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UK Supreme Court rules in favor of banning prayer, protests at abortion clinics

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A Northern Ireland law to ban pro-life advocacy near abortion providers, including advocacy of abortion alternatives, is “justifiable” and compatible with the rights of people who want to express their opposition to abortion, the U.K. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday.

The law prohibits “direct” and “indirect” pro-life “influence,” broadly defined, within 100 meters (about 328 feet) of an abortion provider. The designated areas have been called “censorship zones” by critics of the law, who include the legal group ADF UK.

“We are of course disappointed to see today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, which fails to protect the basic freedoms to pray or to offer help to women who may want to know about practical support available to avoid abortion,” Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said Dec. 7.

“Peaceful presence, mere conversation, quiet or silent prayer — these activities should never be criminalized in a democratic society like the U.K.,” he said.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life voiced stronger criticism, calling the decision “a travesty of justice.”

“The judges in the Supreme Court ruled this is appropriate and justifiable, even though it breaches rights of freedom of speech and assembly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights,” the group said Wednesday.

“Our work to protect mothers and babies from abortion has always been peaceful and legal. We will use innovative and creative new methods to continue offering help and support to women outside abortion centers,” the group said.

The ruling concerned a query regarding the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Northern Ireland Bill, which passed in March. Prohibited activities near abortion providers include quiet or silent prayer as well as the distribution of leaflets that offer women alternatives to abortion.

Northern Ireland’s attorney general, Dame Brenda King, had referred the bill to the U.K. Supreme Court out of concern that it was incompatible with fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Abortion critics may protest anywhere outside of the designated zones, the court noted. Conviction under the law will not “interfere disproportionately with a protestor’s rights.” The context is “highly sensitive” and there is “particular importance” to protecting “the private lives and autonomy of women,” the court’s decision summary said.

“(W)omen who wish to access lawful abortion services have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so without being confronted by protest activity designed to challenge and diminish their autonomy and undermine their resolve,” the court said. Women and abortion provider staff are “a captive audience who are compelled to witness anti–abortion activity that is unwelcome and intrusive.”

The court’s explanation for the ruling also cited the bill’s stated aim of implementing obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Igunnubole objected that the law’s criminalization of “influencing” is “vague” and “uncertain” and “reduces the threshold of criminality to an impermissibly low level.”

“Northern Ireland’s broadly drafted law hands arbitrary power to police officers, with the inevitable consequence being the unjust arrest and prosecution of those expressing pro-life views, even though such views are protected under domestic and international human rights law,” he added.

Another critic of the law is Alina Dulgheriu. She changed her mind about having an abortion because pro-life advocates at the doors of an abortion clinic offered to help her. She now speaks on behalf of the pro-life group Be Here for Me.

“What kind of society withholds help from vulnerable women?” Dulgheriu asked. “I didn’t want an abortion but I was abandoned by my partner, my friends, and society. My financial situation at the time would have made raising a child very challenging.”

“Thanks to the help I was offered by a group outside of a clinic before my appointment, my daughter is here today,” she said. “My experience is typical of hundreds of others. Refusing charitable volunteers from offering much-needed services and resources for women in my situation is wrong. Let them help.”

For its part, Precious Life said it “will not be deterred by this court ruling.”

“Our legal team is now working on how this ruling can be appealed and challenged in the European Court of Human Rights,” the group said. “Meanwhile, we will redouble our efforts in our public awareness campaigns to expose the horrific reality of what abortion does to an innocent baby in the womb.”

“In a humane society, the safest place for a baby should be their mother’s womb. Precious Life will work to create ‘safe zones’ for all unborn babies and their mothers throughout Northern Ireland.”

Lois McLatchie, communications officer for ADF UK, cited a 2018 Home Office review of the work of pro-life advocates outside abortion clinics. The most common pro-life efforts include quiet or silent prayer or offering leaflets about alternatives to abortion and charitable support for women. The review found that instances of harassment outside abortion clinics are “rare” and police already have powers to stop it.

“Censorship zones go much further. They introduce a disproportionate and unjustified blanket ban on all pro-life activity, including offering meaningful charitable help and support to women where they need it most,” McLatchie said. “Authorities do not hold a right to silence the public expression of a viewpoint with which they simply disagree.”

In addition to the Northern Ireland law, several U.K. town councils have passed similar laws.

