1. A Humane Papal Message in Egypt.

By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, May 3, 2017

[P]apal visits are not diplomatic missions, even though a lot of diplomacy is inevitably involved. They are, as Francis explained to reporters on the flight back to Rome, about values. And though Catholics may differ on whether the pope has gone too far in his social message or not far enough on issues like abortion and sexual abuse by priests, it is hard to deny that what Francis said and did in Egypt are worth heeding.

He was there, of course, to express solidarity with the victims of two terror attacks on Coptic churches on April 9, Palm Sunday. Bombs for which the Islamic State took responsibility exploded in a city north of Cairo and in the main cathedral in Alexandria, killing at least 45 people. Francis condemned any invocation of religion to justify such crimes, yet once again he rejected the notion that Islam and violence are intimately intertwined, most notably in a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of a mosque associated with Islamic scholarship. The only fanaticism that religious believers should have, he declared, “is that of charity.” And when he met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who stands accused of serious human rights violations, Francis declared that “history does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice.”

That may look like a political balancing act, but it is also a consistent human and common-sense approach that has marked Francis’s papacy from the start. However one rates the pope’s visit to Egypt and whatever one thinks the proper role of a religious leader should be, the pontiff’s message of faith, humility, peace, tolerance, dialogue and tenderness — that last a quality he urged on political leaders in a recent TED talk — is a reassuring departure from the cynicism, cruelty, populism and tribalism on the rise in so many corners of the world, especially in traditional bastions of democracy and freedom.


2. Democrats’ realignment on abortion.

By Maureen Ferguson, The Washington Examiner, May 3, 2017, 12:03 AM

The “Unity Tour” featuring Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez has revealed a seismic realignment in the Democratic Party on the issue of abortion. For the mere offense of campaigning with a candidate for mayor of Omaha, who had once expressed a scintilla of pro-life sentiment, Perez took a multi-day public lashing from the abortion lobby and was forced to issue a statement that said the candidate had been whipped into line and “now shares the Democratic Party’s position on women’s fundamental rights. Every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same…. Period.”

How’s that for tolerance? Nancy Pelosi had a telling response when asked by Chuck Todd if you can still be a Democrat if you are pro-life. A hesitant “yes” was followed by, “I have served for many years in Congress with Members who have not shared my… position on promoting a woman’s right to choose.”

Note Pelosi’s use of the past-tense. There was a time, not so long ago in the Clinton Administration, when 99 House Democrats voted for the Hyde Amendment to prohibit tax-funded abortion.

More recently, during the initial debate on Obamacare, 64 House Democrats voted to ban abortion from their own President’s healthcare bill. This year’s vote on the Hyde Amendment? Only three lonely Democrats voted yes. This represents a dramatic shift from about 40 percent to 25 percent, down to a measly 1.5 percent of Pelosi’s colleagues willing to cast a pro-life vote.

House Democrats will soon face another vote that will be perilous from an electoral standpoint — on late-term abortion. … The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection bill would ban abortion past 5 months of pregnancy, the point at which 20-week babies are sucking their thumbs in ultrasound photos displayed proudly on their parents’ refrigerators. They are also routinely given anesthesia during in-utero procedures due to their ability to feel pain.

Polling, especially among women, is overwhelming in support of this bill. Don’t expect many Democrats to support it, though, most likely just the same lonely three. Last time Congress faced a vote on late-term abortion, almost half of the House Democrats voted pro-life. In the Senate, 16 Democrats voted for the pro-life bill to ban Partial-Birth Abortion, including Senators Reid, Daschle, Leahy and two Democratic women.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan defended his pro-life vote saying this type of abortion was “too close to infanticide.” That’s how the majority of voters see it too, and the Democratic Party and its allies would be wise to let up on the intolerance and refrain from throwing a very public tantrum over every mayoral candidate who makes a peep in support of life.


3. Pelosi: Democrats should be flexible on abortion.

By Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post, May 3, 2017, Pg. A8

The Democratic Party should not impose support for abortion rights as a litmus test on its candidates, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday, because it needs a broad and inclusive agenda to win back the socially conservative voters who helped elect President Trump.

