Browsing News Entries

Secretary of State nominee says he will fill LGBT position at agency

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State pledged to appoint an LGBTI envoy at the agency, and says he will permit embassies to fly the “Pride” flag if confirmed. 

 

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. State Department, was asked about filing the LGBTI Special Envoy position at the agency during his confirmation hearing before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19. 

 

Filling the position is “a matter, I think, of some real urgency,” said Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. 

 

The administration created the special envoy position in 2015 to help counter violence against persons identifying as LGBTI around the world, as well as helping overturn laws criminalizing same-sex conduct. 

 

"We've seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase,” said Blinken on Tuesday. “We've seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we've seen ever.” 

 

However, when the position was first created, some religious freedom advocates warned that the administration’s objective could be “more revolutionary” than simply countering violence abroad. They told CNA that the agency could pressure developing countries to redefine marriage and promote transgender ideology.

 

The Trump administration did not fill the position.

 

Blinken said on Tuesday that he believed that the United States is “playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something that the Department (of State) is going to take on, and take on immediately.” 

 

Blinken further pledged to “repudiate” the 2020 Commission on Unalienable Rights, established in 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and which produced a report on human rights in 2020. 

 

The report stated “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.” 

 

In 2019, it was reported that U.S. embassies were prohibited from flying the LGBT “Pride” flag during the month of June, which is traditionally known as “Pride Month.” 

 

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked Blinken if he would change this policy as secretary of state. Blinken said that the U.S. embassies would be permitted to fly the flag.

 

Court victories strengthen Catholic groups' protections against 'gender transition' mandates

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic medical groups and employers say their religious freedom position has been strengthened by a federal injunction against mandatory insurance coverage or medical referrals for gender transition therapy.
 
“This is a victory not just for the Catholic Benefits Association, but for religious freedom itself,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, said Jan. 20. “These rulings will protect Catholic employers for years to come.”
 
“Our members can continue to provide the highest quality employee benefits to their 90,000 employees and their families, while living their religious beliefs,” Wilson said. “These protections also extend to each employer’s insurer, third-party administrator, and to future members of the Catholic Benefits Association.”
 
The Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association was founded in 2013. It helps employers form and administer employee benefit plans consistent with the Catholic faith and works to protect its employer members’ First Amendment legal rights. It serves over 1,000 Catholic employers, including 60 dioceses and archdioceses, religious orders, colleges and universities, hospitals and other ministries. Seven Catholic archbishops serve on its ethics committee.
 
With other Catholic groups, the association challenged the federal mandate that doctors perform or refer for gender-transition surgeries—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure. The mandate also requires insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries.
 
The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Section 1557 of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas, including sex discrimination. The Obama administration interpreted this to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Health and Human Services said that doctors could not refuse to make gender-transition surgery referrals.
 
The Catholic groups who challenged the federal rule alleged that the mandate violated their religious freedom by requiring them to provide insurance coverage and medical assistance for gender transition surgeries.
 
On Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures. The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In October 2019, District Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.
 
Wilson was grateful for Welte’s permanent injunction. The injunction protects its members against the 2016 mandates and similar Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules and discrimination claims based on the interpretation of ‘sex’ under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
 
He said the Catholic Benefits Association’s lawsuit was unique in that it was the only one to challenge EEOC rules and Title VII discrimination claims under the new interpretation of “sex.”
 
The interpretation of “sex” is newly relevant. In the 2020 decision Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “sex” can include sexual orientation and gender identity in prohibitions on workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
 
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the case attempted to keep the changes narrow, but it has already proved influential. President Joe Biden, in his first day in office, signed a significant executive order expanding Gorsuch’s redefinition of “sex” throughout federal law and policy in ways that could have major consequences, including mandatory coverage of gender transition procedures.
 
Medical critics of the surgical practice say gender transition appears to provide only temporary change in health outcomes, if any. In 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
 
They found continued high risk of poor mental health incomes for patients who had gone through the transition surgery.
 
Philosophical, religious and moral critics of the practice question whether gender transition is even possible and whether it gives too much credence to patients’ perceptions of being the “wrong sex.”
The practice wrongly disassociates gender from biological sex, they say.
 
