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Religious freedom conflicts ahead after Michigan Supreme Court redefines sex

Same-sex wedding cake. / Sara Valenti/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Aug 2, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A Michigan Supreme Court decision that state civil rights law bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation may conflict with religious liberty, the Catholic Church in the state has said.

The decision would “usurp the legislature’s role in the democratic process, present constitutional problems for people of faith, and place in jeopardy religious persons and entities who wish to serve others in the public square,” the Michigan Catholic Conference said July 29.

The Catholic conference warned that the decision “expressly does not address” whether enforcing the redefined Michigan civil rights law would violate federal and state constitutional religious freedom protections. It sided with a dissenting justice who said there are “strong arguments” that the majority interpretation “poses constitutional problems relating to religious liberty.”

The 5-2 decision in the case Rouch World v. Department of Civil Rights redefines sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ruling concerned two legal cases. In the first, the owners of an event center had denied a request from a female same-sex couple to host their wedding on the grounds that doing so would violate their religious beliefs. In the second, the owner of a body hair removal service had declined on the grounds of religious belief to perform hair removal services on a man who identifies as a transgender woman as part of his purported gender transition. 

The plaintiffs had sought a declaration that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected under state civil rights law and that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights was wrong to define them as such in a 2018 interpretative statement. 

The 1977 Michigan legislation in question, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, height, weight, and familial or marital status.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex,” the supreme court’s summary said, explaining that denying equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or services constitutes illegal sex discrimination.

“Because one’s sex is necessary to the identification of sexual orientation, discrimination on that basis is discrimination on the basis of sex,” the supreme court said, according to the summary.

The Michigan court’s decision drew upon the rationale of the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, which included sexual orientation and gender identity under the definition of “sex” in federal employment law. 

That decision already requires employers with 15 or more employees to treat sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class under Title VII of federal civil rights law. The decision prompted deep concern from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who had argued that such interpretations “redefine a fundamental element of humanity” and “promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact.”

Drawing on the Bostock decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Rouch World Event Center in Sturgis had illegally rejected the request of Natalie Johnson to host her same-sex wedding. Had Johnson been a man, the supreme court said, the event center would not have denied services. 

The Michigan Catholic Conference had filed a December 2021 amicus brief in support of the event center owners and their “right to act in the public square according to their religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

The brief argued that the state legislature is the body constitutionally charged with creating and amending state laws. This lawmaking process “permits people of diverse beliefs to cooperate in crafting laws that simultaneously protect both vulnerable persons and the conscience rights of Michigan residents.”

In cases of alleged discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the conference said, the majority opinion “expressly does not address” whether enforcement under the state civil rights law would violate religious liberty constitutional protections at the federal and state level.

“Michigan Catholic Conference promotes public policies that protect conscience rights and the freedom for religious entities and individual persons to serve others, particularly those in need and those living on the economic margins,” the conference said Friday. “We profess that marriage is the union of one man and one woman united through life and open to the birth of children, even as society and culture has recently moved in a historically different direction. Christians are not called to conform to the culture, but to speak to it with truth and love.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that all people deserve to be treated with respect and compassion,” the conference added. “We urge citizens throughout their daily lives to approach and speak to one another in ways that acknowledge their inherent dignity, as every human person has been created in God’s image and likeness.”

“We will continue to advocate for religious liberty rights and seek to uphold constitutional principles that provide legal protections for those who serve others in the public square — particularly the poor and vulnerable — according to their religious mission,” the Michigan Catholic Conference said.

The Catholic conference’s amicus brief argued that civil rights department officials had requested “a sweeping ruling that would necessarily affect religious beliefs and entities” but these officials refused to address questions of religious liberty, saying they may be weighed in a future case.

The brief invoked a hypothetical lay Catholic institution’s job interviews with two women with same-sex attractions, one of whom states she is in a romantic same-sex relationship but the other says she does not act on her feelings, following Catholic teaching. 

“Consistent with Catholic teaching, the organization might hire the first, but not the second, on the grounds that, by her actions, the second woman has demonstrated an opposition to Church teaching,” the brief said.

However, state officials would rule that this is an impermissible distinction because “the test is whether a man and a woman would be treated differently for being in a romantic relationship with a woman.”

There is no guarantee that state officials will care about a Catholic institution’s distinctions. Though statuary compromises can avoid these “dilemmas,” the department skipped this process by offering its own interpretation. This precludes the “type of careful compromise” that religious liberty precedents have reached.

