Tierney Sneed, SCOTUS Asks Objectors To Contraceptive Opt-Out: Show Us Better Alternatives, Talking Post Memo

The challengers in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, had objected to the accommodation because they said that even filling out the form opting out of the requirement was a burden on their faith, arguing it triggered the process for employees to receive contraceptive coverage from outside their plans.

At last week’s oral arguments, the court, and particularly the male justices in its conservative bloc, struggled when grappling with the question of how female employees of religious nonprofits would receive contraceptive coverage if the accommodation was not allowed to stand.

Now the court has requested the challengers provide briefs outlining other options. The briefs, due April 12, should address “whether and how contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees,” the court said.

The order offered one example alternative, in which the nonprofits would tell their insurance companies right off the bat that they did not wish to cover contraceptives. From there, it would be up to the insurance company to tell employees that cost-free contraceptive coverage would be provided to them outside of the employer plan.

“The parties may address other proposals along similar lines, avoiding repetition of discussion in prior briefing,” the order said, which suggests that the alternatives the challengers offered in their initial briefs, which mainly argued coverage could be provided directly by the government or through programs funded by the government, would not suffice.

Those defending Obamacare’s accommodation for the birth control requirement are allowed to respond in reply briefs due April 20.

The order also reflects the challenges the court faces with only eight members, after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. At Zubik’s oral arguments, the justices appeared divided on ideological lines as to whether the accommodation should be allowed to stand. It’s likely that Scalia would have given conservatives the fifth vote they needed to strike it down.

However, a four-four tie decision produces no clear ruling on a case and offers no national precedent. It simply defers to the lower court’s decision (as was the scenario in the four-four decision the Supreme Court issued Tuesday on a major case concerning public unions.) In theZubik case in particular, the consequences of a tie vote would have been especially complicated. The appeals court decisions involved in Zubik upheld the accommodation, but another appeals court in a similar case knocked it down.

Thus, a four-four decision could have possibly resulted in the employees receiving coverage in some states but not others, depending on the circuit court that covers them.

It appears, with Tuesday’s order, the court is searching for a compromise decision that would get at least five votes and avoid that scenario.

Full article with links: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/scotus-zubik-order-more-briefs

Greg Bluestein, BREAKING: Nathan Deal vetoes Georgia’s ‘religious liberty’ bill, AJC

Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday vetoed the “religious liberty” bill that triggered a wave of criticism from gay rights groups and business leaders and presented him with one of the most consequential challenges he’s faced since his election to Georgia’s top office.

In a press conference at the state Capitol, Deal said House Bill 757 doesn’t reflect Georgia’s welcoming image as a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people” – and warned critics that he doesn’t respond well to threats of payback for rejecting the measure.

“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way,” he said. “For that reason, I will veto HB 757.”

The two-term Republican has been besieged by all sides over the controversial measure, and his office has received thousands of emails and hundreds of calls on the debate. The tension was amplified by a steady stream of corporate titans who urged him to veto the bill – and threatened to pull investments from Georgia if it became law.

The governor’s veto infuriated religious conservatives who considered the measure, House Bill 757, their top priority. This is the third legislative session they’ve sought to strengthen legal protections from opponents of gay marriage, but last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex weddings galvanized their efforts.

It is also likely to herald a more acrimonious relationship between Deal, who campaigned on a pro-business platform, and the evangelical wing of the Georgia Republican party. Already, prominent conservatives have vowed to revive the measure next year.

The governor, though, had ample cover from the measure’s critics. Executives from dozens of big-name companies, including Disney, Apple, Time Warner, Intel and Salesforce, called on the governor to veto the bill. The NFL warned it could risk Atlanta’s bid for the Super Bowl and the NCAA hinted it could influence the state’s ability to host championship games. And Deal’s office said two economic development prospects have already abandoned Georgia because of the legislation.

They joined with gay rights groups who warned that the measure amounts to legalized discrimination and pointed to the corporate outrage that rocked Indiana after a similar measure was signed into law there.

The legislation, which first surfaced on March 16 and passed both Republican-controlled chambers in hours, would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief” and preserve their right to fire employees who aren’t in accord with those beliefs.