Criticism of gender transition has become taboo in recent years. Critics face opposition from LGBT advocates and their supporters. Some local laws consider the refusal to affirm a person’s self-perceived gender identity to be an illegal form of “conversion therapy”, but some of these laws are themselves under legal challenge.
 
Wilson voiced gratitude to Catholic Benefits Association members who had shown “unwavering support” for the legal challenge to the Obama-era rule. He also thanked the co-plaintiffs the Catholic Medical Association, the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities of North Dakota. Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy had also brought objections.
 
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “major victory for religious freedom.”
 
The Catholic plaintiffs “joyfully serve all patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said on Twitter. “They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”
 
While Judge Welte granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, he dismissed their abortion-related claims, saying concerns about mandatory abortion coverage were addressed by a 2020 rule from the Department of Health and Human Services and other legal interpretations in force.
 
Catholic challenges to other health coverage mandates have proven successful.
 
In 2018, a federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs, that would have violated Catholic beliefs.
 
The companies that make up the benefits association had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines for not providing the coverage. These fines were eliminated by a federal judge’s March 2018 ruling.

Virginia bishops oppose abortion bill passed by state senate

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Virginia bishops opposed a bill allowing for taxpayer-funded abortion coverage that passed the state senate on Friday. 

 

The bill, SB 1276, would permit abortion coverage for any reason in health insurance plans on Virginia’s taxpayer-funded health exchange. The bill was introduced on Jan. 12 and cleared a senate committee on Mon., January 18.

 

On Friday afternoon, the Senate approved the bill by a 20-17 vote along party lines—on the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond stated their “deep disappointment” with the vote.

 

“Abortion is not health care; it ends lives instead of healing them,” the bishops said.

 

“On this day when we reflect in particular on the more than 60 million unborn lives lost since the Roe v. Wade decision, and on every day, we continue to advocate with relentless determination for health care that affirms every life, born and unborn,” they stated.

 

Virginia set up a health exchange with the federal passage of the Affordable Care Act, allowing for citizens to shop for health plans on the state’s “marketplace.”

 

SB 1276 struck a phrase clarifying that health plans offered on Virginia’s exchange would not cover abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or when the physical health of the mother is at risk due to the pregnancy. 

 

The state’s bishops had been outspoken against the bill. “Virginia should not subsidize abortion on demand with taxpayer funds,” Jeff Caruso, director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, told CNA on Friday prior to the vote. 

 

“The exchange is taxpayer-funded. Taxes pay for managing the exchange, and for subsidizing health plans in many cases,” he said, explaining how the bill would subsidize abortion coverage.

 

Virginia’s state legislature passed an abortion bill in 2020 that allowed physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortions; it also struck down existing requirements that women be informed about the abortion procedure and receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, and deregulated safety standards at abortion clinics.

 

Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on April 11, Good Friday--an act which the state’s bishops called “a particular affront to all who profess the Gospel of life.”

 

A companion bill to SB 1276 is also being considered in the state house of delegates. The bishops called on delegates to vote against the bill.

 

The state’s consideration of taxpayer-funded abortion is taking place as the federal government is also considering repeals of pro-life protections against public funding of abortion.

 

The Biden administration is reportedly set to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions.

 

House and Senate Democrats have also signaled a desire to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions in spending bills. House Democrats passed a COVID relief bill last year without protections against taxpayer funding of abortions included, but the measure did not pass the Senate.

 

The Virginia bishops noted on Friday that the state’s current prohibition of coverage for abortion-on-demand in its exchange “is consistent with the federal Hyde Amendment, in place for more than four decades and which most Americans support.”

 

“Tragically, the Senate today took a far different path,” they said.

Biden, Harris state their support for abortion on Roe anniversary

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stated their commitment to abortion on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on Friday.

 

In a statement marking the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade— the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.—the new president and vice president said they were “committed” to codifying Roe in law, and to appointing pro-abortion federal judges.

 

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe,” their statement read.

 

“In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack,” Biden and Harris said.

 

Biden, who is Catholic, promised on the campaign trail that he would codify the 1973 ruling if elected as president.