Some religious challenges to the strict application of anti-discrimination policy have been successful. In March the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services paid at least $800,000 in legal fees to settle two Catholic child placement agencies. The agencies had made successful First Amendment legal challenges to an agreement that barred state funds for adoption agencies that declined to place children with same-sex couples.

Value Them Both: 8 things to know about Kansas’ abortion vote 

null / Emituu / Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 2, 2022 / 14:32 pm (CNA).

Voters in Kansas are voting on a pro-life amendment Tuesday. The state is the first to place abortion on the ballot after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. That decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, leaves abortion legislation up to the states.

Here is what to know.

Why does this matter?

How Kansans vote on the amendment, also known as the Value Them Both Amendment, could indicate how other states will vote on abortion post-Roe. 

“Kansas is the first ballot test in America after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, raising the stakes for the pro-life movement here and nationally,” Danielle Underwood, the director of communications for Kansans for Life, told CNA. 

The vote could also determine whether Kansas serves as an abortion hub for women in neighboring states that restrict abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortions could increase by more than 1,000% in Kansas, the Kansas City Star reported.

What’s the amendment about?

The amendment would reverse the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling that the state’s constitution protects a woman’s “right” to abortion. Currently, state lawmakers are generally prohibited from passing any type of abortion restriction. The amendment, if approved by voters, would enable state lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate or restrict abortion.

The pro-life amendment does not mean a total ban on abortion.

“The Value Them Both Amendment is not a ban on abortion but protects women and babies from an unregulated and predatory abortion industry by returning the right to the people to keep laws that limit abortion,” Underwood explained. “Without commonsense laws in place, Kansas will become home to a growing number of abortion factories with no specific licensure, sanitation standards, or inspections.” 

The amendment would also ensure a ban on state taxpayer-funded abortion, according to the Value Them Both Coalition (VTB), which is led by Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference, and Kansas Family Voice.

What does the amendment say?

The amendment’s text reads: “To the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”

“Because Kansans value both women and children,” the amendment says, “the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.”

When is the vote?

Kansas voters can either say “yes” or “no” to the amendment during the primary election on Aug. 2. Early voting began July 13.

The amendment appears on the ballot after the Kansas Senate passed a measure in January to amend the state’s constitution.

What do Catholic leaders in Kansas say about it?

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., told CNA that “I and the Catholic Church strongly support the Value Them Both Amendment.”  

“I encourage all Catholics and all people of good will to vote yes,” he said. “The amendment simply returns to the people of Kansas the right and ability, through their elected representatives, to determine public policy regarding abortion. Opponents of the Amendment are afraid to allow the people of Kansas to decide what protections our state desires to provide to women and their unborn children.”  

In the same breath, the former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee stressed the importance of caring for both woman and child. 

“At the same time, the Catholic Church wants to join with other Kansans to surround women facing a difficult pregnancy with a community of support to assist them with whatever they and their children need, not just until the birth of the child, but for as long as they need,” he said. 

“The parishes in the Archdiocese of Kansas City are participating in the Walking with Moms in Need Initiative,” he said, referencing a pro-life parish ministry led by the U.S. bishops. “Our goal is not just to protect women and children from the tragedy of abortion, but to provide them the support they need so that mother and child do not just survive, but so that both thrive.”

What does the opposition say?

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a coalition working to oppose the amendment, argues that the state “already regulates abortion, just as it would any medical procedure.”

The amendment would “pave the way for a total ban on abortion” with no exceptions, it says, and “hand our personal healthcare decisions over to politicians.”

Does Kansas already restrict abortion?

Yes, Kansas generally prohibits abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, among other things. However, VTB says that, following the 2019 ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court, “limits are being struck down one by one.”

Does the overturning Roe v. Wade affect the vote?

The overturning of Roe in the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization does not directly impact the vote because it concerns the state’s constitution — and the overturning of Roe leaves abortion up to the states. But the Supreme Court’s decision raises the stakes.

According to Underwood, “In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, the opposition is furiously working to sow a campaign of confusion about what the amendment is and does.”

Indirectly, the ruling could affect Kansas in that the state could see an increase in women traveling there for abortion from nearby states that are restricting abortion. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, nearly half of the women seeking abortions in Kansas came a different state already in 2021.

Following the Dobbs decision, VTB said that Kansas was unaffected.

 “The U.S. Supreme Court restored the people’s ability to come to individual consensus on abortion limits — but not in Kansas,” the group said in a statement. “As it stands today, unelected judges in Kansas are the ones who will decide the fate of abortion limits.”

