1. A victory for religious freedom: A Trump order welcomes the faithful from out of the shadows.

By Michael Farris, Michael Farris is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, and was an original draftsman of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, The Washington Times, October 12, 2017, Pg. B1

“To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”

Last week’s presidential executive order — directing government officials to stop finding ways to make it more difficult for people of faith to live out their beliefs — is as welcome as it should be unnecessary.

To those who wrote our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the need to let people serve the exigencies of their faith was as plainly “self-evident” as the birthright of all men to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If freedom was the cornerstone of the American soul, religious freedom was the quarry that stone was carved from.

This is our national DNA — our political, cultural and spiritual identity as Americans.

That identity has been in crisis for a while now. In the rush to embrace (and be embraced by) those pressing various political, social and cultural agendas, government officials at every level have veered a long way off the course set by the Founders. Last week’s order was a pretty big, neon-lit sign from the current administration, directing, “This way back to the main road.”

The government can’t order vegetarians to eat meat. It can’t order Yankee fans to cheer for the Red Sox. And it shouldn’t be able to order Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians or anyone else to submerge their faith, or embrace ideas they don’t agree with.

A government that would do that hasn’t the faintest grasp of what freedom of speech or religion is about. Which is why the order affirming the First Amendment, also voices a peculiarly American kind of common sense: “Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law.”

“Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government,” the order adds. “Free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.”

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court — which ruled 7-2 last spring in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer that singling out religious Americans for unequal treatment by the government “is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand” — will be hearing the case of wedding cake designer Jack Phillips.

Here’s hoping the constitutional wisdom of the Trinity decision — and the constitutional common sense of this most recent executive order — will be echoed in justice for Mr. Phillips. And for other artists, business owners and people of faith all over America.


2. On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

By Charles J. Chaput, Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is archbishop of Philadelphia and author of Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, First Things, October 12, 2017

Later this month, Western Christians will celebrate or grieve, or some mix of both, an awkwardly shared anniversary: the nailing of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church in 1517.

Never mind that the nailed-to-the-door story probably never happened. Never mind that Luther’s heroic words to an Imperial Diet at Worms—“Here I stand; I can do no other”—probably weren’t said. And never mind that the Reformed Churches of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin may have had more success in spreading Protestant Christianity than Luther ever did. Five hundred years later, Martin Luther, liberator or heresiarch, is the man who set the Reformation era in motion. His memory still looms over the modern world he unwittingly helped create.

Five centuries after Luther, we in the “developed” nations live in a world that incarnates the revenge of unintended consequences. As Brad Gregory writes in his absorbing new biography of Luther and his times, Rebel in the Ranks, the German monk and his fellow Reformers had no interest in modern notions of democracy, individual autonomy and freedom. Quite the opposite:

Luther would deride the idea of freedom as we know it today and disclaim any credit for it. In fact, he would be disgusted by it, because it has nothing to do with what he regarded as the only real freedom, the bound freedom of a Christian. . . . [All of the Reformers, including Luther,] would be appalled if they could see how their actions led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies . . . [and to popular cultures] where the consumption of goods and pursuit of enjoyment has essentially replaced religion.

All true. And yet, here we sit by the rivers of New Babylon, believing Catholics and Protestants alike, paradoxically linked in a love for Jesus Christ, but wrapped in a hundred new forms of entangling captivity—sex, food, money, drugs, ambition, technology, noise, more sex, anxiety, distrust, loneliness, the politics of victimhood and resentment, feelings posing as truth, emotion posing as reason, moral indifference and cowardice posing as compassion, imaginations strip-mined of the sacramental and supernatural, and then colonized with the relentless teasing of material appetites. A place where the horizons of the eternal disappear into a fog of the urgent now. A mighty fortress is our gaud.

We were made for more, and that “more” is this. Only Jesus Christ is Lord—and in that truth, despite every sin we’ve committed against each other over so many generations, is our unity as Christians, our joy, our salvation, and the only enduring hope for the world.


3. Pope: Catholic guide needs updating on death penalty issue.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, October 11, 2017, 2:37 PM

Pope Francis marked the 25th anniversary of a landmark compilation of Catholic teaching by saying Wednesday it should be changed to address an issue close to his heart: the death penalty.

During an anniversary ceremony at the Vatican, Francis repeated his insistence that capital punishment is “inadmissible” under any circumstance. He said the death penalty violates the Gospel and amounts to the voluntary killing of a human life, which “is always sacred in the eyes of the creator.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued a quarter century ago by St. John Paul II to give Catholics an easy, go-to guide for church teaching, doesn’t exclude recourse to the death penalty.

Francis acknowledged that in the past even the Papal States had allowed this “extreme and inhuman recourse.” But he said the Holy See had erred in allowing a mentality that was “more legalistic than Christian” and now knew better.


4. Twitter Reverses Decision to Block Senate Candidate’s Video.

By Associated Press, October 11, 2017, 12:27 PM

Twitter is reversing a decision to keep Tennessee Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn from promoting a campaign video on that platform because of the congresswoman’s statements about the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.