 

The codification of Roe aims to ensure that, if the Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe ruling, federal law would still uphold legal abortion under the terms of Roe. The ruling had recognized legal abortion performed before the “viability” of the unborn child, but allowed states to ban abortions post-viability.

 

Biden has also supported taxpayer-funded abortion, most notably by calling to repeal the Hyde Amendment in 2019. That policy, enacted each year as a rider to budget bills, bars federal funding of abortions.

 

He has also promised to overturn other protections against taxpayer-funded abortions or abortion advocacy, such as by repealing the Mexico City Policy; that policy bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

 

The rescinding or reinstatement of the policy is traditionally among the first actions a new president takes upon entering office. On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci—White House chief medical advisor for COVID-19—told board members of the World Health Organization that the administration would be repealing the policy in the “coming days.”

 

As of Friday afternoon, Biden had not yet officially announced a repeal of the policy

 

While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden also said his health care plan would include abortion coverage, in subsidized health plans offered on a public option.

 

In addition, on Friday Biden and Harris both promised to work to “increase access to contraception.”

 

As vice president from 2009-2017, Biden presided over the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate which ultimately brought the Little Sisters of the Poor and Catholic dioceses to court.

 

The mandate employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that cause early abortions in employee health plans.

 

Biden, as a presidential candidate, said that he would remove religious exemptions to the mandate that were granted by the Trump administration to the Little Sisters and others—thus possibly heralding future court battles with the sisters.

 

On the day of Biden’s inauguration as president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—president of the U.S. bishops’ conference—said he was praying for Biden and noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.

 

“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” he said in a statement. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”

 

“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.”

 

The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Gomez said.

Why a prohibition on sex discrimination could actually promote abortion

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 10:05 am (CNA).- Members of Congress are looking to resurrect a constitutional amendment banning sex discrimination—one that Catholic groups have warned could promote abortion and transgender ideology.

 

On Thursday, members of both chambers of Congress introduced a joint resolution to affirm the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

 

Originally approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification, with a deadline of 1979, the proposed constitutional amendment forbids sex discrimination. It states that “[e]quality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

 

Catholic groups, including the Virginia Catholic Conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have warned that the language in the amendment could be broadly interpreted to include protection for various issues including abortion and gender-transition surgery.

 

They have also said that the ratification of the amendment is dubious, as some of the 38 states ratified it after the deadline given by Congress and five other states had rescinded their ratification.

 

By 1979, the ERA failed to receive support from the necessary three-quarters of states (38) for ratification; even after Congress extended the deadline until 1982, it did not have the support of 38 states.

 

However, several states have continued to ratify the amendment in recent years with Virginia claiming to be the 38th state overall to do so.

 

On Thursday, members of Congress—including Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Mary.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), introduced a joint resolution to remove the deadline for ratification and honor the actions of the 38 states.

 

Three of the members—Murkowski, Speier, and Reed—are Catholic.

 

“For survivors of sexual violence, pregnancy discrimination, or unequal pay, the ratification of the ERA will be a critical step towards equal justice,” Rep. Reed said on Thursday.

 

The USCCB issued a fact-sheet on the ERA in Jan., 2020, explaining its concern with the amendment.

 

The conference said that when the amendment was initially considered by states in the 1970s, supporters often denied that it included protections for abortion; more recently, however, supporters of the amendment have said it does promote abortion.

 

For instance, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) stated in 2019 that the ERA, if ratified, “would reinforce the constitutional right to abortion by clarifying that the sexes have equal rights, which would require judges to strike down anti-abortion laws because they violate both the constitutional right to privacy and sexual equality.”

 

Thus, the ERA could possibly be used to strike down state and federal restrictions on abortion.

 

Additionally, the conference warned that the amendment could also promote access to other immoral procedures such as gender-transition surgery, and access to facilities based on one’s gender identity rather than biological sex.

 

If the Supreme Court extended federal civil rights protections against sex discrimination to also include sexual orientation and gender identity—as the court eventually did in the Bostock decision in June—then the ratification of the ERA’s prohibition of sex discrimination could result in “a radical restructuring of settled societal expectations with respect to sexual difference and privacy,” the conference said in Jan., 2020.

 

Religious groups such as homeless shelters could also be forced, against their beliefs, to provide access to single-sex facilities based on gender identity and not biological sex, the conference said.