Those comments from one of the Democrats’ most powerful and high-profile women come at a moment of opportunity and struggle within the party. It has been shut out of power in Washington, controlling neither house of Congress nor the White House, and its ranks have been decimated at the state and local level.

Given Trump’s unpopularity and the recent stumbles that Republicans have made in Congress, Democrats have great hopes of making significant gains in the 2018 midterm elections. But the opposition party is also gripped by an internecine battle for its own identity, moving leftward with calls for ideological purity by portions of its activist liberal base while also trying to reach out to the rural, working-class Americans who turned against Democrats last year.

Abortion has become a flash point.


4. Not Draining the Swamp: The latest budget deal is mostly a win for government as usual.

By The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2017, Pg. A14, Review & Outlook

The $1 trillion agreement to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30 is essentially a modest trade: Republicans got a boost in defense spending and a few policy riders, while Democrats got money for some domestic priorities.

Democrats are crowing that they killed scores of Republican policy and spending “poison pills” and also won money for their priorities. … Despite their claims, Democrats did not “preserve” funding for Planned Parenthood. The bill contains no direct dollars for that group, but rather funds grants that will be issued by Health and Human Services, which is unlikely to approve any for the controversial abortion provider.

Most of the domestic funding increases and decreases are GOP priorities. The bill contains $45 million to fund three more years of Washington, D.C.’s popular school voucher program, as well as money for western wildfire fighting and disaster-related repairs at NASA.


5. Report: Trump to back religious freedom.

By Dave Boyer, The Washington Times, May 3, 2017, Pg. A2

President Trump has invited about 100 conservative leaders to the White House on Thursday, when he’s expected to sign an executive order on religious liberty.

Mr. Trump will be holding an event for the National Day of Prayer, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed. But she said there was no announcement to be made about a possible executive order.

In addition to the National Day of Prayer, Thursday is also the annual Canterbury Medal Gala hosted by the Becket Fund, a group that advocates for religious freedom. This year’s honoree is conservative legal activist Leonard Leo, whom Mr. Trump has praised for helping him to develop a list of conservative candidates for nomination to the Supreme Court.


6. The bolder attacks on religious freedom Faith, the most basic liberty, is threatened in more and more places.

By Clifford D. May, The Washington Times, May 3, 2017, Pg. B1

“I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom.” So said President George W. Bush in 2004. Leave for another day the debate over whether such a belief is more hopeful than realistic. What we do know: Tyrants and terrorists around the world are persecuting, torturing and slaughtering those whose hearts do desire freedom — even the most basic.

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its annual report covering 37 countries. Thomas Reese, USCIRF’s chair, minced no words: “The Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations.”

As I see it, religious freedom is the seed that must be planted in order for other liberties to have a chance to grow. Governments that fail to secure the natural right to believe (or not believe) as one’s conscience dictates, and to worship (or not worship) as one chooses will always repress other liberties — freedom of expression, association and assembly among them.

The International Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1998, requires the U.S. government to designate the most egregious violators of religious freedom as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs). The State Department currently designates 10 CPCs. USCIRF’s new report recommends adding six more.

There are an additional 12 countries on USCIRF’s Tier 2 list. The rulers of those lands flagrantly violate religious freedom, though not — or at least not yet — on the level of the CPCs. You won’t be surprised to learn that Turkey has been added to that list.

Finally, there was this new and distressing development last year: The State Department and both houses of Congress officially recognized that a genocidal war was being waged by the Islamic State against Christians, Yazidis and some Muslim communities as well.

There is no more lethal threat to religious liberty than genocide. Religious communities can endure oppression for centuries and then flourish again when the jackboot is lifted. But extermination is forever.

USCIRF’s commissioners have voted to make genocide a priority; to begin to consider how genocide might be more effectively addressed by the United States and what we call, perhaps more hopefully than realistically, the international community.

Military force is now being used to dislodge the Islamic State from the lands it had conquered. That’s necessary. But much more will need to be done if the ancient religious minorities of the Middle East are to make it out of this decade alive.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.