Catholics respond with prayer and song when protesters disrupt conference

Attendees at a gathering sponsored by the Napa Institute sing the "Salve Regina" to drone out protesters who demonstrated at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California, on July 30, 2022. / Screenshot from Chris Stefanick video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 2, 2022 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

When protesters tried to disrupt a conference of Catholics leaders held over the weekend in Napa, Calif., they soon gave up when their chants were drowned out by 800 people singing “Salve Regina,” a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

The July 30 incident, which later became a viral sensation on social media, took place at the 12th annual summer conference of the Napa Institute, a group dedicated to training the Church’s leaders how to evangelize in an increasingly secularized society.

Austin Quick, who was attending the conference at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, told CNA that former Attorney General William Barr had begun his keynote address on Saturday night when he was interrupted by chanting.

Quick, a military veteran, said he rushed outside to see if he could engage with the protesters to get them to stop. He said there were six or seven women shouting and playing what appeared to be prerecorded chants through a loudspeaker system that were “mostly about abortion.” Among the chants: “You can’t take us back to the 1800s,” “Motherhood should be a choice,” and “Get your rosaries off our ovaries.”

That’s the moment that the crowd joined together in prayer, followed by the singing of “Salve Regina.”

“Right when the singing started that’s when they left,” he said, adding that the demonstrators returned to their cars and honked their horns.

Quick, who runs a popular Instagram account called The Basic Catholic, said he later learned that a priest from The Fathers of Mercy in Kentucky started the prayer and the singing of the hymn.

Chris Stefanick, an EWTN host and creator of the popular “Real Life Catholic” video series, was a witness to the scene and shared a viral video of the incident.

He posted on Twitter: “The response of the Napa conference to Marxist protestors screaming like maniacs outside. After this … they were quiet. I love being Catholic.”

After the event, several groups posted on social media that they were among protesters at the conference.

A group called NDN Collective, which claimed to represent the concerns of indigenous people, shared photos of their protest that included a sign saying “Bans off Our Bodies.” In a tweet, the group wrote: “We’ve seen what the evils of fascism and the Catholic Church have brought to Indigenous people and our lands. Tonight we disrupt the Right’s political agenda that’s tied to the Napa Institute.”

Two other groups, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Church Militant, also claimed on social media to have demonstrated at the event.

The Napa Institute was founded in 2011 by businessman Tim Busch and Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., in order to train Catholic leaders in faith formation and apologetics. The Busch Family Foundation is also a major donor to The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and helped establish the university’s business school.

Busch is a member of EWTN’s Board of Governors, and EWTN chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw is a member of the Napa Institute's Board of Directors. CNA is a service of EWTN News.

The conference, which took place from July 27–31, included daily Mass, opportunities for prayer and Confession, as well as lectures and panels on St. Thomas Aquinas, the New Evangelization, reading the Bible, Catholic education, the evils of human trafficking, a Catholic vision of women’s rights, and life after Roe v. Wade, among other topics.

Barr’s speech, titled “Strangers in a Strange Land: How Do Catholics Live as ‘Resident Aliens’ and Faithful Citizens at the Same Time,” echoed the title of Catholic novelist Walker Percy’s posthumously published book of essays “Signposts in a Strange Land.” 

FBI releases photo of suspect in Molotov cocktail attack on Nashville pregnancy center

null / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Aug 1, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released photos of a suspect in the attempted firebombing of a pro-life pregnancy center June 30 in Nashville, Tennessee. The are asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect.

The photos, released by the FBI’s Memphis field office, show an individual dressed in dark clothing with a hood. A photo of the individual’s car was also released to the public. It’s unclear from the photo what model and make the car is.

On June 30, at around 1:30 a.m., an individual threw a Molotov cocktail through a window at Hope Clinic for Women. It did not explode and the window has been replaced.

The words “Jane's Revenge” were written on the clinic in graffiti, and have since been cleaned off. 

“Anyone with information is encouraged to call the FBI Memphis Field Office at 901-747-4300 or submit online at tips.fbi.gov,” the July 26 press release said. 

The FBI released this photo of a suspect in the attempted firebombing of a Nashville pro-life pregnancy center. Federal Bureau of Investigation
The FBI released this photo of a suspect in the attempted firebombing of a Nashville pro-life pregnancy center. Federal Bureau of Investigation

Kailey Cornett, executive director and CEO of Hope Clinic for Women, told CNA shortly after the act of vandalism that her team is resilient and had received an influx of prayers and support. 

“We are here to do what we’re called to do and that's to serve women,” she said at the time. “We were able to rally around each other and support each other yesterday, but I think that we're ready to get back to providing care today."

