Too Much Church in the State

Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

By Maureen Dowd

During her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett tried to reassure Democrats who were leery of her role as a “handmaid” in a Christian group called “People of Praise.”

The group has a male-dominated hierarchy and a rigid view of sexuality reflecting conservative gender norms and rejecting openly gay men and women. Men, the group’s decision makers, “headed” their wives.

Justice Barrett said then that she would not impose her personal beliefs on the country. “Judges can’t just wake up one day and say ‘I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion’ — and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” she said amicably. “It’s not the law of Amy. It’s the law of the American people.”

Yet that’s what seems to be coming. Like a royal queen, she will impose her will on the world. It will be the law of Amy. And Sam. And Clarence. And Neil. And Brett.

It’s outrageous that five or six people in lifelong unaccountable jobs are about to impose their personal views on the rest of the country. While they will certainly provide the legal casuistry for their opinion, let’s not be played for fools: The Supreme Court’s impending repeal of Roe will be owed to more than judicial argumentation. There are prior worldviews at work in this upheaval.

As a Catholic whose father lived through the Irish Catholics “need not apply” era, I’m happy to see Catholics do well in the world. There is an astonishing preponderance of Catholics on the Supreme Court — six out of the nine justices, and a seventh, Neil Gorsuch, was raised as a Catholic and went to the same Jesuit boys’ high school in a Maryland suburb that Brett Kavanaugh and my nephews did, Georgetown Prep.

My father was furious that Catholic presidential candidates Al Smith and J.F.K. had to defend themselves against scurrilous charges that, if they got to the White House, they would take their orders from the pope.

One must tread carefully here. A Catholic signed on to the Roe v. Wade decision and another was in the court majority that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic, has expressed support for Roe, and Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Catholic, may be working for a compromise decision that can uphold Roe.

Still, this Catholic feels an intense disquiet that Catholic doctrine may be shaping (or misshaping) the freedom and the future of millions of women, and men. There is a corona of religious fervor around the court, a churchly ethos that threatens to turn our whole country upside down.

I come from a family that hews to the Catholic dictates on abortion, and I respect the views of my relatives. But it’s hard for me to watch the church trying to control women’s sexuality after a shocking number of its own priests sexually assaulted children and teenagers for decades, and got recycled into other parishes, as the church covered up the whole scandal. It is also hard to see the church couch its anti-abortion position in the context of caring for women when it continues to keep women in subservient roles in the church.

Religiosity is a subject some Catholics on the court have been more open about in recent years.

Last year, at Thomas Aquinas College in California, Justice Samuel Alito fretted that there was growing cultural hostility toward Christianity and Catholicism. “There is a real movement to suppress the expression of anything that opposes the secular orthodoxy,” he said. Precisely which belief or practice of his religion does he feel he has been denied?

President Biden is a Catholic who is uncomfortable with the issue of abortion despite his support for Roe. Still, when Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame, a group she belonged to unanimously denounced the university’s decision to honor Biden even though he didn’t support the church’s position on abortion.

We have no one in the public arena like Mario Cuomo, who respected the multiplicity of values in an open society and had the guts to wade into the lion’s den at Notre Dame in 1984.

“The Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility,” Cuomo said. “He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion.”

The explosive nature of Alito’s draft opinion on Roe has brought to the fore how radical the majority on the court is, willing to make women fit with their zealous worldview — a view most Americans reject. It has also shown how radical Republicans are; although after pushing for this result for decades, because it made a good political weapon, they are now pretending it’s no big deal. We will all have to live with the catastrophic results of their zealotry.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic bishops ask US Supreme Court to review California’s sex abuse law

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

by Emily Hoeven

Could California find itself in another conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court?

Nine California Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a 2019 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which created a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against alleged perpetrators at school, church or elsewhere, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. The law also allowed defendants to be sued for a new offense: “cover up” activity.

In the April 15 petition, which was first reported last week by the Catholic News Agency, lawyers for the Catholic bishops assert the law is unconstitutional because California already gave victims a chance to sue in 2002 — when it opened a one-year portal for sex abuse survivors to file claims with no time limit attached — and because it retroactively adds new liabilities.