Observers expect the decision of the Supreme Court will likely influence the direction of similar legislation in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Clause 9 of the bill proposes to institute “buffer zones” around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression. The clause faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on Nov. 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed their unease with the introduction of buffer zones.

“Westminster’s proposal to ban such activities is much further reaching than Northern Ireland’s,” Igunnubole commented. He said it would ban “informing,” “advising,” “persuading,” or even “occupying space” or “expressing opinion” with a penalty of up to two years in prison.

“This is clearly grossly disproportionate. Nobody should be censored for simply holding pro-life beliefs,” he said.

House expected to pass same-sex marriage bill Thursday

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.

C-SPAN Capitol Hill Producer Craig Caplan tweeted Wednesday that the House plans to vote on the final version of the RFMA Thursday morning, followed by a bill enrollment ceremony around 11:30 a.m. in the U.S. Capitol.

The final vote comes after the U.S. Senate, with the support of 12 Republicans, voted to pass the RFMA on Nov. 29. If it passes now, Biden, a Catholic, has pledged to sign it into law

While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states. 

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”

Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

After the vote was initially delayed, Reuters reported that the legislation was expected to pass in the House later this week with bipartisan support.

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

U.S. bishops back bill to protect pregnant workers as some warn it’s paid abortion leave

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops are confirming their support for the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) amid concerns that the proposed legislation could require employees to pay for abortion expenses.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill that promises protections for pregnant employees. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May. 

The legislation states that it aims to “eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”

The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations” related to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” — unless the employer can demonstrate that it would impose an undue hardship.

In a comment to CNA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) confirmed its support. 

“As part of the USCCB’s longstanding advocacy in these areas [for women, children, and families in need], we specifically endorsed the version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act reported out of the Senate HELP Committee (Aug. 3, 2021), which added key conscience protections for employers,” James Rogers, the chief communications officer for the USCCB, told CNA in a statement. 

The USCCB has repeatedly expressed support for the PWFA and encouraged members of Congress to support it as well. This legislation, the bishops say, will empower women rather than enable the destruction of the unborn in abortion.

“We believe that version of the bill, read in light of existing religious liberty protections, helps advance the USCCB’s goal of ensuring that no woman ever feels forced to choose between her future and the life of her child while protecting the conscience rights and religious freedoms of employers,” Rogers added.

He concluded: “We are eager to find a way forward to address any impediments to the bill’s passage.”

Rogers commented on this in light of the bishops’ current work related to the pro-life issue.

“In standing with women, children, and families in need, we should have policies to ensure that pregnant, working women are afforded appropriate accommodations to ensure their own health and the health of their pre-born children,” he told CNA. “The bishops have also articulated a comprehensive vision for the Church and public policy to support families. This includes the Walking with Moms in Need initiative as well as the bishops’ Oct. 26 letter on family supporting public policies in the wake of the Dobbs decision” that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Abortion concerns

Some groups, such as CatholicVote, have warned that the bill — as it stands — could be used to force employers to pay for abortion-related expenses. They add that the bill does not provide adequate protections for religious organizations. 

The Catholic advocacy organization cautioned in November that, in the context of the current legal system and culture at large, “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” includes both contraception and abortion.

The group quoted Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina: “If an employee working for a religious organization requests time off to have an abortion procedure, H.R. 1065 could require the organization to comply with this request as a reasonable accommodation of known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed similar concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA: “The bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

Responding to concerns, a Republican Senate aide told CNA in a statement that “the legislation as introduced does not supersede current law protections for religious employers, which is why this legislation is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Unlike the House version, the current version of the PWFA being considered in the Senate explicitly states in its text that the legislation would not require employer-sponsored health plans to pay for certain things — such as abortion.

Under section 7, it specifies that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed … by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment or to affect any right or remedy available under any other federal, state, or local law with respect to any such payment or coverage requirement.”

Pregnancy protections

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also supports the PWFA, saying that “no one should be forced to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” While Congress has outlawed pregnancy discrimination, the ACLU warns that employers routinely deny pregnant workers temporary job modifications, from more frequent breaks and schedule changes to reassignment of hazardous tasks.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. 

The act’s text mirrors the PWFA: “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it reads. 