Since news broke in May that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, a rise in reports of vandalism of pro-life pregnancy centers has made headlines. Roe, which federally legalized abortion, was overturned June 24. The vandalism of both pregnancy centers and Catholic churches has continued since then. 

The FBI announced in June that it was investigating attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. Since its announcement, there have been few reports of arrests. There have been no known reports of any arrests in connection with vandalism at pro-life pregnancy centers, only churches. 

Kentucky Catholic Charities coordinates national aid amid devastating floods

A stranded family is rescued from the flood waters of the north fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky., on July 28, 2022. Catholic Charities of Lexington is collaborating with other Christian churches as well as Catholic Charities USA to provide aid to those affected. / Photo by LEANDRO LOZADA/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 1, 2022 / 16:42 pm (CNA).

Amid record flooding in Kentucky that has left at least 30 people dead, Catholic Charities of Lexington is collaborating with other Christian churches as well as Catholic Charities USA to provide aid to those affected. 

Edward Bauer, director of communications for the Diocese of Lexington, told CNA that none of the diocese’s churches or facilities have sustained significant damage, but the communities surrounding many parishes have been devastated and are in need of aid, with many homes and businesses flooded. 

The flooding began with heavy rains on July 27, leading to widespread flooding across at least five eastern Kentucky counties by the weekend. At least 18,000 people remained without power Monday, and reports suggest that entire towns — many of which are in already impoverished areas — have been inundated. Gov. Andy Beshear has described the disaster as one of the worst in the state’s history. 

The Catholic churches in the diocese have a strong collaborative partnership with other Christian communities, Bauer said, since at only 3% to 4% of the population, the majority of the people in eastern Kentucky are not Catholic, especially in the countryside. He said the Catholic communities in rural Kentucky have been working to provide what aid they can for the poor and needy, adding that another major problem has been that water supplies have been disrupted. He said the parish life director at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Hazard, Ky., told him they may not have clean water for weeks. 

Several other dioceses have contacted the Lexington bishop — unsolicited — to offer to take up second collections for the flood relief, Bauer said. He also said that the Catholic Charities office in Lexington has been in close contact with Catholic Charities USA, working to coordinate national relief efforts. 

The best way for people of good will to help is with cash donations, since the needs are constantly evolving, he said, which can be done through the local Catholic Charities website. Cash donations also allow the local Catholic Charities organizations to invest that money locally into small businesses, which further helps with recovery of a community, Bauer said.

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly discusses the future of the Knights of Columbus

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, leader of the Knights of Columbus / Courtesy of Knights of Columbus

Nashville, Tenn., Aug 1, 2022 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly has an ambitious vision for the Knights of Columbus. 

That vision involves everything from “charging up” the Knights to live in a post-Roe world, to providing humanitarian relief for Ukrainian refugees, to supporting pro-life pregnancy centers and encouraging young Catholic men to know and live their faith. 

Speaking to CNA on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee’s Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center at the Knights’ first national convention in three years, Kelly offered a preview of that vision and what he will say on Tuesday to the approximately 2,500 attendees, consisting of members of the Church hierarchy, Knights leadership, and their families. 

Being a Knight in a post-Roe world

Kelly said that the theme for this year’s convention is “Into the Breach.” In his remarks — which he is giving for the first time in his role as Supreme Knight — he plans to inspire the Knights to step into the breach, which he says is the now-post-Roe world. 

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case that federally legalized abortion, was overturned by the court in June.

“It's no secret that society is more divisive than ever,” Kelly said, “but our role is to be men of unity and to bring people together.”

Kelly said that the convention is an opportunity for the Knights to show their solidarity with the bishops, priests, and cardinals present. “It gives them a nice boost, a nice encouragement to see that they have an organization that's in their corner,” Kelly said. 

The Knights announced in June an initiative to donate at least $5 million to pro-life pregnancy centers and maternity homes across the United States and Canada by June 30, 2023. But Kelly said that the knights were being conservative in that estimate, and that he expects to surpass the number.


He also said that the Knights’ new initiative Aid and Support After Pregnancy includes support from the Knight’s headquarters, the Supreme Council. ASAP, which encourages local councils to increase donations to pro-life pregnancy centers, entails a 20% donation match from the Supreme Council.

Kelly said that since the initiative began just over a month ago, councils have already started to reach out with reports of their donations. 

The Knights’ support for pro-life pregnancy centers comes during a wave of attacks against these centers that began after a leaked Supreme Court decision indicated Roe would likely be overturned.

