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Sasse resolution: Church beliefs should not jeopardize tax-exempt status

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 11:59 am (CNA).- One U.S. senator is looking to bring up a vote on protecting churches from attempts to police their beliefs, after a presidential candidate said churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has introduced a resolution in the Senate expressing support for freedom of conscience (S.J.Res. 58). He said on Wednesday that his measure aims to put senators on the record on protecting the tax-exempt status of houses of worship, amidst attempts to condition that status on a church’s support for same-sex marriage.

Introduced Wednesday, the joint resolution recognizes the importance of religious freedom to the framers of the Constitution and the role of religion in the history of the U.S., and says that the government cannot condition religious protections such as tax-exempt status upon certain viewpoints it deems “correct.”

The resolution states that “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are; and any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Sasse introduced his resolution on Wednesday in response to comments by Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke at a “#PowerOfOurPride” town hall on LGBTQ issues sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and broadcast by CNN on Oct. 10.

At the town hall event, O’Rourke had said in response to a question by moderator Don Lemon that “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

O’Rourke’s campaign later offered a clarification, saying he was not referring to the tax-exempt status of houses of worship but rather access to public grants and tax dollars of religious-based charities.

On Sunday, O’Rourke told MSNBC, “when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

Despite the clarification, however, the comments sparked backlash and questions about the constitutionality of such a proposal.

Sasse, on Wednesday, issued a rebuke of O’Rourke’s original proposal on the Senate Floor, calling them “extreme intolerance,” “extreme bigotry,” and “profoundly un-American.”

“I don't care what some nitwit said on CNN last week to satisfy his fringy base and try to get a sound bite in a presidential debate. The American people ought to know that this body stands for the historic First Amendment, that's what we all took an oath to uphold and to defend and that's what we ought to vote to affirm again,” Sasse said.

The government cannot regulate the speech of churches and cannot “define true and false religion,” he said.

“Government doesn't rifle through your pastor's or your rabbi's sermon notes, government doesn't tell your clerics what they can or can't say, government doesn't tell your religious leaders how they will perform their services, government doesn't tell you where or when you will worship,” Sasse said.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 1970 decision Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York that tax exemptions for houses of worship did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In a 7-1 decision, the Court said that such exemptions did not single out one particular religious group for favor, but rather “creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, far less than taxation of churches would entail.” Furthermore, two centuries of tax exemptions for churches “has not led to an established church or religion, and, on the contrary, has helped to guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief,” the Court said.

Other presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Pete Buttigieg—said in the past week that they would not take such action to strip churches of tax exemptions.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she [Warren] does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status,” a statement from the Warren campaign to NBC News read.

On CNN on Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that removing tax exemptions “means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.”

He added that “if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely. They should not be able to discriminate.”

At the same town hall where O’Rourke made his original comments, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was also asked if he would strip houses of worship of tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, and responded that such a move would produce a “long legal battle,” but added that “if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Bishops in Middle East urge prayer for northern Syria

Al-Hasakah, Syria, Oct 17, 2019 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Bishops in Syria and Iraq have called for worldwide prayer as fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces further destabilizes northern Syria.

“We were very concerned when we learned of the Turkish incursion at our borders, for our Christians,” Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told Vatican News Oct. 14.

The archbishop said that the Turkish invasion revives a memory for Christians of the Ottoman occupation of the region. “Our country and our entire region was occupied for four centuries already,” he said.

“We hope that finally all the Syrians will unite to liberate the country and give freedom to all people, whether Christians, Kurds or Muslims, so that they can return to live in this country as they did before: all together and with the security that is lacking in past years,” the archbishop said.

While US government officials and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to meet Oct. 17 in an American effort to pressure Turkey to end the offensive against the Kurds, the humanitarian situation in northern Syria has worsened.

Christians civilians have been killed and wounded in Turkey’s bombing of the Syrian towns of Ras al-Ayn and Al-Darbasiyah, which both have large Christian populations, according to In Defence of Christians.

Aid groups working in northeastern Syria have begun to pull out of the area, saying that it is becoming too dangerous. More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the past week by the violence, according to the United Nations.

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said that his community is preparing to receive another wave of refugees.