It also mirrors language found in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and adopted by dozens of states, requiring government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion. And it includes a clause saying it could not be used to allow discrimination banned by state or federal law.

Seen by supporters as a “compromise” effort, the measure was swiftly condemned by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the state’s most influential business group, and by leaders of major international tech corporations. 

The Human Rights Campaign called on Hollywood film companies to abandon Georgia if Deal signs the measure, and many issued threats that they would. Each of Atlanta’s pro sports franchises criticized the measure, as did the owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

It was far from a one-sided fight, however. The conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition launched robo-calls backing the measure, and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board marshaled its 1.3 million members to rally around the bill. State Sen. Josh McKoon and other prominent supporters cast it as a way to protect faith-based beliefs.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” McKoon, R-Columbus, told WBUR Boston shortly after the veto. “This bill had been significantly watered down. It did not apply to businesses. I’m just very, very disappointed the governor would veto this modest protection for people of faith.”

Still, Deal’s decision to veto the measure did not come as a surprise.

In stark terms, the governor said earlier this year that he would reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.” Rooting his critique in biblical language, he urged fellow Republicans to take a deep breath and “recognize that the world is changing around us.”

He is also the rare statewide politician who can afford to infuriate a wide swath of his party’s base. As a term-limited governor with no further political ambitions, he never has to face the voters again.

Yet his decision will likely influence the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2019.

The “religious liberty” debate resonates like few others among the activists that make up the Georgia Republican base – a group that gave the legislation a ringing endorsement at the Georgia GOP’s 2015 convention. He’ll need many of those same rank-and-file Republicans next year when he unveils his plan to “revolutionize” the state’s education system.

Already, several conservative lawmakers have vowed to call for a “veto session” to rebuke the governor if he rejects the measure. It takes a three-fifth majority in both chambers to call a special session, and a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto — a threshold the bill failed to reach by one vote in the Senate and 16 in the House.

State Sen. Bill Heath, one of the chamber’s most conservative lawmakers, said he’s confident a “veto session” will be successful.

“We will call for a veto session,” Heath said. “And we have the votes.”

The governor, who didn’t take any questions after his remarks, anticipated the pushback.

“I don’t respond well to insults or threats,” he said.

Full article with links: http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2016/03/28/breaking-nathan-deal-will-veto-georgias-religious-liberty-bill/

Professor Marci Hamilton, Zubik and RFRA: A Short Lesson in Overreaching, Tyranny, and Ineffectual Government, Hamilton and Griffin on Rights

The oral argument in Zubik v. Burwell was yet another lesson that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is fundamentally an unworkable and unreasonable statute that trenches on the separation of powers and erases the separation of church and state.  It tempts Justices to be super-legislators, believers tyrants, and the federal government a bowl of mush.  The bottom line by the Solicitor General representing the federal government defending the existing exemption was that we need a “sensible balance.”  Sadly, RFRA is intended to push the envelope to the unreasonable accommodations a rational legislator would reject.  And that should be no surprise.  It was initiated and pushed hardest by conservative Christian evangelicals like the Christian Legal Society intent on invoking their faith to refuse to rent apartments to unmarried couples or single mothers, a category they later generously expanded to include gay couples.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame, and others are making the hard-to-say-with-a-straight-face argument that if they fill out a form saying they don’t believe in birth control and the plan administrator provides cost-free contraception to their female employees their faith is compromised.  Not because they have to use contraception themselves, but because they are part of the chain reaction that results when one of their adult female employees chooses to use birth control prescribed by their doctors.   (Speaking on behalf of every one of those women, let me just say: “Mind your own business.”)  Their “complicity” argument is mind-blowing, because on their reasoning, thepaychecks they pay these women, who then purchase contraception, make them just as complicit!   So what are they doing hiring women in the first place?!  And what’s next?  You can’t work for them unless you install a camera at home to track your contraception use?  The slippery slope is treacherous.

Justices as Super-Legislators

Repeatedly, Justices pointed out that no one can get an exemption from the law without telling the government they need it, and that the First Amendment cases never held that such a notification could be a “substantial burden.”  Justice Sotomayor kicked off the questions with this very point and tried to box in Petitioners’ lawyer Paul Clement repeatedly.