  • The lawyers wrote: “Review is critical now, before the Catholic Church in the largest State in the union is forced to litigate hundreds or thousands of cases seeking potentially billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages under an unconstitutional double-revival regime.”
  • They added that their clients have already paid more than $1.2 billion to resolve claims filed during the original one-year window, and “to finance these settlements, they expended significant resources, sold vast swaths of Church property, and in some cases exhausted or relinquished insurance coverage for past and future abuse claims.”
  • The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests slammed the bishops’ petition: “The 2002 window lasted one year, barely enough time for victims to find their courage or their voices. Many only heard about the window or found their courage too late. This new three-year window is allowing survivors in a huge state the time to speak out, get help, and come forward. We believe it is that bravery that is scaring California’s Catholic bishops.”

Newsom’s office declined to comment: “We have nothing to add at this time,” Daniel Lopez, Newsom’s deputy communications director, told me in an email.

But the petition, which came came less than a month before Politico published a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion showing justices are poised to overturn the federal constitutional right to an abortion, could spark the latest standoff between California and the high court.

In other reproductive justice news: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes dropped criminal charges against Adora Perez, whom he had previously charged with manslaughter after she delivered a stillborn baby while high on methamphetamine. “California law is clear: We do not criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy,” Bonta said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church bankrolling opposition to biz-backed LGBTQ rights expansion

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

BY

The Michigan Catholic Conference has contributed nearly $240,000 to a campaign committee opposing a business-backed initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Campaign finance reports filed on Monday show the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, which bills itself as “the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy,” has made $238,874.80 in direct and in-kind contributions to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, an organization formed in April that has actively opposed the LGBTQ initiative. The MCC made up nearly all of the committee’s $204,175 in direct contributions this funding cycle.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign launched the ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to enshrine protections in employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ individuals and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously on Monday to reject Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition signatures, claiming the campaign didn’t have enough valid signatures to advance the proposal.

Fair and Equal Michigan officials have vowed to appeal the Board of Canvassers’ vote to the state Court of Appeals.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has received widespread support from some of Michigan’s largest employers, including Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and General Motors, to name a few. Executives have said expanding the civil rights law is not only a human rights issue, but also a key component to attracting and retaining talent to the state.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice filed a challenge against Fair and Equal Michigan before the Board of State Canvassers, as Michigan Advance previously reported. The newly formed committee had ties to attorneys who had previously fought LGBTQ measures, but it was unclear at the time who was funding the organization.

Campaign finance reports show the Michigan Catholic Conference directly contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice on July 2, and gave another $38,874.80 in in-kind donations on July 7. The committee has also received $3,000 from issue advocacy group Michigan Future First, and $1,000 from the Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum. The committee reported $80,389.55 in expenditures, leaving nearly $124,000 in cash on hand.

Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice Treasurer Daniel Wholihan declined to comment for this story, referring questions to committee spokesperson and Republican political strategist Patrick Meyers.

Meyers said in an emailed statement to MiBiz: “The Board of State Canvassers got it right: the so-called “Fair and Equal” petition clearly submitted an inadequate number of signatures for their initiative. They got a fair and equal review by the Bureau of Elections, but fell well short, and we’re pleased that their poorly drafted, misleading proposal is now off the table for 2022.”

Officials with the Michigan Catholic Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization issued a press release Monday about its effort to support challenges to Fair and Equal Michigan.

“The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person’s individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square,” MCC Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik said in a statement. “The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor.”

Fair and Equal Michigan Spokesperson Josh Hovey told MiBiz: “When we have every major business group in the state … endorsing us, it’s not necessarily suprising but it’s transparent to see who’s out there funding the opposition. And unfortunately it’s the opposition.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican moves to tamp down spat with Italy over LGBT rights

In this Oct. 4, 2020 file photo, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin talks to journalists during a press conference at the Vatican. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attempted to tamp down controversy Thursday, May 24, 2021, over a Vatican diplomatic communication to Italy, saying that the Holy See’s intention was not to block passage of a law that would extend additional protections from discrimination to the LGBT community.

by COLLEEN BARRY

The Vatican’s Secretary of State attempted to tamp down controversy Thursday over a Vatican diplomatic communication to Italy, saying the Holy See was not trying to block passage of a law that would extend additional protections from discrimination to the LGBT community.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2, told Vatican News that he personally approved the diplomatic communication, which was intended to express concerns over the proposed Italian legislation. The Vatican is against any “attitude or gesture of intolerance or hatred toward people motivated by sexual orientations,” he added.

The chief concern, Parolin said, is that “vagaries” in the text of the proposed law could expose anyone expressing an opinion about “any possible distinction between man and woman” to prosecution.