 

In 2019 members of Congress proposed measures to remove the original deadline for the ERA’s ratification, and the House in 2020 passed a measure removing the deadline; the effort failed in the Senate.

 

It is unclear if the efforts to retroactively remove deadlines would succeed in the courts.

Pro-life group says campaign finance bill could unfairly limit their speech

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).- A pro-life advocacy group warns that a new campaign finance reform bill could unfairly restrict their communications.

 

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), framing the bill as a top priority of the 117th Congress. In a joint statement, Pelosi, together with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the reform bill was needed because “[o]ur democracy is in a state of deep disrepair.” 

 

A companion bill to H.R. 1 has been re-introduced in the Senate as well. 

 

Supporters of H.R. 1 say it would shed light on “dark money” in politics, or spending by political-advocacy groups such as 501(c)4 organizations which are not required to disclose their donors. 

 

However, the pro-life group March for Life Action--the political advocacy arm of the non-profit March for Life--says the proposed legislation is so broad, it would treat small-dollar donors like lobbyists. Thus, it would limit their communication with supporters and require the disclosure of small donors--possibly affecting future donations.

 

“It’s less about a direct threat to life as it is about how we can communicate, either to elected officials or to the grassroots about problems in legislation,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA in an interview on Thursday. 

 

He expressed concern that these small donors would become the subject of unwarranted scrutiny “especially in this atmosphere we have today.” 

 

“Say a donor gave to us because they wanted to help fund the Virginia state [pro-life] March--even though they have nothing to do with our work on judicial nominations, we would have to release their names to this federal database,” he said. “It exposes donors for certain entities, especially if you even remotely work on judicial issues.” 

 

In the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, McClusky argued, his group would be “limited in what we can and can’t say about the next nominee.”

 

In the joint statement introducing the legislation, House Democrats cited “rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money” in the 2020 elections as problems their bill seeks to help overcome. 

 

They stated their “commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms” by passing H.R. 1.

 

The statement added that the bill “will protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, hold elected officials accountable and end the era of big, dark, special-interest money in our politics.”

 

McClusky added that his group has not been the only one to oppose such legislation; the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the 2019 version of the bill. At the time, the organization said that the legislation would “require disclosure of an overbroad number of donors.” 

 

A 2019 ACLU letter notes that under the proposed bill, “many donors to issue advocacy organizations may be surprised to find themselves held responsible for communications they may not know about, or, potentially, even support.”

 

“It is unfair to hold donors responsible for every communication in which an organization engages,” the ACLU letter stated. “Moreover, it is unclear how such an overbroad requirement serves the government’s interest in providing the electorate information about who is supporting or opposing a candidate for office.”

 

The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they will oppose the 2021 version of the bill.

In far-reaching executive order, Biden redefines 'sex'

Denver Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- In one of his first acts in office, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to interpret sex discrimination in federal law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The move could impact high school sports, the privacy of single-sex bathrooms, faith-based organizations that are government grantees or contractors, and whether employees may face retaliation for voicing “discriminatory” religious beliefs.
 
“This executive order is a massive overreach,” John Bursch, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, told CNA Jan. 21. “It essentially has the effect of taking the word ‘sex’ and ‘sex discrimination’, anywhere those words appear in federal law, and converting them to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
 
He warned that the executive order’s redefinition of sex will result in “a destructive effort to re-invent reality and destroy long-standing protections for women and girls,” even if this is not immediately evident.
 
“Redefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ isn’t equality, and it isn’t progress,” he said. “The reason for that is that biology is not bigotry. When the law does not respect biological differences between men and women, it creates chaos and it hurts women and girls.”
 
Saying the Catholic Church has recognized such differences for millennia, Bursch added, “it’s unfortunate that the government is now choosing this to be the very first act it is going to engage in to ‘unify the country’.
 
The executive order, titled “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” declares Biden administration policy “to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
 
The order, which Biden signed on the day of inauguration, discusses children’s access to restrooms, locker rooms, and school sports; access to health care; and workers whose dress “does not conform to sex-based stereotypes,” among other topics.
 
The order drew comment on social media, where some critics used the hashtag #BidenErasedWomen.
 
Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA the order means, “Boys who identify as girls must be allowed to compete in the girls’ athletic competitions, men who identify as women must be allowed in women-only spaces, healthcare plans must pay for gender-transition procedures, and doctors and hospitals must perform them.”
 
“It spells the end of girls’ and women’s sports as we know them,” he said. “And, of course, no child should be told the lie that they’re ‘trapped in the wrong body,’ and adults should not pump them full of puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones,” said Anderson, author of the 2018 book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
 
Bursch said that the executive order would also redefine “sex” in Title IX, which governs education and sports. One client of Alliance Defending Freedom was affected by a similar effort to redefine gender, allowing biological boys to compete against girls in girls’ sports.
 
“This isn’t something theoretical, it’s already happened,” he said. In Connecticut, two males who identify as females have won 15 girls state track and field titles since 2017.
 
“One of our clients, Chelsea Mitchell, has lost four state championships to one of those males competing in the girls’ division,” he said. “In that respect, this is not equality, this is not progress, this is anti-women.”
 
That case led to vigorous protests and a successful legal injunction.
 
The redefinition of sex has also led to problems for women’s shelters.
 
“In Alaska, the City of Anchorage insisted that a women’s overnight shelter, allow a man identifying as a woman to sleep mere feet away from women who had been raped, trafficked and abused,” Bursch said. “We had to go to court to protect the overnight shelter’s ability to not have biological men in the space with those abused women.”
 
Biden’s executive order claims to build on the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination in employment also includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
The ruling, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was deliberately narrow in scope, but Biden’s executive order adds: “Under Bostock‘s reasoning, laws that prohibit sex discrimination — including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended, the Fair Housing Act, as amended, and section 412 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended,  along with their respective implementing regulations — prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.”
 
Bursch said that the Bostock decision was narrowly phrased to hold that an employee could not be fired solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It deliberately avoided questions about dress codes, privacy in restrooms, and women’s sports.
 
In his view, however, Biden’s executive order “dramatically expands it” by “applying it in all kinds of areas where the court never said (to), where the court said the exact opposite.”
 
Describing the consequences, he said “a ‘tidal wave’ is the phrase that comes to mind.”
 
Anderson said the executive order was “radically divisive transgender policy.” He characterized Gorsuch’s decision as showing “simplistic logic.”
 
“Privacy and safety at a shelter, equality on an athletic field, and good medicine are at stake for everyone,” said Anderson. “We can—and should—defend commonsense policies that take seriously the bodily differences that provide valid bases in some areas of life (locker and shower rooms, athletics, women’s shelters, healthcare) for treating males and females differently (yet still equally).”
 
 
Biden’s executive order said “all persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
 
“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” said the order. “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.  Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.  People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.”
 
Bursch said the rule change could affect religious organizations that are government contractors or grant recipients.
 
“For a Catholic charity that does human development work and has a contract with the government to do that, it’s entirely possible that the government will require the Catholic charity, in the government’s view, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. This means “forcing Catholic and other religious entities to give up their most deeply held beliefs about marriage and the human body.”
 
While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could provide some protections, “it’s not going to be a one-sized-fits-all solution to the enormous problems that this executive order creates,” Bursch said.
 
The rule could also cause problems for employees in government or the private sector. A Catholic worker’s statement supporting the Catholic view of marriage as a union of one man or one woman could be considered discriminatory or harassment, he said.
 
“It essentially says to religious employees: ‘You’re not welcome to express your views in public anymore,” said Bursch. He considered this a twofold First Amendment violation, affecting both free speech and free exercise of religion.
 
At the same time, he noted that objectors like women high school athletes might not have a religious objection to competing against men who identify as women. Rather, their objections are sex-based or based on a desire for fair competition.
 
CNA sought comment from the U.S. Conference of Bishops but did not receive a response by deadline. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as the bishops’ conference president, issued a prepared statement on Biden’s inauguration.
 
The archbishop said he finds hope and inspiration in Biden’s personal witness of relying on faith in difficult times and commitment to the poor. He stressed the wide variety of issues on which the U.S. bishops advocate in ways that do not “align neatly” with political party platforms. He added: “our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
 
“Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area,” he said, are “guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.”
 
Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, criticized the executive order ahead of its release, focusing on how it equates sex discrimination with discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
 
The text of the order is “based on a lie,” Hasson said, “that ‘gender identity’ enables a male person to ‘be’ a woman.”
 
She contrasted this with Biden’s comments in his inaugural address, in which he emphasized the need for truth and quoted St. Augustine to underline the need for unity in truth.
 
In January 2017, the U.S. bishops had voiced criticism of the Trump administration’s decision to maintain what they said was a “troubling” Obama-era executive order that could demand federal contractors violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender ideology.
 
Signed by President Barack Obama in 2014, the order prohibited federal government contractors from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, and forbids gender identity discrimination in the employment of federal employees.
 
That executive order immediately drew criticism for its lack of religious exemptions.
 
A different Biden executive order on “Advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities in the federal government” indicated that “LGBTQ+ Americans” would be included in the underserved categories alongside people of color, Americans with disabilities, religious minorities, and “rural and urban communities facing persistent poverty.”
 
This executive order aims to embed this vision of equity “across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions,” the Biden-Harris Transition Team said.

Secretary of State nominee agrees with ‘genocide’ determination for Uyghurs

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State agrees with his predecessor’s declaration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang.

 

“That would be my judgment as well,” said Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, when asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday if he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s genocide designation.

 

Blinken appeared before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday for a hearing considering his nomination to Biden’s cabinet. He also said he was “very much in agreement” with the Trump administration’s view of the situation in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

 

On January 19, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he had “determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.”

 

Pompeo stated, “[t]he People’s Republic of China and the CCP must be held to account.” 

 

On Tuesday, Blinken said that the gravity and scope of the atrocities committed in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and others has risen to the level of genocide.

 

“The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps; trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” he said. 

 

Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest nearly three times the size of France, is home to 23 million Turkic people including Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities. 

 

China has escalated its control over the region in recent decades, citing national security as the reason for its crackdowns on public assemblies and freedom of movement.

 

Beginning in 2017, China constructed a system of around 1,300 detention camps where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are estimated to have been imprisoned. Detainees have reportedly been subject to forced labor, indoctrination, beatings, and torture.

 

Uyghurs outside the camps are also subject to mass surveillance, including DNA sampling, facial recognition technology, and predictive policing platforms.

 

The largely-Muslim population has also been subject to repression of religious practice, such as men growing beards or women wearing veils; children have reportedly been separated from their families and forced to denounce Islam.

 

In addition, the AP reported in June that many Uyghur women were subject to forced abortions, sterilizations and implantations of IUDs as part of China’s coercive family planning limits of two children per family.

 

In August, two Asian cardinals joined 74 other religious leaders in a joint statement decrying the treatment of the Uyghurs as “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust.”

 

Pompeo on Jan. 19 said he believes “this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

 

“The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image,” he said.

 

If confirmed as secretary of state, Blinken said that he would look to possibly banning imports of products suspected to be made by Uyghurs in forced labor situations, and would also seek to ban exports to China that could be used to repress the Uyghur population and other ethnic minorities.

 

In August, Joe Biden’s campaign referred to the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang as “genocide.”

 

“The unspeakable oppression that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.

Trump admin proposal a last-ditch effort to offer religious groups SBA loans

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 02:34 pm (CNA).- A proposal made on the last day of the Trump administration would make religious businesses eligible to receive loans from the Small Business Administration, removing previous restrictions.

The U.S. Small Business Administration published a proposal Jan 19. that would remove five restrictions that “run afoul of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. All five provisions make certain faith-based organizations ineligible to participate in certain SBA business loan and disaster assistance programs because of their religious status,” the proposal’s summary states.

“Because the provisions exclude a class of potential participants based solely on their religious status, the provisions violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. SBA now proposes to remove the provisions to ensure in its business loan and disaster assistance programs the equal treatment for faith-based organizations that the Constitution requires,” the summary adds.

If passed, the proposal would allow religious businesses to qualify for SBA loans, though it is unclear if it would also allow churches and other houses of worship also to be eligible, the Washington Post reported.

The SBA proposal cites two Supreme Court cases as precedent for removing the religious exclusions from SBA loan qualification criteria.


