Nel's New Day

May 3, 2015

‘Religious Freedom’ Opens Doors to the Secular

Open a drawer in a hotel room, and you’ll most likely find a bible. Maybe not a telephone book, but a bible distributed by an association called Gideons International. Representatives from the organization have been putting the books across the country for over a century. During World War II, they also gave a copy to each person in the U.S. Armed Forces. After the war, abridged bibles went to all public and private school students between the fifth and twelfth grades after Gideons spoke to assemblies at the schools. The first three years of the program saw 4.2 million copies into the hands of students with a plan to give out a total of 25 million. Many communities required Christian prayers and/or Bible readings in the classrooms.

Original objections came from Jewish leaders opposing the distribution of the New Testament, and Catholic officials fought the Gideon Bible in classrooms because canon law forbids use of the King James Version. Liberal Protestants disapproved, and the editors of the Christian Century claimed that public schools are “not the place” to evangelize because of the Christians have “a duty to respect separation of church and state in relation to the schools.” Complaints led to lawsuits, and the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in 1953 that one school board had clearly favored one religious faith.

Stunned by the decision, the Gideons believed that “Satan has been and still is vigorously opposed to this particular program.” Their appeal to the Supreme Court, however, failed, and the Gideons decided that they were better off without a federal ruling limited to only New Jersey and returned to the other 47 states. Pennsylvania ruled against their actions while Minnesota accepted the bibles in public schools. By the late 1950s, about 43 percent of school districts allowed the bible distribution program, a majority of these in small towns and the areas of the South and the Midwest.  Starting with the 1947 ruling against the Gideons, the Supreme Court has ruled five times against these distributions, but the bibles kept going into the classrooms, in Kentucky as recent as last year.

In the center of the country, Oklahoma has found itself in the center of a firestorm after Attorney General Scott Pruitt passionately defended the right of conservative Christians to proselytize public school students by handing out religious materials. When the American Humanist Association threatened a lawsuit, Duncan Public School District ended a teacher’s distribution of bibles in the classroom. “Few things are as sacred and as fundamental to Oklahomans as the constitutional rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion,” Pruitt wrote. He continued with the tired meme about the attack on religious freedoms by people “who seek to undermine our constitutional rights and threaten our founding principles.”

The Oklahoma Constitution states:

“Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; and no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

One religious group believes the words of the state constitution and attorney general. Satanist Church of Ahriman leader, Adam Daniels, has requested permission to distribute its church handbook to students at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School where the third grade teacher handed out bibles to her students. Daniels told school officials that his church’s handbook is much less “graphic” than the Christian bible. Last year, Satanists received the right to distribute its materials at a Florida school just before the school banned the distribution of all religious materials.

The current demand for “religious freedom” can help improve the country in these areas of need:

Homeless People: In Texas, Joan Cheever is fighting a $2,000 fine in San Antonio for violating the city ordinance against feeding homeless people, using her religious faith as a reason.

Undocumented Immigrants: Leviticus 19:33-34 –  “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” People who provide undocumented people with housing or jobs shouldn’t be charged with a felony if the follow their religious compassion.

Using Marijuana: The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act came from a lawsuit about a Native American’s use of peyote; the Indiana secretary of state has already approved a petition from the First Church of Cannabis Inc. to grow hemp. The use of marijuana can be a religious ritual.

Overfishing: Because the Bible calls shellfish an abomination, vegans and vegetarians might legally block piers and free lobsters from traps.

Climate Change: Members of the GOP have already declared that the belief in human-created climate change is a “religion,” an issue of “faith.” Throughout the Old Testment verses require people to be good stewards of the land. For example, Numbers 35.33-34: “Do not pollute the land where you are…  Do not defile the land where you live and where I [God] dwell.”

Pope Francis clearly understands the importance of being good stewards of the land, and the Koch brothers are unhappy about his position. Their Heartland Institute is sending right-wing “scientists” to tell the pope why he is wrong, both scientifically and biblically, especially after he announced he plans to meet with the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, and other experts to discuss what policymakers and religious leaders can do to better combat the worst effects of climate change. The Koch brothers will attempt to persuade the pope that “there is no need for a radical reordering of global economies that will cause massive reductions in human freedom and prosperity.” In addition, the right-wingers allege that the pope is being “misled” by experts at the United Nations who have “proven unworthy.” Heartland insists that humans are using the land for biblical purposes—the benefit of humanity.

The pope will frustrate the Koch brothers with another position on social issues—equal pay. He called on Christians to demand equality in gender wages. “Why is it expected that women must earn less than men?” he asked. “No! They have the same rights. The disparity is a pure scandal.” The pope explained that his position doesn’t come from attempts to advance women’s rights but said that the higher wages for men is “a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman.” Christians should “decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work.”

After two years of being pope, Francis took an important step when he ended the Church’s investigation and control of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a move instituted by Francis’s predecessor, Benedict. The organization that represents about 80 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States had been censored because they paid more attention to helping the poor and homeless than pontificating against abortion and marriage equality. A report states that the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished.” Catholic Church doctrine still prevents women in the Church from birth control use, but the nuns can return to their good works without punitive measures.