“Already in Erbil over the past two years we have witnessed a growing number of Syrian Christian refugees who have sought safety within the Christian community here. We expect that should additional Christians seek to flee conflict in Northeast Syria, most of them would come here to Erbil,” Warda said in a statement Oct. 12.

“We pray that the government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the international community would not turn them away, but would help in providing for their care, along with all the other innocents of all faiths,” he said.

Archbishop Warda called for all people to pray “at this critical time” for Syria and Iraq, stressing, “minorities will not be able to withstand another serious conflict.”

“As the Church, our prayers and hopes are always for an end to this never-ending cycle of violence from all participants. We urge all parties to remember at all times their obligations to protect innocent civilians,” Warda said.

US President Donald Trump pledged $50 million in stabilization assistance to ethnic and religious minorities in northeast Syria in an Executive Order Oct. 13. It stated: “the United States condemns the persecution of Christians, and we pledge our support to Christian communities everywhere suffering under the burden of oppression and brutal violence.”

Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako "appealed to all the Chaldean churches in the world, asking them to pray for a week for peace in Syria and Iraq,” Curial Bishop Basel Yaldo of Babylon said Oct. 16.

Bishop Yaldo said that Middle Eastern Christians “are afraid of a return of the Islamic State.”

Both Islamic State and al-Qaeda have experienced a resurgence in recent months, regrouping in rural areas, following U.S. disengagement, according to two former Pentagon officials writing in Foreign Affairs. After the fall of the Islamic State caliphate in April, the U.S. cut its troops down by half.

The White House announced Oct. 6 that Turkish forces would take over some security responsibilities in northern Syria and that the U.S. would no longer maintain its military forces in the region. The announcement has caused widespread concern among Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, and some human rights advocates have accused Trump of abandoning Kurdish allies while implicitly sanctioning a Turkish military offensive.

After the U.S. announcement, Turkish military forces moved into Syria, with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

Amid the conflict, 950 Islamic State supporters escaped from the Ain Issa detention facility, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The U.S. government announced Oct. 14. sanctions on senior Turkish officials responsible for the offensive in Syria, and the House of Representatives voted Oct. 17 to condemn the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Kurdish-controlled Syria.

Pope Francis appealed for dialogue and prayer for Syria in his Angelus address Oct. 13.

“My thoughts go once again to the Middle East. In particular, to the beloved and tormented Syria, from which dramatic news arrives again about the fate of the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions,” Pope Francis said.

Moroccan king pardons woman who procured abortion, those who participated

Rabat, Morocco, Oct 17, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Morocco's king pardoned Wednesday a journalist, her fiance, and the medical team who last month were found guilty of procuring and performing an abortion. The country's penal code bars abortion except in cases when the mother's life is endangered.

Mohammed VI's pardon was granted Oct. 16.

Hajar Raissouni, 28, had been sentenced Sept. 30 to a year imprisonment for procuring an abortion and for fornication. Her fiance, Rifaat al-Amin, was also given a years' imprisonment, and her doctor, Mohammed Jamal Belkeziz, was given two years in prison and a two-year ban on practising medicine.

A nurse and an assistant at the Rabat obstetrics-gynecology clinic were given suspended sentences.

Th e pardon was communicted by a statement from the justice ministry saying the king's act was “within a framework of royal compassion and clemency” and considered his concern “to preserve the future of the two fiances who intended to found a family in conformity with religious precepts and the law, despite the error they committed and which led to the legal proceedings.”

Raissouni writes for Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which is critical of the Moroccan government.

Prosecutors have said her arrest has “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist,” but some worried it was politically motivated.

Raissouni was arrested in August as she left the clinic.

Saad Sahli, a lawyer for Raissouni and al-Amin, said that Raissouni had been receiving treatment for internal bleeding at the clinic where she was arrested.

After her arrest, Raissouni was taken to hospital where she was given a gynecological exam.

Prosecutors say there were indications of pregnancy and that she had received a “late voluntary abortion.”

Rabat officials have also indicated the clinic where the five were arrested if being surveilled, after reports that abortions are regularly procured there.

Raissouni and al-Amin have been religiously, but not legally, married.

Sunni Islam is the established religion of Morocco. The country has strict rules on moral behavior and has criminalized debauchery and adultery.

According to a group that support abortion rights, most abortion-related arrests in the country involve medical officials, and only rarely do they include the women who procure abortions.