She was on solid ground pointing out that the Supreme Court had not identified the supposed burden in this case as the sort of burden that triggers free exercise protections.  True enough, but the bottom line is that it just doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court has said before on free exercise.  This is a statute that does not “restore” anything but rather hands religious entities the standard they were never able to persuade the Court to adopt.  Therefore, Clement’s slick answer each time was that, well, that case may have said that, but we need to focus on the RFRA machinery: “substantial burden,” “compelling interest,” and “least restrictive means” analysis.  (Not in a single First Amendment free exercise case has the Supreme Court employed the RFRA standard, even in a case involving a discriminatory statute.  I’m not going to argue this again; it is the simple truth, as I explain here, in my Hobby Lobby amicus brief.)

In short, this case is the best example yet that the second “R” in RFRA really stands for “reversal.” 

Several Justices pointed out that pro-RFRA advocate Professor Douglas Laycock in a widely circulatedamicus brief warned of disaster if the Court followed the reasoning of the religious nonprofits.  It is rich to hear Laycock warn everyone about the perils of RFRA; he who has been surprised or disappointed or “shocked!” when the RFRAs became the go-to tool to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, as though he was unaware that the Christian Legal Society started this game to engage in fair housing discrimination.  In response to the LGBTQ issues, he said that everyone was being unreasonable on both sides.  No. What is unreasonable is just RFRA itself, and it is hypocrisy now to be shocked that this extreme standard could be applied in an extreme manner by extreme believers.   Every warning in the world from every law professor will not make the sow’s ear of RFRA into the silk purse of First Amendment free exercise wisdom.

So what does it mean if the Supreme Court’s free exercise cases are reversed by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of RFRA?  It means that the Justices and Congress need to switch buildings.  First, it means that Congress enacted a law that reverses Supreme Court cases, and the members should don black robes and find a gavel so they can start scanning the Supreme Court Reports for constitutional cases to reverse.   That was what the Court said in Boerne v. Flores, though it seems to have forgotten over half of that opinion.

Second, many of the statements from the conservative members of the Court portrayed them as persuaded they have a lot better solutions to solving health care problems and women’s need for reproductive health care than Congress will ever dream of.  Or, in other words, they are a lot smarter than members of Congress.   It was painful to listen to Justice Alito attacking the federal government for not thinking of setting up a wholly separate system so women have to go through two applications, or for Justice Kennedy to elicit that the “answer” to the supposed burden on religious entities is for the government to pay for every woman’s contraceptive coverage, or for Chief Justice Roberts to talk about “hijacking” nonprofits’ health care plans as though they belong first and foremost to the nuns and the employee beneficiaries are serfs who should be grateful for each crumb of coverage.  RFRA invites them to be policymakers and Justice Alito has embraced this role with gusto in Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and now the Zubik oral argument.  As I explained in an amicus brief for the visionary Rep. Bobby Scott, RFRA invites the Justices to view themselves as the ultimate policymakers, which is a role the Court proved itself to be unsuited for in the Lochner line of cases. Last I checked, the members of the Supreme Court are unelected and utterly unaccountable.  It is offensive to hear them asserting themselves as the ultimate arbiters on public policy.

Believers as Tyrants

The catnip of RFRA persuades believers that there is a beautiful world where they can operate without the burdens of the law.  No matter what the issue, no matter who is affected, they have a “right” to go to federal court and demand an accommodation where: (1) one was never envisioned before a la Hobby Lobby or (2) when the existing accommodation makes them, gasp, fill out a form, a la Zubik.   The 90% of women who use birth control, including the many who work for these very organizations, don’t have such a “right” because it’s not the government burdening them.  It’s the believers, and believers can smugly insist on their “rights” while those they deprive and judge are left defenseless.   RFRA trumps civil rights of employees, and if the Court sides with the religious nonprofits, it is one short step to watering down Title VII and the Civil Rights Acts based on race, nationality, and alienage.  What is the least restrictive means of accommodating the white supremacist bar owner?  Have minorities walk across the street to another bar.