Responding to the reports of vandalism, Kelly said that it makes him sad to see. He said Pope Francis reminded the Knights at their last convention that they need to be men who build up and not tear down. 

“It's terrible to see this kind of vandalism,” Kelly added.

The Future of the Knights

Kelly said the organization is placing a priority on reaching out to young men. 

Kelly said that the Knights have piloted an evangelization and discipleship initiative in a few  states in which they are training their councils how to evangelize, speak about the faith, and bring people in. 

Kelly emphasized that when young men understand their faith, it has an “exponential” effect on their family. 

“That's the No. 1 thing you could do for the family is to get the man to really own his faith and really understand his role as a Catholic man, as a provider, as a father, and as a husband,” Kelly said.

But young Catholic men are not the only priority of outreach for the Knights. 

Kelly said the organization is planning to redouble their efforts in reaching out to the Hispanic community as well. There are many Hispanic knights, he said, but because of the growth of the demographic within the United States, “we need more Hispanic knights.”

In order to stay true to the vision of Blessed Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights, reaching out to new communities is imperative, he said. 

One of the ways the Knights are reaching out to a younger demographic is through online videos. The Knights’ video series “Into the Breach” was viewed more than 1 million times, he said. Another video series is coming next year on marriage and family life, he added. 

“Where ‘Into the Breach’ focused on masculine identity, the series on marriage and family is going to focus on man's role in his marriage and man's role as the leader of the family,” he said. 

The Knights in Ukraine

The Knights are still supporting Ukrainian refugees, Kelly said, and their fundraising efforts have achieved immense success. 

Within 48 hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Knights implemented a fundraiser called the Ukraine Solidarity Fund. That fund has amassed $19 million for refugees, Kelly said.

Kelly said those funds are being used to ship food, water, clothing, shelter, and healthcare to refugees in trucks coming out of Poland called KofC Charity Convoys. 

Kelly, who visited Ukraine in April, said it was a deeply moving experience.

Kansas pro-lifers counter misinformation on Value Them Both amendment

Student canvassers from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America visit voters in Olathe, Kan., July 28, 2022. / Carl Bunderson/CNA

Topeka, Kan., Aug 1, 2022 / 14:16 pm (CNA).

Rosie the Riveter, apparently, doesn't want Kansas voters to approve the Value Them Both amendment.

Her iconic image representing American working women adorns a billboard along Interstate 435 in Kansas City, beside the words "VOTE NO" in large letters.

Located a short drive southwest of the airport in nearby Kansas City, Missouri, it's a sign of things to come as one heads west toward the heart of the Sunflower State. To judge by the profusion of yard signs, both for and against the amendment, which comes up for a vote Tuesday, nearly everyone seems to have strong opinions about it.

But many of those aren't hearing the truth of what Kansans are voting on Aug. 2.

Also known as Amendment 2, Value Them Both, if approved, would affirm that Kansas' state constitution does not provide a right to abortion, reversing a 2019 ruling by the state's Supreme Court.

The amendment would not ban abortion, as some are being misinformed, proponents of the amendment claim. Instead, it empowers state lawmakers to regulate abortion as they see fit, as is now possible after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 overturned a national right to abortion in Dobbs vs. Jackson's Women's Health Organization.

Opponents of the measure have seized on the Dobbs decision “to create a lot of confusion about the Value Them Both amendment and they have also spread a lot of misinformation,” Peter Northcott, executive director of Kansans for Life and campaign manager for the Value Them Both Coalition, told CNA.

Erin Newport, a Topeka resident and a volunteer with the Value Them Both campaign, said she has seen a lot of confusion and anger around the topic, saying there has been a great deal of misinformation — “manipulation, abuse of language, to make it confusing to people.”

Stanley Colaço, a volunteer with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s student team visiting voters to educate them about the amendment, said he has encountered misinformation, with voters believing the initiative would itself ban abortion or even contraception.

And Father Nathan Haverland, pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Topeka, said “people are informed” that the amendment is on the ballot, “but still there are questions,” adding that there is a “misinformation campaign on the other side.”

You can watch an “EWTN News In Depth” interview with two pro-life students involved in the campaign in the video below.

Defaced signs

Amendment 2 will be included in Kansans’ Aug. 2 primary ballots. It marks the first statewide vote on abortion in the United States since Dobbs was decided. 

Some of the mischaracterizations surround what constitutes an abortion, Northcott said. “They're trying to say that [treatment] of an ectopic pregnancy, a removal or treatment for a miscarriage, treatment for septic uterus, things like that, are abortion; they’re trying to equate them.”

