know where or why Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin was taken.

The Vatican recognizes Shao’s appointment as bishop; Chinese authorities don’t.

The Catholic church and the ruling Communist authorities of China have wrestled for decades over Vatican insistence only the pope can appoint bishops.

Last week, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news service said Shao’s disappearance is believed to be part of an attempt to persuade him to join the Communist-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association church.

The Vatican, saying it’s “profoundly saddened” by Shao’s case and “other similar episodes,” expressed hope he’ll return quickly.


5. Day of Birth, Day of Mourning: My daughter is going to die on the day of her birth—and that’s if we’re lucky

By Jeremy Lott, The Weekly Standard, June 25, 2017, 1:00 PM

Lives of babies as we tend to think of them have a path, an aim that they are ultimately directed toward: a telos. The term comes to us through Aristotle, yet the experience of telos is widespread.

Babies thus represent hope in a familial and an evolutionary sense.

Some early life falls well short of this telos, beginning with the generally accepted figure that one-in-five conceptions results in a miscarriage. That happened to my new wife last June. We had just told close family that Anj was expecting. After an early trip to the ER, that expectation was dashed. One long, bloody, painful night later, it was over.

We took our lumps and moved on. She was pregnant again six months later. The second time around, we again told close family though didn’t broadcast it widely until we were out of the statistically dangerous first trimester.

Then came an unexpected twist of the knife. A routine ultrasound revealed an anomaly. They saw a potential defect that was, per our Ob-Gyn, “not compatible with life,” meaning life outside of the womb. In late March, we traveled from Blaine, Washington, down I-5 to Seattle for a second opinion and confirmation.

Anencephaly is a neural tube defect disorder, caused by a failure of the structure that becomes the brain and spinal cord to pinch off correctly in the first month of a pregnancy. At one end, this results in spina bifida. At the other end, it throws off the proper development of the skull and brain.

It occurs in about 3 in 10,000 births and is almost always fatal within hours of delivery. Occasionally, a child with a very mild case of anencephaly will live for a few years. An even rarer condition related to anencephaly is called exencephaly. Fetal lives with this condition have substantially more brain development than anencephalics, but it doesn’t do them much good because they don’t have a skullcap to keep it all in.

When you schedule a c-section where exencephaly is involved, you are scheduling not just a birthday but also a death day. And so if things go to plan, August 21 is going to be a day of mourning.

So why go through with it at all? Most women who get the diagnosis opt to end their pregnancies. Doctors hinted at that option a couple of times with us. In all but perhaps Catholic hospitals, this is not even controversial. “Advice and counselling for abortion is to be given to parents,” states one resource for radiologists, matter-of-factly.

Anj is a genuinely devout Catholic and pro-life, full stop. I am less devout and pro-life “with the exceptions,” as a certain businessman-cum-president put it. We both read the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement “Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly” which insists that these lives have intrinsic merit, quite apart from their telos. We found the statement wanting, especially with respect to the dangers posed later in such pregnancies and the advisability of earlier deliveries. When the bishops venture into the science of it, they say too much, too confidently.

The real divide came when Anj found the statement a little bit useful at the time and I did not. Ours struck me as such an extreme situation, so far outside of the norm that it’s hard to apply any principles to it. But the fact that the bishops had put serious thought into a rare fatal birth defect, related to the one we were facing down, forced me to do my own thinking.

Religion gives us hope about what comes next, but we don’t know for sure. So I focused on what we think that we know about this situation. She doesn’t have a telos yet she is still here with us. Our daughter’s condition is ultimately “not compatible with life” but it continues, for now, in the womb. She eats what Anj eats. She kicks and she grasps and she listens and reacts to the world out here. She must be curious about it at some level. Maybe she dreams. This is, practically speaking, all the life she’ll ever know, but it’s not nothing.

I don’t know if the delivery will be successful. If so, she won’t be with us for long. But it seems right to me that we ought to give her until then just to be.


6. Lines of Battle On a Provision Over Abortion

By Avantika Chilkoti, The New York Times, June 24, 2017, Pg. A1

As the Senate barrels toward a vote next week to sever all federal support for Planned Parenthood, the 100-year-old organization is mobilizing furiously to bring down the Republicans’ broader legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act before it reaches President Trump’s desk.

The fight over one provision — to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for a single year — may be tangential to the wider war over the American health care system. But with the Senate so narrowly divided, Mr. Trump’s vow to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement could rest on the hot-button issue of abortion.

The proposed health care bill is bringing a decades-old debate over abortion to something of a climax, pitting powerful abortion rights groups, women’s organizations and medical associations against the wealthy religious organizations and anti-abortion groups that most Republicans lean on. Funding for Planned Parenthood has been a perennial issue since Republicans won control of the House in 2010, and each time, Republican leaders have finessed it by saying the matter would be settled in a broader health care bill.

