1. Pope enters Rohingya minefield with Myanmar-Bangladesh trip.

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press, October 10, 2017, 7:36 AM

Pope Francis will wade into the religious and political minefield of Myanmar’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and the effects of their exodus to Bangladesh when he visits both countries next month.

The Vatican on Tuesday released the itinerary for the Nov. 26-Dec. 2 trip, which has taken on importance since Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militant attacks with a broad crackdown in August. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in what the United Nations has called “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

The itinerary makes no mention of a papal meeting with Rohingya in either country. Francis, however, is likely to refer to their plight as he has already denounced the “persecution of our Rohingya brothers.”

The trip motto is peace and love among people of different faiths.


2. Federal court strikes down tax benefit for faith leaders.

By Alex Swoyer, The Washington Times, October 10, 2017, Pg. A4

Religious leaders said Monday they’ll appeal a new federal court ruling that ends a housing allowance tax break claimed by clergy.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb, a Carter administration appointee in Wisconsin, would end the decades-old IRS practice of allowing ministers to exclude housing allowances from their taxable income.

A group of religious leaders intervened in the case earlier this year, telling the court that the elimination of the parsonage allowance could cause some churches to close due to scarce resources and it would discriminate against religious groups by treating them differently than others, like military personnel or overseas workers, who also get housing allowances under the nation’s tax laws.

Now, the case is likely heading back to the 7th Circuit, according to the Becket Fund, which is representing clergy who were allowed to intervene and defend the tax break in court.

Becket said clergy could face nearly $1 billion in new taxes if the ruling is allowed to stand.

“It’s not unconstitutional for the federal government to treat faith leaders the same as other secular employees in their housing allowances. In fact, treating them differently would be discrimination against religion, pure and simple,” said Hannah Smith, an attorney with the Becket Fund.


3. When Life Imitates ‘The Sopranos’: Columbus has become another excuse to ruin a celebration of America.

By William McGurn, Columnist, The Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2017, Pg. A19, Opinion

In the run-up to this Monday’s parades and commemorations, one Antifa group called for a “Deface Columbus Day” in support of indigenous peoples who have been victims of “colonialism and genocide.” Some didn’t need the call: Even before the holiday weekend, Columbus statues across America have been beheaded, sledgehammered and splashed with paint.

In response to the provocations, some have tried reason. Christopher Scalia, a media consultant for the National Christopher Columbus Association, says the organization has just launched a new webpage called TruthAboutColumbus.com in hopes of putting forward a more balanced portrait of the man. Columbus, it says, was both a man of his time and a man ahead of his time.

But for all the talk about the “real” Columbus, protesters are unlikely to take up the invitation for further study and debate. For the defining fact of the modern progressive is that he is a pest, and what he wants here is simply to ruin any public celebration an ordinary American might enjoy, whether it be Italian-Americans celebrating Columbus or NFL fans sitting down to watch a game.

Their problem is that Columbus is not so easy to exorcise from American life.

Later, Catholic immigrants—and not only Italians—saw in Columbus a way to connect their faith, which many American-born citizens regarded as alien, to their new home. It is no coincidence, for example, that the University of Notre Dame’s main building features a series of Columbus murals that depict the story of what some regard as America’s Catholic founding.

Meanwhile, there is now a 24-hour police presence around Columbus Circle. Welcome to the progressive normal, where antagonisms are inflamed, celebrations of a hero of the American founding become politicized—and statues that went unmolested for decades aren’t safe without police protection.

“To paraphrase Mencken,” says Mr. Scalia, “progressivism has become the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be celebrating America.”


4. A Nun’s Right to Choose: Poor women will still have easy access to contraceptives.

By The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2017, Pg. A16, Review & Outlook

The Trump Administration on Friday eased Obama Care’s contraception mandate, the now infamous regulation that coerced Americans (even Catholic nuns) to pay for forms of birth control that violate their religious beliefs. This is welcome news for American tolerance and pluralism, not a scene from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The Health and Human Services Department issued interim final rules that will allow moral and religious exemptions to the contraception mandate, which currently requires employer insurance to cover all forms of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration at no cost to individuals. The Obama Administration threatened the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the elderly poor, with up to $75 million in fines for refusing to pay for types of contraceptives the nuns view as abortifacients.