In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court ruled that a playground resurfacing grant that excluded churches and religious organizations was unconstitutional. The court said the grant violated the Free Exercise Clause, which “`protect[s] religious observers against unequal treatment' and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for `special disabilities' based on their `religious status.' ”

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Supreme Court repealed a state court decision to block religious schools from a scholarship program. While the state argued that it had an interest in preventing the religious use of the funds, the Supreme Court ruled that “Status-based discrimination remains status based even if one of its goals or effects is preventing religious organizations from putting aid to religious uses.” The SBA also noted that its proposal also follows the 2017 executive order from President Trump entitled Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. The order stated that “Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government” and added that the executive branch would enforce such protections. Furthermore, the removal of religious restrictions also follows a decision by the Trump administration to allow religious organizations to apply for the Payment Protection Program, a coronavirus relief program that provided billions of dollars in pandemic relief to businesses and non-profits, including thousands of Catholic parishes, schools, and other religious organizations.

The proposal is likely to spark a heated debate about religious freedom under the Biden administration. While the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment ensures the free practice of religion, the Establishment Clause prohibits the US Congress establishing a religion by law.

The SBA is collecting public comment on the proposal until Feb. 18. Afterward, the Washington Post reports, the determination of the proposal’s future falls to Biden-appointed administrator Isabel Guzman.

San Francisco archbishop responds to Pelosi: 'No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion'

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 21, 2021 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco on Thursday responded to the Speaker of the House accusing pro-life Trump voters of being sellouts.

 

In a Jan. 18 podcast with former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that support of pro-life voters for former President Donald Trump was an issue that “gives me great grief as a Catholic.”

 

“I think that Donald Trump is president because of the issue of a woman’s right to choose,” she said of abortion, implying that pro-life voters boosted Trump to victory in 2016. She added that these voters “were willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”

 

On Thursday, Pelosi’s archbishop responded to her comments on abortion and voting.

 

“No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Pelosi’s home diocese, in a statement issued on Thursday. “Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop.”

 

Pelosi has long supported abortion despite her Catholic faith. In 2008, she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” regarding when life begins, “over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.” She said that her Catholic faith “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” 

 

On Thursday, Archbishop Cordileone clarified that "Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church."

 

“And on the question of the equal dignity of human life in the womb, she [Pelosi] also speaks in direct contradiction to a fundamental human right that Catholic teaching has consistently championed for 2,000 years,” Cordileone said.

 

The archbishop added that Pelosi’s use of the phrase “right to choose” in reference to abortion “is a smokescreen for perpetuating an entire industry that profits from one of the most heinous evils imaginable.”

 

In 2010, the previous archbishop of San Francisco—George Niederauer—called Pelosi’s support for abortion “entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching.”

 

Pelosi signaled in August that she intends to bring up spending bills in 2021 that do not include the Hyde Amendment—thus allowing for taxpayer-funded abortions in Medicaid. It is unclear if Democrats would have the votes in both chambers of Congress to ultimately repeal Hyde.

 

Cordileone, in his statement on Thursday, said he would “not presume” why individuals voted for Trump. “There are many issues of very grave moral consequence that Catholics must weigh in good conscience when they vote,” he said.

 

Cordileone also supported Archbishop Jose Gomez—the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference—who issued a statement of prayer and congratulations to new President Joe Biden, and who noted areas of agreement and disagreement between Biden and bishops.

 

Gomez, in his statement upon Biden’s inauguration, reiterated that ending abortion is the “preeminent priority” of the conference due to its threat to families and the sheer number of abortion victims.

 

The language on abortion received opposition from within the conference, including by Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago who issued a scathing statement of criticism of Gomez’s words, CNA reported.

 

Cordileone on Thursday thanked Gomez for restating the conference’s priority and added that just because abortion is a “preeminent” concern does not mean it is the “only” concern of the conference.

 

“In his inaugural speech yesterday, President Biden gave a moving call to unity and healing,” Cordileone said, and added that Pelosi’s accusations against pro-lifers were “not the language of unity and healing. She owes these voters an apology.”

 

“Christians have always understood that the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ applies to all life, including life in the womb,” Cordileone said. “Pope Francis continues this unbroken teaching.”