A prime value of going door-to-door to talk with voters has been “having an open conversation with people. Cutting through the campaign rhetoric and having a real conversation with people has been really incredibly valuable,” Northcott reflected.

“We've had individuals who said that they were pro-choice, and they thought that this was going to be a 100% ban on abortion. In every case, when you have the conversation about the laws that currently exist on the books, people are like, ‘You know, that is very reasonable,’” he explained.

“Every one of our laws in Kansas passed with bipartisan support, and that's really where the people of Kansas are. They want limits on the abortion industry and that's the conversation you're having with people; Kansans will say, ‘Yeah, that's where I'm at.’ Not the scare tactics from the other side.”

The 2019 court decision that prompted the Value Them Both amendment has already led to two Kansas laws being struck down, Northcott said; one barring live dismemberment abortion, and one mandating clinic-specific licensing standards. A law requiring in-person prescription of medical abortion is currently being challenged.

In addition to misinformation coming from opponents of the amendment, the campaign has been marked by intimidation of and attempts to silence pro-life Kansans.

Churches have been vandalized, and “yes” signs have repeatedly been defaced or stolen, and sometimes even replaced with “no” signs.

A defaced sign in favor of the Value Them Both amendment outside Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Topeka, Kan., July 27, 2022. Carl Bunderson/CNA
A defaced sign in favor of the Value Them Both amendment outside Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Topeka, Kan., July 27, 2022. Carl Bunderson/CNA

Haverland of Most Pure Heart of Mary said the parish’s sign had been spray-painted over 10 or 12 times.

“We won’t let these things dampen our resolve,” he said. “We keep going. Everyone with a small sign has had it stolen at least once.”

“The tension is palpable,” he added.

The organization leading the campaign against the amendment, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Newport’s family has taken to bringing in the sign from their lawn each night. She commented on how heartening it was when a group of men from Most Pure Heart sat outside several nights after the Dobbs decision to protect the church’s sign in favor of the amendment. 

“So many people are putting up the good fight,” she reflected. Some churches have put plastic around their signs to support and protect them, or put messages on electronic signs, and some Kansans have placed signs on high tree branches to dissuade would-be vandals.

Newport also expressed a supposition that there are more people who support the amendment who haven’t put up signs, because of the vandalism; some have also given up having signs in their yards after having them stolen so often. 

Opponents of the amendment have aimed at “silencing an opposing view,” Northcott commented.

While 20,000 yard signs for a candidate or topic “is a lot in any other year,” Value Them Both has “gone through 100,000 yard signs,” he said.

Pivotal state in a national debate

The intensity of the debate over Value Them Both harkens to Kansas’ key role in the national debate over slavery before the Civil War, said Mary Margaret Sperry, Newport’s daughter.

Most of its neighbors have restricted or banned abortion, and it could become an abortion destination if its legislature is not empowered to regulate the practice.

Value Them Both has garnered significant attention from outside Kansas. 

Out-of-state money has poured into campaigns against the amendment. The Kansas City Star reported July 20 that Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the main opposition group, has received most of its funding “from national and regional organizations aimed at preserving abortion access.”

Much of that money has gone into TV and radio ads.

According to Northcott, more than 99% of the Value Them Both Coalition's funds have come from within Kansas, compared with 29% for the opposition.

The largest donors to Value Them Both have been Catholic organizations inside Kansas, but there have been thousands of dollars “from individuals across the state,” Northcott said.

“We get notes from people that are saying, ‘Hey, you know I'm only able to give $20,’ or ‘Our family is going to not go out to dinner this month so that we can help you all help protect moms and babies.’”

Value Them Both Association has received close to $4.7 million this year, while Kansans for Constitutional Freedom took in more than $6.5 million, according to state records. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America committed at least $1.3 million to the “yes” campaign, the pro-life group announced in June. 

Northcott also highlighted support for Value Them Both coming from outside the Catholic Church. He noted support for the coalition coming from Southern Baptists, the Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod, and Mennonite, Bible, and independent churches. 

“We have broad support from individuals that are across faith traditions, from Catholics to evangelicals to mainline Protestants. We have individuals within our coalition that are of the Muslim faith, we have individuals that don't practice a religion,” Northcott said.

“The idea that Kansas could continue to be this destination for abortion, and we could have some of the most extreme abortion practices, cuts across denominational lines.”

“There's a box that I think that the media tries to put us in that this is just a Catholic effort, and it goes way beyond that,” Northcott explained.