The Little Sisters still need relief in court, which the new rule should make easier, but the regulatory change will launch a crush of new lawsuits from groups like the ACLU. That so many resources in government and so much litigation are necessary to allow nuns to practice their faith is a testament to the toxic identity politics that corrodes American life.


5. Nuns carry on lawsuit despite religious contraception exemption.

By Alex Swoyer, The Washington Times, October 9, 2017, Pg. A6

The lawyer representing a group of Catholic nuns said Friday that the administration’s new exemption from Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate is welcome, but he said it won’t end the Little Sisters of the Poor’s ongoing legal challenge.

Mark Rienzi, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, still wants the courts to issue a ruling protecting religious nonprofits like the nuns, saying he wants to lock in those gains regardless of what happens with the new Trump administration rule.

He spoke after the Department of Health and Human Services announced a final policy Friday that permits any employers who assert a good-faith religious objection to paying for contraceptives through their insurance plans to be exempt from the mandate the Obama administration created under the Affordable Care Act.

That previous rule had sparked years of legal battles, including the Little Sisters’ challenge. Their case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices last year sent it back to lower courts, demanding the judges try to find an accommodation for the nuns and other religious nonprofits such as hospitals or universities whose faith objects to contraceptive use.

An injunction has been protecting the religious organizations in the meantime.

The new rule is broad, covering anyone — including religious nonprofits like the nuns — who object.

But Mr. Rienzi said the Little Sisters and other similar groups still want a final permanent injunction from the court to protect them from future litigation.


6. A mandate for religious freedom: Trump’s new guidelines restore justice to the marketplace.

By The Washington Times, October 9, 2017, Pg. B2, Editorial

Not so long ago, President Trump’s new guidelines for the Department of Health and Human Services for protecting freedom of religious faith would have been superfluous and unnecessary. A casual observer might have read them in puzzlement, as if the government had reaffirmed its opposition to robbery or murder.

But all that was before the Obama administration sought to bring those of religious faith to heel, ordering employers to pay for contraception devices and abortion-inducing drugs, even if it violated the conscience of employers. Under pressure, the Obama administration grudgingly exempted churches from its mandate, but employers affiliated with religious groups still were required to pay through third-party administrators.

The new guidelines, drawn up by the U.S. Justice Department, change that. The order does not prohibit employers paying such benefits, and many employers will continue to do so. Nor will anyone be deprived by the government of their condoms, diaphragms and other birth-control devices. But “going forward,” as the cliche goes, an employer will not be required by the U.S. Government to violate his conscience for the convenience of those hostile to religious faith.

The new guidelines offer both religious and moral exemptions to the law. Churches, synagogues, mosques, schools and charities with religious affiliations would be covered by a religious exemption, and employers with moral opposition to providing contraception or abortion-inducing drugs would qualify for an exemption without a religious affiliation.


7. ACLU sues after Trump ends birth control mandate: Faith employers win round.

By Tom Howell Jr., The Washington Times, October 9, 2017, Pg. A1

It took just minutes for the first lawsuit to be announced last week after the Trump administration said it was rolling back Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate, creating an exemption for faith-based organizations that said paying for employees’ birth control violated their faiths.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused President Trump of discrimination by allowing employers to put religious beliefs before the needs of female workers who had come to expect birth control coverage as part of their health care benefits.

It’s the mirror image of the backlash against President Obama in 2012, when his administration decided that birth control was part of mandatory coverage under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The law pushed employers to pay for plans covering 18 types of contraceptives, including birth control pills and the morning-after pill.

Mr. Obama granted full exemptions to houses of worship and certain grandfathered employers but initially sought to make all others — including religiously affiliated nonprofits such as Catholic convents and colleges — abide by the mandate.