Blackburn, a Republican running for the seat being opened by the pending retirement of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, boasts in the ad that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

Twitter initially told the candidate’s vendors that the statement could be perceived as “inflammatory” and evoke a negative reaction. The decision kept Blackburn from paying to promote the video on Twitter but it didn’t prevent individual users from posting it or linking to other social media platforms.

“After reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues,” Twitter said in a statement.

Blackburn was the chair of a Republican-run House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the world of fetal tissue research that urged Congress to halt federal payments to the women’s health organization.


5. Bishop says Trump proposals do not reflect U.S. immigrant tradition.

By Catholic News Service, October 11, 2017

The Trump administration’s newly released immigration policy proposals “do not provide the way forward for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in respect for human life and dignity, and for the security of our citizens,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

“They are not reflective of our country’s immigrant past, and they attack the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children and many others who flee persecution,” the bishop said in an Oct. 10 statement as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“Most unfortunately, the principles fail to recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of our immigration system, our society and our church,” Vasquez said.

His remarks came in response to a 70-point immigration policy proposal from President Donald Trump released the evening of Oct. 8.

Vasquez also urged Congress to act quickly on a bill to legalize the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and allow the approximately 800,000 youth – known as “Dreamers” – who have benefited from DACA to stay in the country.


6. HHS Relief for Religious Nonprofits Finally in Sight.

By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Register, October 11, 2017

After six years of legal fights that included hundreds of lawsuits and five trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, a positive conclusion is finally in sight for the religious nonprofits and private employers with moral objections to providing contraceptives and abortifacients in their employee health insurance plans.

The Trump administration’s decision to expand the religious exemption under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate, announced Oct. 6, was welcomed by Church leaders, representatives from religious nonprofits and the attorneys who have been litigating on their behalf since the Obama administration unveiled the first version of the mandate in 2011.

“We’re very grateful for this new interim final rule, which I think is a return to common sense that respects the fundamental religious liberties of individuals, and certainly of churches and church ministries,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told the Register in a phone interview.

Archbishop Lori, who serves as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, also described the new interim rules as a “restoration of the balance” between religious liberty and government interests that existed prior to the mandate.

Said Archbishop Lori, “We would be very hopeful that there might be a settlement on the part of the Department of Justice, with all variety of litigants that would have the effect of giving us a more permanent form of relief.”

In two separate conference calls with reporters shortly after two companion interim final rules on the mandate were released, attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket — two legal groups that represented dozens of litigants who challenged the mandate — said they expect the Department of Justice will be willing to settle lawsuits that are still pending in the federal courts.

“I assume the government’s lawyers won’t step in the way of the parties getting that relief,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for Becket, which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups that fought the mandate.


7. The Associated Press and the Pronoun Wars.

By Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary Magazine, October 11, 2017

The transgender movement is at war with the English language. With a new set of style guidelines, the Associated Press has joined the trenches—on the transgender side.

With its precision and plain beauty, English has long posed an obstacle for activists who insist that there is no biological basis to gender and who seek to overturn the gender binary. Unfortunately for these activists, the gender binary is built into the structure of English, with its gender-specific pronouns and many gendered expressions. Most people speak a gendered English, moreover. When we hear that one of our friends or relations is pregnant, we naturally ask: “Boy or girl?”

We speak this way because our language mirrors the natural and inseparable bond between gender and sex. For transgender activists, however, this is merely evidence of how entrenched the oppressive gender binary is. By their lights, gender is completely fluid and open to individual choice. … If the movement has its way, asking “boy or girl?” would become as unacceptable as smoking—or maybe even legally proscribed.

Now comes the AP’s gender rewrite. In a series of tweets on Tuesdayexplaining the changes first promulgated earlier this year, the AP’s editors contended that “gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics” and admonished writers to “avoid references to being born a boy or girl.” The venerable news agency also endorsed the language- and prose-disfiguring use of “they/them” as a singular pronoun. It even left open the door to more exotic made-up pronouns such as “ze” and “zir.”

Tuesday also saw the AP introduce a new rule: Instead of the expressions “sex change” or “transition,” writers are to use “gender confirmation.” This was a deep kowtow to the transgender movement, which believes that physicians don’t alter anything essential or fundamental when they perform a sex-change operation: Caitlyn Jenner was always Caitlyn Jenner. The operation merely confirmed this ontological fact.

You needn’t agree with social conservatives on transgender ideology to see that this is wrongheaded. The editors are using the AP’s style authority to declare the transgender debate over. 

The AP and its defenders will say that the move is necessary because journalistic prose should reflect evolving norms and usages. And they will argue that adhering to trans pronoun preferences is a matter of respect. But social norms are only “evolving” among a narrow progressive cohort. Most AP readers still use “he,” “she,” “sex change,” and the like… As for respecting individuals, surely there are ways to do that without violating journalism’s core truth-seeking function. To suggest that Jenner was never “born” male is absurd and illogical.

The AP’s new style rules won’t change a reality which is written into human nature, and which men and women people have encountered since time immemorial. Such language games will only discredit the media and underscore the Orwellian aspect of the transgender movement.