It also clarifies: “This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion,” except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or where there are medical complications arising from an abortion.

The U.S. bishops stress the difference between the 1978 act and the PWFA in a backgrounder.

“While the current set of laws requires an employer to have already made an accommodation for a different worker and for the pregnant worker to be aware of this instance before a reasonable modification is required, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act begins by asking if an accommodation is possible,” the bishops say. “This approach is modeled after the well-established Americans with Disabilities Act framework, with which employers are already familiar.”

Christian pro-family group denied access to Virginia restaurant because of values

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Boston, Mass., Dec 7, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A Christian pro-family organization in Virginia was told by a local restaurant that the organization would not be allowed to host a gathering there because of its values.

The Family Foundation — which has a mission of promoting biblical, family values in the state of Virginia — had a Nov. 30 reservation at the Metzger Bar and Butchery in Richmond in order to update some of their supporters on their work.

An owner of the restaurant contacted the organization an hour and a half before the event was to take place to inform them that their reservation was cancelled.

The owners of the restaurant put out a statement on social media Dec. 1 explaining their reasoning.

“Metzger Bar and Butchery has always prided itself on being an inclusive environment for people to dine in,” the statement says.

“In eight years of service we have very rarely refused service to anyone who wished to dine with us. Recently we refused service to a group that had booked an event with us after the owners of Metzger found out it was a group of donors to a political organization that seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic human rights in Virginia,” it says.

Victoria Cobb, vice president of The Family Foundation, condemned the restaurant’s actions, saying that discrimination toward someone because of their faith is against the law.

“There are those that do believe they violated the law, and certainly we think discriminating against people because of their faith is unlawful,” Cobb told CNA in an interview Wednesday.

“I don’t think anyone wants to think that we live in a country where there’s going to be restaurants that have a political litmus test or a religious litmus test at their door before somebody can walk in and have dinner,” she added.

Michigan church sues state over right to hire staff committed to Catholic teachings

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St. Louis, Mo., Dec 7, 2022 / 12:55 pm (CNA).

A Catholic parish in central Michigan is suing the state attorney general over the state Supreme Court’s recent redefinition of “sex” discrimination as encompassing sexual orientation and gender identity, arguing that the redefinition, among other things, threatens the parish’s ability to hire people who model the Church’s teachings. 

St. Joseph, the only parish in the town of St. Johns, about 30 minutes north of Lansing, also operates an elementary school. In a legal filing dated Dec. 5, lawyers for the parish argued that as a Catholic institution, St. Joseph hires employees and teachers who are expected to “uphold Catholic teachings in word and deed.” Parents and students, too, enter into an agreement with the school “to live their lives in a way that supports, rather than opposes, the mission of our school and our faith beliefs.”

A July ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court redefined “sex” in a 1976 Michigan anti-discrimination law, the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, to include distinctions made based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Attorneys for the nonprofit law firm Becket argue that the redefinition of sex discrimination in Michigan threatens St. Joseph’s ability to advertise for and hire employees who model the teachings of the Catholic Church because the law does not include a religious exemption. 

“Michigan’s new understanding of ‘sex’ discrimination deems it unlawful for St. Joseph’s to follow the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church, including its teaching that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are limited to marriage, and that human beings are created as either male or female,” the legal filing contends.

“St. Joseph’s religious decisions regarding how to advance its mission and ministry are protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan cannot force the Catholic Church to compromise its religious character simply as a function of its doors being open to all.”

In addition to Attorney General Dana Nessel, the suit names the state Department of Civil Rights. The parish is seeking an injunction barring the state from enforcing the anti-discrimination law in a way that violates the parish’s religious autonomy rights.

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing expressed his support for the parish in a Dec. 6 statement. 

“For almost a century St. Joseph School has quietly and faithfully taught successive generations of children in the town of St. Johns to become good, saintly, and virtuous citizens who are formed by the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church on all matters of faith and morals,” Boyea wrote. 

“I therefore fully support the parish community of St. Joseph in seeking this important legal ruling to ensure that they — and all Catholic schools and institutions in Michigan — remain protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to continue their God-given mission into the next century and beyond.”

The legal filing notes that beyond its hiring practices, St. Joseph could be held liable for “sex” discrimination whenever biologically male students desire to use the female locker room or play on a female sports team; or if a biological male attendee at Mass wants to use the female restroom; or in the case of a person wishing to hold a same-sex wedding at the church. 

Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel for Becket, told the Lansing State Journal that St. Joseph is not interested in repealing the updated Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

“They’re not asking to invalidate the entire law,” she said. “They’re asking to be able to continue with their own religious beliefs and practices.”

Other lawsuits related to a redefinition of sex discrimination are making their way through U.S. courts, including the Supreme Court. On Monday, the court heard oral arguments in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, a suit brought by a Colorado graphic artist and website designer who refuses to provide creative services that she says conflict with her Christian faith, including ones that celebrate same-sex weddings. Her case challenges Colorado officials, including the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. 

That case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.

Baltimore seals documents related to clerical sexual abuse report

A view of Baltimore's Basilica nestled amid the city's famed row houses / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 6, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A judge in Baltimore this week ordered all proceedings, filings, and communications related to the release of a major attorney general’s report on clerical sexual abuse to be made confidential. 

Judge Anthony Vittoria of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a confidentiality ruling Dec. 2 in response to a request from an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse, the Baltimore Sun reported.

At issue is a 456-page report compiled by the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, consisting of information given by the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with information gathered from interviews that claims to identify more than 600 victims of clerical abuse in the archdiocese dating back eight decades. It is currently unclear whether the report will lead to any new criminal charges.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is paying the legal fees for the anonymous group of individuals, said it “does not and will not oppose the report’s release.”

“We stated this fact last week, when we also pledged to support the rights of some people who are mentioned in the report but not accused of abuse — and were not given the ability to respond to the attorney general during the investigation,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a Dec. 2 statement.

“Now they deserve to be heard by the court, and we will pay their legal fees to ensure they are heard. I find it necessary to clarify this fact, which we openly stated after Attorney General Frosh publicly released his motion requesting permission from the court to release his office’s report. This does not mean the archdiocese will in any way seek to keep the report from being made public, as some have suggested.”

In a 35-page legal motion dated Nov. 17, Frosh had asked permission from a judge to release the documents provided by the archdiocese, which were given in response to a January 2019 subpoena from a grand jury. Vittoria’s ruling retroactively seals all previous filings in the matter, including that motion to disclose the report, the Sun reported. 

Going forward, the legal processes of releasing the full report will not be disclosed to the public because of the confidentiality order. Should the full report be released, it will likely be redacted. 

Lori apologized to victims of abuse in a November letter and reiterated the archdiocese’s current zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse, and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” Lori said in a Nov. 17 statement.

“The information contained in the motion will no doubt be a source of renewed pain for many, most especially those harmed by representatives of the Church, for the lay faithful of our archdiocese, as well as for many good priests, deacons, and religious,” Lori said.

“Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, I once again offer my sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them, who failed to respond to them with care and compassion and who failed to hold abusers accountable for their sinful and criminal behavior,” Lori added.

Frosh says the report names 115 priests who were prosecuted for sexual abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests — 30 of whom are deceased, and the identities of the rest redacted — accused of sexual abuse “but not identified publicly by the archdiocese,” for a total of 158 names.

The archdiocese’s online list of credibly accused clergy includes 152 names, including many priests from other dioceses or religious orders and 17 religious brothers who served in or had a connection to the archdiocese, the Catholic Review reported. The list was last updated in June.

Addressing the apparent discrepancy between the number of priests named in the attorney general’s report and the number of credibly accused priests listed by the archdiocese, Lori said that the archdiocesan list does not include the names of priests or brothers who died before a single accusation of child abuse was received, unless the allegation could be corroborated by a third party or unless a second allegation was made against the same deceased cleric.

Charges dropped against ‘Red Rose Rescue’ priest who counsels women against abortion

Father Fidelis Moscinski (far left, in gray robe), a well-known pro-life activist and priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) is seen during a tense standoff between pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators in Lower Manhattan on July 2, 2022. / Jeffrey Bruno/CNA

Boston, Mass., Dec 6, 2022 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

A New Jersey prosecutor has dropped charges against Father Fidelis Moscinski, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, and three other pro-life advocates for trespassing at a Planned Parenthood center, according to the law firm defending the group.

The group was arrested on Dec. 22, 2018, while participating in the pro-life ministry Red Rose Rescue at the abortion facility in Trenton.