Federal Government as a Large Bowl of Mush

Most disappointing at the Zubik argument was the failure of the Solicitor General to provide the context and meaning sorely needed on these issues in this era.  There was a time when it seemed like President Obama would restore the Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state.  Instead, his Department of Justice has pulled its punches as it litigated the RFRA cases.   A clarion voice of reason and a unifying moral vision is needed to lead this country against faith-based terrorism and the pervasive scourge of child sex abuse in religious organizations.  Instead, we get a federal government that seems afraid of its own shadow.

What is at stake here?  Not just cost-free, seamless contraception for poor women or the religious liberty of employees as opposed to employers, but how about the employers who will refuse to fund transfusions for faith?   The same groups before the Court in this case will, on precisely the same reasoning, refuse to subsidize embryonic stem cell treatments, regardless of the employees’ suffering, or HIV treatment, in judgment of gay men; or how about the faith-healers who will refuse to subsidize vaccinations or any medical care for their children?  This is where their complicity argument leads, but none of this inevitable reasoning crossed the Solicitor General’s lips.

He should have pointed out that the end result of religious triumphalism and the disdain for law is tyranny.  We have a fresh example in the FLDS, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews especially when it comes toeducation and the misuse of funding for schools.     It generally means women and children suffer.   It is no accident Hobby Lobby and this case result in burdens on women, who are boxed into a corner.

Those burdens appear to be trivial to the conservative members of the Court, but one can only hope they matter to whoever chooses the next Supreme Court Justice.


Full article with links http://hamilton-griffin.com/zubik-and-rfra-a-short-lesson-in-overreaching-tyranny-and-ineffectual-government/

Jessica Goldstein, Disney To Georgia: We Will Not M-I-C See You Real Soon If You Pass That Anti-LGBT ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill, Think Progress

Walt Disney Co. and its Marvel Studios film unit are threatening to boycott the state of Georgia.

If Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signs an anti-gay religious liberty bill into law, Mickey Mouse and all his buddies will hightail out of there, bringing potentially billions of dollars with them. The legislation in question is House Bill 757 which would (1) prevent people from having to perform or attend same-sex marriages (2) permit faith-based groups like churches and religious schools to refuse service and employment to individuals if serving said people violated the group’s religious beliefs and (3) allow those same organizations to deny employment to individuals “whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”

Georgia has stellar tax incentives and, as a result, has become a hot spot for the film industry. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is currently in production at Pinewood Studios near Atlanta, where Captain America: Civil War was shot last summer. Marvel’s Ant-Man was also shot in Georgia.A Disney spokesman said Wednesday that “Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

The law might be a hit with the state’s general assembly, which voted in favor of the bill just last week. But Disney is just the latest in a string of high-profile — and high-profit — companies to threaten to abandon Georgia if the anti-gay measure becomes law. (Marvel is owned by Disney and got a shoutout in the official statement, but all Disney units, including ABC Studios and Disney Studios, are part of the deal.) To get a sense of just how big an impact the film and television industry has on Georgia’s economy, consider this, from The Hollywood Reporter: During the 2015 fiscal year, film and TV productions spent over $1.7 billion straight into Georgia, generating $6 billion in economic impact, a record amount.

Hundreds of businesses have spoken out against the bill, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Home Depot. Earlier this month, the NFL issued a statement that described NFL policies as “emphasiz[ing] tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard” and went on to say that “whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.” The language still leaves loopholes big enough to chuck a quarterback through, but there is the suggestion that, should the bill pass, the NFL will not consider Falcons Stadium, set to open in 2017 and in contention to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020, as a site for its biggest game of the year. A trio of other Atlanta teams — the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks — have opposed the bill as well.

On the same day as the NFL’s proclamation, Apple released a more impassioned statement of its own: “Our stores and our company are open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We urge Gov. Deal to veto the discriminatory legislation headed to his desk and send a clear message that Georgia’s future is one of inclusion, diversity and continued prosperity.”

The mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reem, has warned that the bill will bring “terrible harm” to business in his city: “I can’t express the amount of damage that is being done to Atlanta and Georgia’s reputation as the business center and cultural center of the Southeast.” His office later released an official statement on the matter, saying the bill “is unprecedented in that it codifies employment discrimination and other types of discrimination as a ‘right’” and “will irreparably damage our economy.”

As critics have already noted, the bill could be used to discriminate against same-sex couples, not to mention some of the bill just doubles down unnecessarily on provisions already guaranteed by the First Amendment. Personal exceptions aside — like, if your mom makes you go to your brother’s gay wedding because he went to your wedding and it’s the right thing to do so just stop whining about it, your bridesmaid’s dress is fine, honestly, she’s seen worse — you are not, in fact, ever required to attend any kind of wedding. Not even a gay one! The Constitution respects your right to only attend weddings with open bars.

Full article with links: http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2016/03/23/3762870/disney-to-georgia-we-will-not-m-i-c-see-you-real-soon-if-you-pass-that-anti-lgbt-religious-liberty-bill/

Anne Barrett Doyle, BishopAccountability.Org: Making Children Safer: More Prosecutors Are Charging Catholic Officials for Enabling Abusers, Hamilton and Griffin on Rights

A victory for children occurred last week in Johnstown PA. The state’s attorney general pressed criminal charges against three former Catholic church officials — not for molesting children themselves, but for failing to stop a serial child predator whom they supervised.

The three former officials are charged with child endangerment and criminal conspiracy for enabling an already-accused cleric, Brother Stephen Baker, TOR, “to have contact with children and the public as part of his ministry.” [See the grand jury presentment.] The three consecutively led from 1986 to 2009 a small group of priests and religious brothers, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Immaculate Conception province, based in Hollidaysburg PA.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the charges by PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane “one of the broadest-ever drives to hold [the] Roman Catholic church accountable for clergy abuses of minors.”

The province knew of alleged child sexual abuse by Baker as early as 1988. A church-paid psychologist who evaluated Baker in 1991 urged that he not have one-on-one contact with children. Baker’s superior at the time, Minister Provincial Anthony J. (Giles) Schinelli, Jr., TOR, appears not to have taken the recommendation to heart. The following year, Rev. Schinelli assigned Baker to teach at Bishop McCourt High School in Johnstown. The results were catastrophic.

From April 1992 to January 2010, Baker allegedly abused more than 100 children in the area of Johnstown, including 88 students from Bishop McCourt, where he taught religion and acted as an unofficial sports trainer.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the cleric lacked “any professional qualifications, and under the guise of offering massages or other treatment, Baker handled boys’ bare genitals with his hands and digitally penetrated their anuses, among other offenses.”

Rev. Schinelli and his successors never reported Baker to law enforcement. Baker killed himself in January 2013, shortly after his crimes were first made public.

The filing of charges against Schinelli and his successors by Attorney General Kane was as unusual as it was bold.

In the 13 years since the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team published the secret files of Cardinal Law, hundreds of bishops and other senior Catholic officials have been named in court actions, news reports, and grand jury investigations as enablers of child sexual abuse.

Astonishingly, though, fewer than ten Catholic church officials and dioceses have been criminally charged for their roles in managing the cover-up.

But today, ever so slowly, this accountability gap is closing. In the last few years, we’ve seen more determined public prosecutors like Kane. They are the vanguard of a societal shift: an increasing willingness to insist that religious institutions obey the same child protection laws that apply to everyone else.

  • Last June, Ramsey County MN Attorney John Choi announced criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on six gross misdemeanor counts for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” done to three children who were sexually molested by Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in 2010.
  • Last April, Bishop Robert W. Finn resigned as leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph MO diocese, a belated measure of ‘bishop accountability’ by Pope Francis. Two-and-a-half years earlier, Finn had been convicted for violating the state’s mandated reporter statute. He is the first (and still the only) U.S. bishop to be convicted for not reporting a pedophile priest.
  • And last week, Philadelphia district attorney R. Seth Williams signaled his intent to fight the latest setback in the Commonwealth’s long and winding case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, Cardinal Bevilacqua’s Vicar for Clergy 1992-2004. In 2011, Williams indicted Lynn for child endangerment and criminal conspiracy, becoming the first prosecutor in the U.S. to charge a senior Catholic official for enabling abuse. Lynn was convicted of child endangerment in 2012, but the case is hardly resolved. Last week, Williams appealed to the state’s Supreme Court to reverse a December ruling by the Superior Court overturning Lynn’s conviction. It’s the second time the Superior Court has tossed out Lynn’s conviction, and the second time that Williams has appealed their decision.