In 2018, Moroccan courts tried more than 14,500 people for debauchery; 3,048 for adultery; 170 for homosexuality; and 73 for abortions, AFP reported.

Brazilian bishop: Yes, Amazon people can understand celibacy

Breves, Brazil, Oct 17, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A retired bishop from Brazil has spoken out against the claim that married priests are necessary in the Amazon region because the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.

“It’s not the indigenous culture that finds insurmountable difficulties in understanding celibacy. It's that there was not a real inculturation of the Gospel among them,” said Bishop emeritus José Luis Azcona of Marajó, Brazil.

“For many reasons, there has been a transmission of the faith that was not transformed into culture, a faith that was not completely received, not thought out completely, not lived faithfully.”

Therefore, he said, “the first step in solving the problem of celibacy is not the abolition of it” but to work toward a more authentic incultration of the Gospel.

In an article sent to ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language sister agency, Azcona commented on the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired head of the Xingu prelature in Amazonian Brazil and a contributor to the synod’s working document, said last week that married priests are the only option in the region because “the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.”

Azcona, who led the Amazonian diocese from 1987-2016, rejected this argument, noting that cultures throughout history have had to learn truths about sexuality and celibacy, and saying this learning process does not post “an insurmountable hindrance.”

The Greeks, Romans, and Jews, he said, “all had the same difficulty in understanding, but at the same time they experienced the unbridled joy of 'glorifying Christ in their bodies.'”

“It’s not an indigenous world-vision that determines evangelization and establishes what can or cannot be accepted of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he stressed. Doing so would create a pseudo-Gospel, based not on the person of Christ and on his Church, but instead “arising from the indigenous, from their cultures or from their analysis.”

“The evangelization of the Amazon cannot arise from the desire to please men, or to win their favor,” he stressed.

“It's Jesus Christ and his Spirit that transcends all culture, but at the same time he is incarnated in the values and deepest expressions of each culture. He is the beginning, the middle and the end of all inculturation.”

The bishop argued that elements of the synod’s working document reflect a secular worldview and lacks the joy and hope that come from authentic Christian witness. He added that celibacy in the priesthood allows for an undivided focus on the work of God.

Abandonment to the will of God will create the environment in which priestly celibacy can be joyfully understood and experienced, Azcona said.

“It is exclusively God who gives the gift of celibacy. Man is incapable of achieving it with his own efforts,” he said.

Rather than abandoning celibacy, the bishop urged the Church to renew its prayers to Christ for strength to carry out his will.

“The time has come to reaffirm in the Amazon the importance of prayer in face of the activism and secularism that threatens many Christians in evangelization.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Gonzaga, Catholic Charities team up to offer immigration legal assistance

Spokane, Wash., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane is partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to offer immigration legal assistance to low-income individuals, as well as training in immigration law for students.

Second- and third-year law students under faculty supervision will assist clients pro bono in the “Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at Gonzaga Law School” starting this fall.

“We're viewing this almost like a joint venture between the two of us,” Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, told CNA.

“The attorney in charge has a vast network through her time at Catholic Charities. We envision the students and the attorney going on-site to different areas of the state to provide walk-up assistance, and that's going to start as we get further into the project,” Rooksby said.

The law school has several pro bono clinics already, including Indian Law, Elder Law, and Business Law. The students will work with Megan Case, an attorney who formerly worked with Catholic Charities.

Case told CNA that the center has a significant caseload at the moment, mostly on family reunification cases, whereby legal immigrants can petition for other family members to come and join them in the United States.

The center will also work with individuals seeking asylum. Additionally, they have an immigration court hearing scheduled for January in a deportation case.

Case noted that immigration law is one of the broadest and most complicated areas of U.S. law. She said during her time at Catholic Charities, she oversaw a number of naturalization cases, family reunification cases, and green cards, among others. They also helped individuals who qualified for victim-based visas.

She noted that the center assists both documented and undocumented individuals.

“There's definitely a need for attorneys to assist people in these types of cases, and there's a lot of work,” Case told CNA.

Rooksby said there is already student interest and client need for the program.

“As a Jesuit institution, I think we're taking seriously the Catholic Church's position on immigration as being one of the signature issues of our time,” he said. “So we see this as very consistent with our mission...the need is already there.”