Moscinski is at the same time facing federal charges under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act — a 1994 law that prohibits the blocking of access to abortion clinics ​​— for an attempt to halt operations and save lives at a New York abortion clinic in July.

Moscinski has served jail time for his Red Rose Rescue efforts before. Typically, a rescue involves a pro-life advocate entering the waiting room of an abortion facility to offer a red rose along with pro-life literature. 

The Thomas More Society, a religious freedom law firm, represented Moscinski and the three other pro-life advocates, Will Goodman, Patrice Woodward, and Matthew Connolly, in Trenton Municipal Court.

Christopher Ferrara, the group’s lawyer, argued in the case that the women in the abortion clinic “had never been given information on the grave psychological consequences of abortion,” the law firm said in a Dec. 5 statement.

The law firm said that studies show having an abortion increases the risk of suicide, drug abuse, exacerbation of preexisting mental illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ferrara said in the law firm’s statement that the defense’s argument was “unusual in that it did not focus on defense of life but rather on the lack of informed consent to abortion, for which women have the right to sue for damages in New Jersey.”

The state, being the plaintiff in the case, would have had to disprove Ferrara’s argument “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the law firm.

The charges were subsequently dismissed, per the prosecutor’s request, according to the law firm’s press release.

“The dismissal of all charges against these courageous pro-life advocates brings to an end the long saga of this case,” Ferrara said in the law firm’s statement.

“One can only admire the willingness of these four to make an offering of their own bodies, as prisoners, to save the unborn. Repeatedly they have immolated themselves for the sake of innocent life, even at the cost of arrest and imprisonment in the tradition of civil disobedience that brought about the success of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. This time, however, they were spared that penalty.”

Moscinski lauded Ferrara and the Thomas More Society in the statement saying that the two “helped us continue our pro-life witness in the Trenton court.” 

“Before all charges were dismissed, the judge allowed us to assert the defense of necessity at the upcoming trial. Now that will not be necessary,” the priest said.

The “defense of necessity” is a legal term applying to a crime committed during an emergency to prevent a greater harm from happening. 

“Ultimately, the prosecutor asked for our charges of trespass to be dismissed. We are grateful for the remarkably effective representation of Christopher Ferrara and the support of the Thomas More Society. May we see many more such victories for the cause of life!” Moscinski said.

U.S. Catholic population shows growth, trends southward

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Denver, Colo., Dec 6, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic population in the United States has grown by about 2 million people in 10 years. With nearly 62 million people, it continues to constitute the largest religious body in 36 U.S. states, according to the latest religion-focused survey of America’s religious congregations.

Over the last decade, many Catholics, the survey found, have moved to the South.

“Perhaps the most notable changes were by region,” Clifford Grammich, a political scientist involved in the U.S. Religion Census, told CNA Dec. 5.

“Fifty years ago, 71% of U.S. Catholics were in the Northeast and Midwest; in 2020, 45% were. And the South now has more Catholics than any other region. I was surprised to see there are now more Catholics than Southern Baptists in Missouri and Virginia.”

The U.S. Religion Census is conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies every 10 years. Its latest report was released last month.

Its 2020 survey reported that there were 61.9 million Catholics in the U.S., about 18.7% of the population. The survey identified 372 religious bodies with more than 356,000 congregations and 161.4 million adherents in the United States. With a population of 331.4 million Americans, that would mean 48.7% of the country is a member of a religious congregation. While other surveys group Americans by how they self-identify, researchers for the religion census focused on counting people who have some connection with a religious congregation.

While Protestants collectively outnumber Catholics in the U.S, the researchers of the U.S. Religion Census viewed various Protestant bodies as their own denominational groups, not collectively. According to this categorization, Catholics are the single-largest religious group in the U.S. There are about three times as many Catholics as nondenominational Christians or Southern Baptists, the next two largest groups.

Despite being the largest religious group, Catholics have the fourth-most congregations of all religious bodies. The survey identified 19,405 Catholic congregations. The number of Catholic congregations is the lowest the religion census has found in more than 50 years.

According to Grammich, the decline in congregation numbers reflects consolidation in the Church. Grammich, who authored a report focused on the 2020 survey’s Catholic findings, is an associate of the Glenmary Research Center. The center provides research for the Glenmary Home Missioners, a Catholic society of priests and religious brothers who focus on serving the people of Appalachia and the South.