The French Spotlight: “They thought that it was enough to relocate him …”

Early signs of a shift toward prosecuting institutional enablers of child abuse are happening outside the U.S. too, including an extraordinary example unfolding now in France. The daily newspaper Le Figaro iscalling it the French Spotlight.

Early this month, the public prosecutor of Lyon launched an investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the country’s most prominent Catholic cleric. In his capacity as archbishop of Lyon, Barbarin allegedly kept two known abusers in ministry, including a serial abuser named Fr. Bernard Preynat.

A longtime leader of a local Catholic Boy Scouts troop, Preynat is believed by a survivors’ group to have sexually assaulted 60 boys between 1986 and 1991. Barbarin didn’t remove Preynat from ministry until May 2015, although his crimes long had been an open secret. The priest had confessed to church superiors in 1991, and even sent letters to the families of children he had molested, admitting to his crimes.

Last month, the priest’s lawyer, Frédéric Doyez, bluntly blamed the cardinal and his predecessors. “If justice has not been rendered until now, it is not Father Preynat who prevented it. From the moment he was uncovered, he confessed. He is a man who has been living with the offenses that he committed for over 25 years. The odd thing is that he was granted a great deal of trust, as if nothing had happened. They thought that it was enough to relocate him, for things to fall into oblivion.”

A child protection initiative unlike any we’ve seen in the United States

However, the world’s pacesetter in terms of holding religious and other institutions accountable for child protection is Australia. Since January 2013, its Royal Commission has been waging an extraordinary inquiry into “institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse.” It is investigating most of the country’s major religious and child-related secular institutions, including the Catholic church.

The Royal Commission has muscle and resolve unlike any government-led child protection initiative we’ve seen in the United States. It has compelled production of secret documents and published thousands of pages on its website, along with transcripts of testimony. It has forced the nation’s most powerful institutional leaders to testify, and many of the hearings are live-streamed.

With still more than a year of hearings to go, the Commission already has had enormous impact. It has made 961 reports to police and other authorities, many of which have resulted in arrests and charges.

Earlier this month, in a four-day live-streamed public hearing, the Commission grilled one of Pope Francis’s top aides, Cardinal George Pell, former bishop of Melbourne and Sydney.

The Commission members questioned Pell from Sydney via video-link, while he sat in a hotel conference room outside of Vatican City. In the room with him were more than a dozen survivors of the priests he allegedly protected. After Pell had said he would not be returning to Australia to testify, citing bad health, the Commission granted the survivors permission to attend the hearing in Rome. A crowd-funding campaign paid for many of their flights.

Pell was questioned in careful detail about his knowledge of a priest sex ring at a Catholic school in the city of Ballarat, where he began his priesthood. He was also asked why as auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, he had ignored repeated complaints about a gun-packing abuser named Father Peter Searson, who terrorized children at a primary school in the poor migrant town of Doveton.

Whether the Royal Commission will recommend criminal charges against Pell remains to be seen.

Pope Francis’s tribunal for bishops is “going nowhere fast”

While Pope Francis has said repeatedly that bishops must be held accountable, it is becomingly increasingly clear that he has neither the political capacity nor the personal conviction to do so.

The Pope raised the hopes of survivors and Catholics everywhere last June when he announced a new Vatican tribunal to judge bishops who fail to protect children.

But according to a devastating article on March 9 by Nicole Winfield, the Associated Press’s respected Vatican reporter, the tribunal has not gotten off the ground. Nine months after it was announced, there has been no follow-up, Vatican sources told Winfield. Indeed, it seems unlikely ever to be implemented.

“It’s a victim of a premature roll-out, unresolved legal and administrative questions, and resistance both inside and outside of the Holy See,” Winfield reported.