That broader bill is now here.

With over 600 affiliate health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood serves 2.4 million people a year, three-quarters of whom have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

The election of Mr. Trump has in some ways helped the group’s financial footing. Since November, contributions have poured in from big-name patrons such as Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and smaller donors alike.

But those new funds do not come close to compensating for the money that the bill would strip away. The national office and affiliates of Planned Parenthood together rely on reimbursements and grants from the government for more than 41 percent of their total $1.35 billion in revenue, according to the group’s latest annual report.


7. Catholics urged to work for ‘holiness of freedom, freedom for holiness’

By Erik Zygmont, Crux, June 24, 2017

Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, the archbishop of Baltimore decried the ongoing persecution of Christians in the world, not only in the developing world but also in the “polite persecution” of the West.

When Henry VIII, as England’s reigning monarch, was declared “a defender of the faith,” the future “must have seemed so bright to Thomas More and John Fisher,” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said in a homily June 21.

He was the homilist at the opening Mass of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, an annual observance highlighting the importance of religious liberty.

While the West has not recently executed anyone for refusing to give up their beliefs, the archbishop borrowed Pope Francis’s phrase – “polite persecution” – to describe the burdens placed on schools, hospitals, employees, employers and other individuals and institutions that live and act according to their faith while navigating civil society.


8. The story behind Planned Parenthood’s big, bad investment in Jon Ossoff

By Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, The Washington Examiner, June 23, 2017, 11:32 AM

The special election in Georgia between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff resembles that of last November in one important respect: The sizable investment lost by Planned Parenthood after backing pro-abortion Democratic candidates.

The tax-subsidized abortion corporation lost more than $30 million trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. Now it has just burned a whopping $735,000 on behalf of Jon Ossoff.

Planned Parenthood’s investment in Georgia may seem large for a congressional seat, but there is personal history between Handel and the abortion provider which may explain their “all in” support for Handel’s opponent. Back in 2012, Karen Handel was in charge of public policy at Susan G. Komen, the well-known breast cancer charity. Handel had recommended that the charity stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood and other organizations whose breast cancer prevention work was negligible.

Virulent attacks from the left led to a public relations disaster for Komen and Handel’s resignation. But the fiasco also shined a bright light on Planned Parenthood’s misleading claims of providing mammograms for low-income women. Thanks in part to these events, the public became aware that the corporation does some cancer screening, but that abortion is its bread and butter.

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who set a record for out-of-state donations (he had almost four times as many donors in San Francisco as in Georgia), tried to use Handel’s history with Planned Parenthood against her. In one attack ad, he accused her of hurting women by cutting off funding for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.

Ossoff’s attacks on this issue might have worked to Handel’s benefit.

Perhaps voters were not just sympathizing with Handel, but cheering her on and hoping to send her “defund Planned Parenthood” attitude up to Washington, D.C. where it can do some good.

The national drive to defund Planned Parenthood has been gathering steam with these revelations and Ossoff’s ads probably gave Handel significant credibility on the subject. So maybe it’s time for Democrats to consider the possibility that partnering with Planned Parenthood isn’t good policy or politics.


9. Even genocidal regimes now have Washington lobbyists

By Melinda Henneberger, Kansas City Star, June 22, 2017, 6:13 PM

Even by K Street’s highly flexible standards, Squire Patton Boggs’ new client is a standout. The firm’s lobbying arm, which is headed by former Republican Sen. Trent Lott and former Democratic Sen. John Breaux, is now working for the Sudanese government headed by war criminal Omar al-Bashir, whose best known work includes the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.

Sudan has hired the Washington lobbyists to help convince the Trump administration that most economic sanctions against Bashir’s government, which the U.S. has long recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism, ought to be allowed to lapse in July.

Squire Patton Boggs will pocket $40,000 a month, according to the firm’s June filing with the Department of Justice, for pushing to “avoid ‘snap back’ of U.S. sanctions on Sudan” and to “identify and implement strategies to improve Sudan’s investment climate.” Yes, for one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world.

Bashir, who hosted Osama bin Laden for four years in the ’90s, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yet the sanctions were eased temporarily by President Barack Obama in the last week of his presidency, in return for promises of better behavior on several fronts, including helping our counterterror efforts.

A review of how well Sudan has kept its bargain was supposed to be done after six months, which is up on July 12. And ultimately, the decision will be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s. But it’s not clear that a review has been done. Or that anyone is even in place to do it, at either the State Department or the National Security Council.

A report from the Enough Project on countering genocide argues that the decision should at least be delayed until such people are in place and that lifting sanctions gives away all of our leverage, “while doing nothing to address the structural issues in Sudan that have led to increased refugee flows to Europe, further repression of Sudanese Christians and other minority groups, and continued war and authoritarian leadership.”