The letter, which has been published by Italian media, claims specifically that the law would violate a landmark treaty establishing diplomatic ties between Italy and the Vatican by putting at risk the right of Roman Catholics to freely express themselves. It cited as an example a clause that would require Catholic schools, along with their public counterparts, to run activities on a designated day against homophobia and transphobia.

The law would add women, people who are homosexual, transsexual or with disabilities, to those protected by a law banning discrimination and punishing hate crimes. The lower house of parliament passed the legislation in November, but it has been stalled in the Senate by right-wing concerns that it would limit freedom of expression.

Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, for example, has complained that anyone saying that a family is formed with a man and a woman would be exposed to possible prosecution.

Backers of the law have dismissed such concerns, saying that the threshold for prosecution is inciting hatred or violence against the protected classes.

Premier Mario Draghi on Wednesday rebuffed the Vatican’s attempt at influencing the legislative process, telling parliament: “Italy is a secular state.”

But the controversy has ignited outrage over Vatican meddling, with many calling for the cancellation of the so-called Lateran Treaty, originally established under fascism and revised in the 1980s, establishing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and predominantly Roman Catholic Italy.

LGBT activists have vowed to transform Gay Pride events in Rome and Milan on Saturday into protests against what they say is the Vatican’s unprecedented interference in the Italian legislative process.

In decades past, the Vatican objected to Italian laws legalizing abortion and divorce and backed unsuccessful referendums after the fact to try to repeal them.

Complete Article HERE!

A lawsuit tests a legal exemption that lets religious groups fire LGBTQ people

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in Washington on Oct. 26, 2020.

By Jack Jenkins

To Christie Leonard, working at Gospel Crusade was the perfect fusion of vocation and spiritual call, where her talents and her faith could work in tandem.

“I was doing my dream job,” she said in a recent interview with Religion News Service.

Besides providing her income, Gospel Crusade, which does international mission work and runs a conference center from its Bradenton, Fla., base, had immense spiritual significance for Leonard. Her family had attended classes at Gospel Crusade’s church, and since 2000, Leonard had worshiped at the Family Church, a religious community at the conference center, called the Christian Retreat. She cites attending there as cementing her decision to become “a follower of Christ,” and her attachment only deepened when she began working at the Christian Retreat a few years later.

Which is why, she told RNS, she felt crushed when she was fired in 2019, despite giving what she said were 15 of her “best years” to the organization.

Worse, she claims her firing had nothing to do with her work ethic or her spiritual devotion, but rather rumors surrounding her sexuality and her relationship with a co-worker.

She said the firing felt as if “God was throwing me away

Leonard is now suing Gospel Crusade, claiming her termination was driven by discrimination based on her gender and presumptions about her sexual orientation. The church has disputed her account in court, but the case is one of several that could test the reach of the “ministerial exception,” a legal workaround that exempts faith groups from nondiscrimination laws in hiring and firing as long as the employees in question are considered ministers — including, according to recent Supreme Court decisions, staffers such as Leonard who are not clergy

Like many who work for small religious organizations, Leonard juggled multiple jobs at Gospel Crusade. Initially hired as an hourly employee to help with video production, she later found herself assisting the group’s accounting team as well as working in human resources. By the time she was brought on as a salaried employee in 2017, she kept a cot under her desk for late nights spent editing video.

“I basically lived there,” she said.

About the same time, Leonard began working closely with a female colleague. According to Leonard, the two were in constant conversation and over time, she said, “we became almost inseparable.”

Their connection became a flash point, professionally and personally. Leonard said her colleague’s husband “became jealous in some ways” of their relationship. Rumors began to circulate that the two women, who Leonard said were both struggling with marital difficulties, were in a “romantic relationship or a sexual relationship.”

The colleague’s husband, who served on the church’s staff, then allegedly took his concerns to the senior pastor of the Family Church at Christian Retreat, Phil Derstine, who reached out to Leonard’s husband

Leonard insisted it was only after consulting with the two husbands that Derstine allegedly met with both women — not to talk about the situation, but to announce his decision: They could not spend any time together for 30 days. If they managed that, they could both attend a planned mission trip to Uganda in September 2018

Leonard said she and her colleague did as instructed and were able to take the trip together. But at a meeting while they were away, Gospel Crusade board members allegedly heard testimony from the colleague’s husband.

When the women returned, they did not immediately go to their respective homes. According to Leonard, her colleague went to a wedding while Leonard visited family out of state.