This news, along with the recent revelations about Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Barbarin, and the former religious order officials in Johnstown, is bleak confirmation of what we already know. When it comes to child protection, the Catholic church cannot police itself.

That is why it’s crucial that this shift continue — that more civil authorities recognize their duty to hold Catholic officials accountable for reporting allegations and removing abusers. We need more actions like Attorney General Kane’s, and the U.S. needs a broad, powerful, neutral national inquiry similar to the Royal Commission.

Bishop David A. Zubik, Zubik v. Burwell Let’s hope the Supreme Court stands up for religious liberty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This Wednesday, when I ordinarily would be deep in preparation for the most sacred days of Holy Week, I instead will be at the U.S. Supreme Court. Much to my surprise, I am now the lead plaintiff in Zubik v. Burwell, an important case that many religious organizations have brought against the government.

What I share with all our co-plaintiffs, non-Catholic and Catholic alike, is a strong objection to the government pressuring religious institutions into doing something that violates one of our most basic rights as Americans — religious freedom.

The real issue at hand is that religious freedom remains guaranteed. As a matter of fact, the case before the Supreme Court is focused on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law that “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”

In addition to our co-plaintiffs, there are 43 amicus briefs from other religious organizations that have been submitted in support of our case, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, the American Islamic Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, among others.

While each of the co-plaintiffs and those filing amicus briefs have their own concerns relative to their faith tradition, our common concern is the preservation of our religious freedom.

My obligation as a bishop is to lead Catholic institutions according to Catholic doctrine.

The specific concern of the Catholic Church is the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that the church facilitate access to contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients in violation of our core Catholic faith — thereby setting the stage to put limitations on our religious freedom.

The mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exempts houses of worship from having to provide birth control and abortifacient coverage in employee health-insurance policies. But religiously affiliated service institutions, which have always been protected as essential to the practice of our faith, such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, are not exempt.

In its brief, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs expresses deep concern about the wedge that the Department of Health and Human Services is driving between houses of worship and their affiliated schools, hospitals and charitable institutions. In Orthodox Judaism, the brief argues, a house of religious study is more sacred than a synagogue, yet the synagogue is exempt while the house of study is not.

“It is not a permissible function of a secular court to determine the relative importance that a faith community may assign to its own institutions,” the brief said. When it tries to do so “it is guilty of impermissible entanglement in religious affairs.” We agree.

Another brief from Orthodox rabbis explains the danger of the government deciding which doctrines are so unimportant that a believer doesn’t have to follow them. In their tradition, they wrote, acts as seemingly trivial as flipping a light switch can desecrate the Sabbath. Who is to say that a government interest in energy conservation might not lead a federal agency to order Jews to break the Sabbath? Such concerns are at the heart of religious liberty in the United States and are at the heart of our case.

But there also is a lot at stake for the rights of every American. Religious freedom is not only about the right of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other believers to follow the traditions of their faith. Religious freedom and freedom of conscience is about the rights of agnostics and atheists, too! We are all in this together.

This right to believe and act upon our religious beliefs has made the United States a great nation. The American right to freedom of religion anticipated the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights by 161 years. That declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Zubik v. Burwell is a case primarily about religious freedom, about the right of any religious body to follow its own practices. It is about the most basic freedom of everyone in our society to think, believe, speak, write and act according to the most deeply held convictions of their conscience.

By not complying with this mandate, Catholic Charities would face ruinous fines which would greatly harm disadvantaged people. Catholic agencies are estimated to provide roughly one- quarter of all nongovernmental social services, and they serve everyone in need. In 2015, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh alone provided $9.5 million in services, ranging from free medical and dental care to support for homeless women and men, among them veterans, through 416,733 acts of service to more than 21,000 people.

mitment to religious freedom gives us that righWe ask only that we not be forced to participate in a government regulatory plan in a way that violates our core religious beliefs — especially when less oppressive options are available for the government to pursue its goals. This country’s long comt.

David A. Zubik is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.


Full article with links: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2016/03/20/Zubik-v-Burwell-Let-s-hope-the-Supreme-Court-stands-up-for-religious-liberty/stories/201603200057