Grammich told CNA he was not surprised to find that the Catholic population remains at around 60 million, about the same since 2000.

The 2010 edition of the religion census found 58.9 million Catholics affiliated with 20,589 congregations. The population figure was a decrease of 5% from the 2000 census results, which reported 62 million Catholic adherents, though this change in part reflected differences in methodology.

For the purposes of the 2020 census, a Catholic “congregation” means a parish, mission, or other site with regularly scheduled public Mass at least six months of the year. A Catholic “adherent” is an individual “associated with a Catholic church in some way.”

Researchers focused on the proportion of the population who self-described as Catholic and said they attended religious services “more frequently than ‘never.’” Other surveys indicate millions of people self-identify as Catholics but also say they never attend religious services.

Researchers drew on sources such as diocesan data, which includes the figures in the Official Catholic Directory. They also drew on vital statistics, sacramental statistics, and survey statistics from sources such as the Pew Forum. The quality and completeness of diocesan data can vary greatly, and data collection was made more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This survey reports the lowest number of Catholics compared with other recent surveys. By comparison, the 2018 National Opinion Research Center General Social Survey reported 76.6 million Catholics, about 23% of the U.S. population, while the Official Catholic Directory says there are about 67.6 million Catholics in the U.S.

The Catholic Church has been the single-largest religious body in the U.S. for more than a century. The average number of adherents per congregation is 3,000 for Catholics, unusually high compared with other groups. No other group had as many as 2,000 adherents per congregation, and only five others had as many as 1,000.

Large Catholic congregations are especially common in the West, where there are 4,700 Catholics per congregation.

Catholics are overrepresented in urban locations and underrepresented in rural areas. They also are the largest religious body in 36 U.S. states. Southern Baptists comprise the largest religious body in nine states in the U.S. South. Nondenominational Christians predominate in Alaska, Washington state, and West Virginia, while adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, predominate in Idaho and Utah.

Unlike in 2010, Catholics no longer comprise the largest body of religious adherents in Alaska and Washington state. However, they have become the largest religious body in two other states, Missouri and Virginia.

At the county level, Catholics are most prevalent mainly in New Mexico and in Texas along the Rio Grande. There is at least one Catholic congregation in 2,961 U.S. counties, a feat second only to the United Methodists.

The religion census reported on other Christian denominations and religious groups. It found almost 21.1 million nondenominational Christians in more than 44,000 congregations, 17.6 million Southern Baptist adherents in more than 51,000 congregations, and 8 million United Methodists in 30,000 congregations.

United Methodist numbers could decline significantly due to changing circumstances. Many American United Methodists have rejected communion with global Methodism and deny historic Christian teaching on matters such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and sexual ethics. Last weekend, hundreds of congregations in Texas alone voted to disaffiliate with United Methodism. Many are expected to join the Global Methodist Church, a new denomination.

As for other religious bodies, the religion census reported 6.7 million Latter-day Saint adherents in 14,000 congregations and an estimated 4.4 million Muslims in 2,700 congregations.

The top 10 largest religious bodies include several million other Americans who are adherents, respectively, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the predominantly African American National Missionary Baptist Convention.

Other Christian and non-Christian minorities did not fall within the top 10 largest religious bodies. Among other non-Christian groups, the census counted one Baha’i group, three Buddhist groups, three Hindu groups, and four Jewish groups.

Republicans seek to end military’s COVID vaccine mandate by holding up defense bill

null / U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa|Flickr|CC BY 2.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Republicans in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have vowed to hold up the vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to force an end to the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

“We will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military,” McCarthy said in an interview on Sunday. 

All military personnel are currently required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine according to an August 2021 policy set forth by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Though the policy does include an avenue for service members to request medical and religious accommodations, some Republicans in the House and Senate blame the military’s low recruitment on the COVID vaccine mandate.

Now, a number of Republicans are threatening to hold up the NDAA’s passage until Congress requires the DoD to reverse its COVID vaccine policy. The NDAA is a must-pass bill due for a vote this week. 

“Our recruiting goals are way short. The conflict in the world is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the military, not less,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of North Carolina stated on Nov. 30. 

In a Wednesday news conference, seven Senate Republicans, including Graham, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, promised to fight the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. 