According to Leonard, Derstine promptly fired Leonard’s colleague but allowed Leonard to remain on staff — albeit as an hourly employee instead of a salaried one, and with a caveat: She could not move in with her colleague.< “He said, ‘I have one other condition: You cannot live with that woman,’ ” Leonard recalled, adding that he suggested she live with her brother. This time, Leonard did not comply. The two women secretly moved in together, coinciding with what Leonard described as a campaign of harassment led by Derstine and others at Gospel Crusade. “[Derstine] continued to ask me every single day that he called me, ‘Where are you living?’ ” she said. “I got text messages at all hours of the night asking me how my living situation was. I believe there were people that were following us. It was just a very stressful situation.” Allegedly at Derstine’s urging, family members contacted Leonard to inquire about the living situation. A Gospel Crusade board member allegedly confronted her to say that he knew where she lived. In early 2019, during a counseling session with Derstine’s wife, Leonard revealed a desire to live with her former colleague, noting she was now unemployed and separated from her husband. A few hours later, Derstine convened a meeting with Leonard to inform her that she was fired. Leonard said she was told she was fired for poor job performance. But she alleges that “I was having close to my best year” and that Derstine even asked her more than once after she was fired to assist with video production. Instead, Leonard believes she lost her job for very different reasons. She said Derstine hinted at larger subtext during the firing meeting, when he allegedly said the mere suggestion of Leonard moving in with her female co-worker was “a dealbreaker.” “I was fired for sex discrimination,” Leonard said. “They believed that I was in a lesbian relationship with my former co-worker.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed: That same year, they found probable cause that she had been discriminated against based on her gender, as well as the perception that she was involved in a same-sex relationship. Gospel Crusade declined to settle, and Leonard filed her lawsuit in federal court in October 2019, with the help of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “The worst part for me is that these were my spiritual leaders . . . and that somehow God was throwing me away,” Leonard said, “that he didn’t love me, or value me or my service.” Gospel Crusade did not provide on-the-record responses to requests for comment. However, court documents show lawyers for the group repeatedly denying Leonard’s allegations, arguing that text messages and emails she supplied as evidence were taken out of context. The court documents also feature Gospel Crusade invoking the “ministerial exception,” a focus of a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical v. EEOC.

That case featured a dispute between a school affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a former teacher who was fired when she attempted to return to work after being diagnosed with narcolepsy. The court sided with the school, which argued that the teacher was a minister and thus exempt from nondiscrimination laws. The ruling was seen as expanding the ministerial exception to include religious workers who are not ordained clergy.

Since 2012, religious institutions have invoked the ruling to justify the firing of LGBTQ employees. In 2019, a Catholic high school in Indiana fired a gay teacher after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis threatened to strip the school of its affiliation with the church. Explaining why he believed the fired teacher’s spouse — who taught at a nearby Catholic school — should also be fired, the archbishop argued the archdiocese “recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers.”

But the ministerial exception is complicated by the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the majority argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits hiring discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin — also protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender.

In his majority opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch argued that the court is “deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution,” and suggested that laws such as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act might allow religious groups to avoid nondiscrimination statutes and “supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”

The arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has potentially tipped the balance of the court toward a more conservative understanding of religious liberty and the exception.

Cases such as Leonard’s may be used to reconcile the Tabor and Bostock rulings. “If [religious] organizations are allowed to simply do whatever they want to when it comes to employment,” said Kevin Sanderson, Leonard’s attorney, “and aren’t held to the same standards as other employers despite what our laws say, you could have millions of people who are really unprotected in the workplace.”

Leonard remains concerned about others who could face her same situation. “What scares me a little bit is the idea that this ministerial exception — that they’ve now decided I’m a minister — has a growing reach to affect more people,” she said. “Because [Derstine] would say every believer is a leader.”

She also expressed deep frustration with what she described as the church’s patriarchal bent. “Somehow, a room full of these guys get together, say they speak for God and get to treat people however they want?”

The whole ordeal has frayed relationships with friends and family and taken a toll on her faith, but Leonard managed to find a new religious home. She now attends an Episcopal Church, where she says she feels supported and where the priest appears to be “completely different” than the “businessman” she said she worked for at Gospel Crusade.

She also takes comfort in the Episcopal Church’s long-standing support for LGBTQ rights: Should a situation like what happened at Gospel Crusade arise at her new church, she feels more protected.

“That denomination would stand by me,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!