Years of legal battles produced more exemptions, but the Trump administration’s move cuts through all of them by giving any organization with a sincerely held religious or moral objection to contraception an exemption from the mandate so long as they notify their employees of the change. Publicly traded companies must pinpoint a religious objection to claim an exemption.

The new rule says mandating companies to pay for coverage regardless of their objections does not satisfy a “compelling governmental interest.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which fought Mr. Obama in court, said Mr. Trump’s decision is an admission by the government that the previous administration was wrong. That should help settle cases brought by challengers such as Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns.

Yet pro-mandate groups are refilling the docket with cases challenging Mr. Trump’s move.
Democrats also said they will try to force votes in Congress, reinvigorating spats over women’s health care after Republicans shelved plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“While we expect that this latest dangerous action from the White House will be challenged and defeated in the courts, Democrats will fight with all our strength to defend every woman’s right to comprehensive health care, including contraception coverage,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Beyond the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Women’s Law Center threatened legal action, saying the changes will leave “countless” women without access to birth control.

The Trump administration disputed those doomsday predictions. Citing the relatively limited pool of entities that sued the Obama administration, it argued that 99.9 percent of women will not be affected.


8. The Threat to American Unity on Columbus Day.

By Grazie Christie, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a Senior Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association, CNS News, October 9, 2017, 3:00 PM

As Columbus Day is upon us, it seems too much to hope that modern-day iconoclasts will respect the statues of the celebrated explorer as well as the feelings of those who are proud of his contribution and their shared heritage. Vandals did not respect the memory of another Catholic figure from the Spanish conquest, St. Junipero Serra, whose statue in California was recently decapitated and splashed with lurid red paint, to the dismay of Latinos and Catholics everywhere.  Vandalism of Columbus statues will have similarly dark effects.  The vandals who act in the name of protecting modern sensibilities from past sins are sowing hurt and resentment with their attacks, causing injuries that divide along ethnic and religious lines, and threatening American pluralism.  

St. Junipero Serra, who founded nine missions in California in the 18th Century, was described by Pope Francis as a holy man who valiantly defended “the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”  And that is the way he is venerated today by Catholics and Latinos, as one who softened and mitigated the Spanish conquest by proclaiming and embodying the Christian message of the radical equality of the races.  Accounts of his heroic efforts to aid the natives are legion, and his figure creates unity across racial lines, resisting and combatting the acrimony of identity politics. 

The decapitation of his statue was intended to have the opposite effect, and was done on the principle of division between the descendants of either the conquered or conquerors.  This makes no practical sense for Latinos, whose rich racial heritage usually includes both groups.  As an attack on the statue of a saint, the vandalism was also an act of anti-Catholic bigotry and intolerance, and is being investigated as a hate crime.  In short, it was a violent blow against peaceful pluralism and mutual respect.  

Attacking Columbus statues and canceling Columbus Day parades are similar assaults on societal unity.  They create division between the wider culture and Italian-Americans who are, of course, proud of the Italian man’s daring courage and his place in history.  This extends to Latinos as well, who are similarly proud and claim Cristobal Colón as theirs.  He sailed under the Spanish flag on ships famously provided by the Catholic king and queen of Spain after failing to find patronage in Italy.  Without this feat and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the New World, the Western Hemisphere would not bear the imprint of Hispanic culture and civilization as it does.  As such, Columbus is a symbol of Latino heritage up and down the Americas.  There is no upside for Hispanics in the attacks on Columbus.  We don’t want or need to be divided into descendants of the conquered versus the conquerors.  We can be proud of both and preserve our unity. 

The statue-topplers also threaten unity among Americans of differing faiths.  Although only 28 percent of Americans have a negative view of Columbus, approval is even higher among Catholics.  He is, after all, a famous Catholic figure whose daring adventure sparked a cultural revolution by connecting two hemispheres for the first time.  Many Catholics are also aware that modern attacks on the explorer’s image are often motivated by radical activists who seek to rewrite history according to their own (anti-colonialist) agenda.  The attacks are nothing new.  In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan strongly agitated against Columbus for being Catholic, Italian, and sailing for the Catholic king and queen of Spain. 