Prayer vigils will be held the night of Aug. 1-2 for the success of the amendment. Ecumenical “Light the Night” events will take place, along with rosary vigils, 40 Hours devotions, and Eucharistic adoration.

Newport reflected that the spiritual aspect of the campaign is an asset to the pro-life side.

“Fasting and prayer,” she said. “Understanding that this is a spiritual battle. That’s the advantage for us.”

Uvalde students and families seek healing at Catholic Extension summer camp

Students from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, at a summer camp run by Catholic Extension / Catholic Extension

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2022 / 06:33 am (CNA).

Students from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the site of the tragic shooting on May 24, joined their families this month at a summer camp designed to help them begin the process of healing from their traumatic experiences.

“Camp I-CAN,” which stands for “Inner strength, Commitment, Awareness, and Networking,” is the latest initiative organized by the non-profit Catholic Extension to help the Uvalde community in the aftermath of the shooting.

"As a Church we cannot forget what has happened in Uvalde. This entire community has witnessed unspeakable violence, and an unfathomable loss of young life and innocence,” Joe Boland, Catholic Extension’s vice president of mission, told CNA. “The Catholic Church is a true agent of mercy and healing in Uvalde for these suffering children and families.”

Camp I-CAN, which took place July 15-28 at St. Henry de Osso Project Center in Uvalde, Texas, “provided 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders a safe space to heal, have fun, and gently reintegrated the children into a school-like setting around their peers,” according to a recent press release. It included faith-based activities, music, arts and crafts, physical activities, and other forms of entertainment for children to acclimate themselves to difficult circumstances.

Catholic Extension, according to their website, is a “fundraising organization that helps ensure that all American Catholics can practice their faith within vibrant faith communities.” Their stated mission is to “connect poor and remote Catholic communities with essential financial support, educational partnerships, and infrastructure.”

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said, “It is our goal, that through the spiritual accompaniment of religious sisters, the children and their families of Uvalde, Texas feel God’s presence, and are reminded that they are not forgotten or alone in the coming year and beyond.”  

Sister Dolores Aviles, the Teresian leader of Camp I-CAN, is an Uvalde native. She felt called to help after she heard God speak to her, saying “Let the children come to Me.”

“This week, we wanted the children and their families to know that we are praying for them, we love them, and that we will also take action for them. That’s what community is,” said Aviles.

Catholic Extension has a long history in Uvalde and a powerful connection with the victims and survivors of the shooting.

The Catholic Extension press release said, “Uvalde was one of the first-ever communities Catholic Extension supported, helping build Sacred Heart Church in 1906.” CNA reported that, following the shooting, 11 of the victims’ funerals took place at Sacred Heart Church.

Catholic Extension plans to fund more initiatives as time passes, and they said that Camp I-CAN is the “first of many.” For more information on ways to support the children in Uvalde through Catholic Extension's programs, please visit catholicextension.org/uvalde.

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

St. Francis of Assisi. / Bradley Weber via Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0.

New York City, N.Y., Aug 1, 2022 / 06:18 am (CNA).

The feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the Executive Director of the Franciscan Missionary Union, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, and it can be plenary or partial.

A plenary indulgence requires that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”
 

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Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

Big-spending abortion backers target Kansas ballot measure, but pro-lifers hope for win

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Denver Newsroom, Jul 31, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Wealthy out-of-state donors who back legalized abortion are funding opposition to a Kansas constitutional amendment that would end the state Supreme Court’s ban on abortion restrictions. Backers of the effort expect to be outspent but are confident they will prevail at the ballot box on Tuesday, Aug. 2.

“The abortion industry will outspend us, perhaps 2 to 1 or more, but our most valuable ‘resource’ will be Catholics in the pew,” Chuck Weber of the Kansas Catholic Conference told CNA July 29. “The abortion industry has virtually unlimited money to buy TV ad time, radio, digital, satellite, texting, etc. We are reaching out to parish pro-life coordinators and Knights of Columbus councils, asking them to call everyone and anyone they know to vote ‘yes.’”

The proposed amendment, dubbed the Value Them Both Amendment, says that “because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.” It would allow laws regarding abortion “to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.”

Voters will consider the amendment in the Aug. 2 primary election. Early voting began July 13.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a right to an abortion under the state constitution, barring legislators from passing abortion restrictions. The ruling could endanger existing laws, including a ban on abortion 22 weeks or later into pregnancy.

The Value Them Both Association, which supports the amendment, has received close to $6 million this year. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, foes of the amendment, took in more than $6.5 million.