“(We) will not vote to get on the NDAA — the defense authorization bill — unless we have a vote on ending this military vaccine mandate,” Paul stated during the conference. 

On the House side, McCarthy hopes to make ending the military’s vaccine requirement “the first victory of having a Republican majority.” 

“I’ve been very clear with the president … And we’ve got something that Republicans have been working very hard, and a number of Democrats, too, trying to find success … And now we’re going to have success,” McCarthy said Sunday. 

When asked to clarify if he meant that the military vaccine requirement would be lifted, McCarthy replied: “Yes, it will. Otherwise, the bill will not move.”

Some key Democrats have signaled they are open to the idea of lifting the military’s COVID vaccine mandate. 

Democratic Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith stated on Saturday: “I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it … But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”

Speaking for President Joe Biden, Security Council spokesman John Kirby signaled the White House’s opposition to lifting the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. Kirby said Monday that “Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of the vaccine mandate and the president actually concurs with the secretary of defense.”

Supreme Court hears free speech case of artist who objects to same-sex weddings

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Monday appeared to side with a Colorado graphic artist and website designer who refuses to provide creative services that she says conflict with her Christian faith, including ones that celebrate same-sex weddings.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lorie Smith’s case303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — for nearly two and a half hours. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Public-accomodation laws apply to businesses that sell or provide services to the general public. Among other things, Colorado law considers it discriminatory and unlawful for a person “directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”  

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith says that her case concerns the freedom of speech for all artists. The 38-year-old from the Denver metro area is challenging her state’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. 

At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people. 

“What I get is that you’re making a tiny sliver of an argument,” Justice Samuel A. Alito told Eric R. Olson, Colorado’s solicitor general, after Olson agreed that a designer could place anything he or she wants on a standardized website even if it includes a denunciation of same-sex marriage.

Smith previously stressed to CNA that she serves everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT, even though she cannot support every message.

“It’s not who, but it is a what,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said, bringing up a hypothetical where a freelance writer might be asked to write a press release with religious views he or she disagrees with. He also asked about the difference between selling a product that has already been created — and one that will be custom-made. 

Her case challenges Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. 

While weighing the case, justices on both sides explored the lines or boundaries of the arguments on both sides — asking one question after another and, at times, speaking over one another. They ran well over the 70 minutes allotted for arguments.

Nearly every justice raised hypothetical situations.

Liberal justices, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, challenged the arguments made by Kristen Waggoner, general counsel and head of ADF, on behalf of Smith. Sotomayor raised the question of discrimination against interracial couples or those with disabilities, asking “where’s the line?” 

A wedding website, Sotomayor added, expressed a couple’s message, rather than the designer’s message.

“I go to a wedding website,” Sotomayor proposed to Waggoner. “It’s something that I send, meaning you, your client, I send it to my family and friends or Lilly and Luke send it to their family and friends. You don’t send it. They go to this website. You’re not inviting them to the wedding. Lilly and Mary are. So how does it become your message?”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised the hypothetical of a photography business in the mall that wants to shoot particular Santa scenes with only white children to create an “authentic” theme for the “It’s a Wonderful Life” film.

Justice Elena Kagan raised the hypothetical of selling the same exact website to a heterosexual couple and a same-sex couple — and a gay couple walking in and asking for a “God blesses this union” placed on their website.

Arguing for Colorado, Olson warned against siding with 303 Creative.

“The free-speech clause exemption the company [303 Creative] seeks here is sweeping because it would apply not just to sincerely-held religious beliefs, like those of the company and its owner, but also to all sorts of racist, sexist, and bigoted views,” he said.

In agreement, Brian H. Fletcher, the deputy solicitor general for the Department of Justice, said of Waggoner’s argument: “It means that any provider of expressive services is entitled to put up a sign saying we do not serve people with particular characteristics whenever they believe that serving those people would change their message.”

In her rebuttal, Waggoner emphasized the root of her argument.

“One need not agree with a particular belief to affirm that law-abiding people have a right to speak their conscience, including on a controversial subject like marriage,” she concluded. “And that noble principle is rooted in love of neighbor, extending the same rights to others that we want for ourselves.”

She added: “This right to be free from government coercion of speech is also foundational to our self-government and to the free and fearless pursuit of truth.”

Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.