Americans don’t have to be Catholic, Latino, or of Italian descent to be personally affronted by the vandalism that threatens the hundreds of statues of Christopher Columbus across the U.S.  He was audacious and intrepid, a man well ahead of his time. His dangerous journey across the wild ocean originated the societies of the Western Hemisphere and changed the course of world history.  Anyone with an ounce of imagination and historical perspective is bound to admire him.  

But even if the statue-topplers are short on imagination and perspective, are unable to appreciate the contribution of historical figures like San Junipero and Christopher Columbus, they should refrain from vandalism in the interests of American pluralism and social cohesion.  Defacing the image of another’s hero is a grave offense, and delicacy and gentility prohibit the toppling of other people’s totems.  

And where would it end? Where is the hero or heroine who can survive the narrow rules and the fierce intolerance of the new iconoclasts?  Any perfect “hero” memorialized today will be sure to run afoul of rapidly changing liberal orthodoxies as soon as next week.


9. Twitter shuts down Blackburn campaign announcement video.

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press, October 9, 2017, 4:00 PM

Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign announcement ad has been blocked by Twitter over a statement the abortion rights opponent makes about the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.

Blackburn, who is running for the seat being opened by the retirement of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, boasts in the ad that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” A Twitter representative told the candidate’s vendors on Monday that the statement was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.

Blackburn was the chair of a Republican-run House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the world of fetal tissue research that earlier this year urged Congress to halt federal payments to the women’s health organization. Democrats said the GOP probe had unearthed no wrongdoing and wasted taxpayers’ money in an abusive investigation.


10. Brothers of Charity euthanasia controversy could have far-reaching implications.

By Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency, October 8, 2017

Vatican officials have summoned to Rome the board of directors overseeing a group of Belgian Catholic hospitals.

The group administers hospitals sponsored by the Brothers of Charity, a religious order, although the board is mostly composed of laity. The board recently decided to allow euthanasia in the Catholic hospitals it oversees.

After appeals from the religious order, board members have been asked to explain their decision to Church authorities in Rome, apparently at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Brothers of Charity sponsor 15 hospitals in Belgium, taking care of about 5,000 patients. The board of directors administers the hospitals’ civil corporation. The board has 15 members, but only three of them are Brothers of Charity.

The Brothers of Charity who serve as board members have signed a joint letter declaring their full support of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. However, to emphasize their decision, the board has published a position reiterating their support for euthanasia.


11. New religious freedom protections draw praise from experts.

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, October 6, 2017, 4:38 PM

After the Trump administration announced new exemptions to the contraceptive mandate and a religious freedom guidance, experts said both actions offered concrete protections of religious freedom.

On Friday morning the administration followed through on two promises made in President Donald Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious liberty – relief from the HHS mandate for religious and conscientious objectors, and a Department of Justice guidance to federal agencies on implementing religious freedom protections found in existing federal law.

“Groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dedicate their lives to the indigent elderly, can finally expect the restitution of their conscience-rights in court,” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Friday.

The guidance is significant and establishes solid protections for religious freedom at the federal level, Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law told CNA.

“We’ve never had anything this far-reaching before,” he said, noting that the guidance puts religious freedom on the level of freedom of speech.

It also takes principles of religious freedom and applies them to many federal levels, Destro said.

For instance, U.S. attorneys at the Department of Justice in litigation must “conform all the arguments that the government is making across the country” to the religious freedom principles outlined in the guidance, he said.

This would apply to ongoing court cases, including the DOJ’s position on the current religious freedom case before the Supreme Court of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It would also apply to “other cases where the arguments were already written,” Destro said.

The guidance also informs regulations, grants, contracts, and diversity training. Agencies like the State Department, where many employees have historically been reticent to talk about the role religion in international problems, could be affected by this, Destro said.