Pro-abortion ‘grassroots donations’

Both sides have drawn thousands of small donors, though a spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom reported a boost in “grassroots donations” after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, returning abortion restrictions to the states.

The politically influential abortion provider Planned Parenthood is actively opposing the proposed Kansas amendment. Its national political action committee, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, donated $850,000 to Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. Two Kansas Planned Parenthood affiliates, Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, gave a combined $492,000.

However, the largest single institutional donation against the amendment came from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which committed $1.38 million. News outlets including Politico and the New York Times have characterized the fund as a “dark money” group, given its ability to receive undisclosed donations.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund spent more than $410 million on Democratic Party-aligned efforts in the 2020 election. The fund’s president, Amy Kurtz, previously worked in campaign and election strategy for the National Education Association. The chair of the Sixteen Thirty Fund’s board of directors, Raul M. Alvillar, headed the Biden presidential campaign in New Mexico. He is also former national political director for the Democratic National Committee. He previously served in the Obama administration and did some LGBT liaison work for the Obama campaign.

Foes of the Kansas ballot initiative also have $500,000 in support from the Washington, D.C.-based North Fund, which was a major contributor to defeating a late-term abortion ban ballot initiative in neighboring Colorado. The Sixteen Thirty Fund is itself a major donor to the North Fund, according to Politico.

Other institutional donors back the pro-abortion status quo in Kansas. The American Civil Liberties Union gave $250,000 toward that effort, while its state affiliate, the ACLU of Kansas, gave half that — $112,500. For its part, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights donated $125,000 to oppose the measure, while NARAL Pro-Choice America gave $100,000.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a New York-based charitable giving advisory and management firm, committed $100,000 to Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. The Wichita-based Trust Women and the Trust Us Justice Fund gave $89,000 in combined donations.

The largest individual donor backing legal abortion is Stacy Schusterman, an heiress philanthropist and energy business executive from Tulsa, Okla., who gave $1 million. Another $250,000 came from Amy and Rob Stavis of New York.

Pro-life donors

State records show the Value Them Both Association has received close to $4.7 million this year. This does not include a major donation from the Susan B. Anthony List, which in June committed $1.3 million, the Kansas Reflector news organization reports. It is apparently the largest out-of-state donation to the pro-life cause. 

By comparison, the statewide pro-life organization Kansas for Life has given $325,000. The largest individual donation — $100,000 — comes from former gunpowder company executive J.B. Hodgdon of Shawnee, Kansas, according to CNA’s review of campaign contribution records at the website of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

The Catholic Church in Kansas has been a major donor to the campaign. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has committed $2.5 million, while the Wichita Diocese has given $551,000. The Salina Diocese has given at least $100,000, while the Kansas Catholic Conference gave at least $275,000. 

A few parishes have given major donations. St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Leawood, in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, gave $100,000. Many other Catholic churches and Knights of Columbus councils are among the listed donors, as are Protestant churches. Of these donations, many are under $1,000.

Kansas shouldn't be an ‘abortion destination’

Weber, the Kansas Catholic Conference executive director, said Catholics think the amendment is an important cause.

“The Catholic Church seeks justice in public policy, no matter the issue. We are proud of the leadership our bishops have demonstrated on the Value Them Both Amendment,” Weber said. “The Catholic Church has always has a target on her back, from the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Without fear or favor, we are proud to advocate for Value Them Both for this issue and a number of other issues.”

Weber added that the Catholic bishops of the United States and of Kansas have said that abortion is the “preeminent issue” of our day.

The constitutional amendment also has the support of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. More than 450 faith leaders have signed a letter backing the Value Them Both campaign, as have more than 250 medical and mental-health professionals.

Weber characterized the amendment as “simply abortion neutral.” 

“Passing Value Them Both will level the scales and allow the people of Kansas, through their elected representatives, to set policy on abortion,” he said. “Without Value Them Both, all Kansas laws touching on the question of abortion regulation are ‘presumed unconstitutional’ and will almost certainly be overturned once challenged.”

If the amendment effort fails, Weber predicted, courts will end a ban on government funding for elective abortions and will end laws requiring parental consent for minors to get an abortion.“Already in Kansas, because of the Kansas state Supreme Court ruling, painful and brutal dilation and extraction abortions, also known as ‘live dismemberment abortions,’ are taking place in Kansas at a rate of nine or more per week, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment,” Weber told CNA. “Half of all abortions in Kansas now are performed on girls and women from surrounding states. This will certainly increase and make Kansas an abortion destination for the Midwest.”