While the pope calls for more freedom, the U.S. Catholic Church is trying to be more restrictive. Like Cincinnati, the Catholic Diocese in Cleveland (OH) has established an “expanded” list of offenses and reclassified teachers as “ministers.” At the five Catholic schools in the city, teachers can be fired if they don’t adhere to the new morality clause with such forbidden behaviors as “[p]ublicly supporting abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, direct sterilization, or so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions.” Other prohibited behaviors on the list are having or helping someone obtain an abortion, any extramarital sex or living with a partner without being legally married, “lewd or sexually suggestive” emails or texts, pornography use or unlawful drug use.

The leadership’s excuse is that “each and every teacher and administrator in a Catholic school, whether they teach religion as a subject or not, is called by the Church to model Jesus.” The new “ministers” might raise the question of biblical references to “surrogate parenthood” and “direct sterilization.” In fact, they should raise the question of how they are actually “ministers” with no personal life outside their employment. Could this requirement be extended to medical practitioners or even everyone who cleans Catholic hospitals and schools? Is a cafeteria worker at a Catholic building a “minister” by providing nourishment?

Anyone finding these questions ridiculous needs only to remember that a for-profit company of craft items now has “religious liberties” and can make opinions for people based on “faith” and not science. Will “religious companies” have the right to control the personal life of all their employers?

Brian-Klawiter-Dieseltec-638x425A recent example of a “religious business” is the auto repair shop in Grandville (MI) where Brian Klawiter bragged on his Facebook page that he wouldn’t repair cars for LGBT people. In fact, if they ask for his services, he might “fix” a car so that it could kill the driver. Although his behavior is legal in Michigan, he’s having trouble getting a city business license because he won’t accept the city ordinance stating that the city has “authority to enter (licensed businesses), with or without search warrant, at all reasonable times.” He wants to be exempted because he thinks the licensing process is a violation of his constitutional rights.

Perception of these constitutional rights differ from one person to another. Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader, recently said—again—that God wrote the Constitution after he created the nation.  “I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government,” DeLay explained. That takes rights from everyone except conservative Christians—maybe even the pope.

June 18, 2012

The Nuns Take a Tour

The Catholic bishops are calling for a “Fortnight for Freedom” starting Thursday because they believe that the U.S. government is abusing their religious freedom. The real issue is that the government—and most of the Catholics—think that all women should have the right to birth control, but another part of this “freedom” is to silence the nuns who care for the poor and feed them. Earlier this year, the Vatican removed their organizational leadership because all the nuns do is help people. The Vatican wants the nuns out there protesting abortion and marriage equality.

The Vatican has decided that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious undermines Roman Catholic teaching with radical feminist themes and takes positions that don’t Catholic teaching on the all-male priesthood, marriage, and homosexuality. Three U.S. bishops, including Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, have been given five years to reorganize that group.

Fourteen nuns, however, are three days ahead of the bishops. They started a nine-state bus tour today called “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness,” beginning in Iowa, ending in Virginia, and making stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although the Vatican has shown no problem with the lack of economic justice in this country, touring nuns will both protest federal budget cuts that hurt low-income family and praise the nuns’ work in helping the country’s most vulnerable.

Although they haven’t specified opposition to any specific Republicans, nuns plan to visit offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the instigator of the repressive budget that has already passed the House. Today they dropped by Rep. Steve King’s office in Ames (IA). Other activities on the bus tour include visiting homeless shelters, food pantries, schools, and health care facilities nuns to highlight their work with the nation’s most vulnerable.

The nuns have gained a great deal of support. Mary Ann McCoy, of Des Moines, described the nuns as “women of courage.” Sister Simone Campbell also appeared on The Colbert Show where she talked about the best way to enter the kingdom of heaven—and it isn’t by gathering wealth! Groups of Catholics are supporting the Women Religious. Picketers meet monthly outside Archbishop Sartain’s cathedral to protest his stance against equality. The Franciscan brothers issued a statement of solidarity with the nuns.

Another nun has recently distressed the Vatican. According to the leader of the Catholic Church, the 2005 book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley is “not consistent with authentic Catholic theology” and should not be used by Roman Catholics. Farley said that she had never intended that the book said express official Catholic teaching. The book, she said, offers “contemporary interpretations” of justice and fairness in human sexual relations, moving away from a “taboo morality” and drawing on “present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources.”

Yet the church has censured Sister Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. This is the second time within the past few years that a book by an American nun has been denounced. In 2011, the doctrine committee of the United States bishops condemned Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by by Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a professor of theology at Fordham University in New York.

Sister Farley’s book finds both moral and theological justifications for same-sex marriage. She wrote that marriage quality “can also be important in transforming the hatred, rejection, and stigmatization of gays and lesbians” and “can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.”

What are the male leaders of the Catholic Church doing to help people? Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, paid pedophile priests to disappear. He also led the Catholic hierarchy in New York in blocking a bill to give child molestation victims more time to file charges—and  not just once but seven times.

The Diocese of Phoenix (AZ) excommunicated doctors and nuns at St. Josephs for saving the life of a 27-year-old woman who would have died without an abortion. Brazilian bishops excommunicated a mother who helped her 13-year-old daughter get an abortion after being raped because she was so small that carrying the fetus might have killed her. But they failed to excommunicate the stepfather who raped the child.

The Catholics lied about contraceptives to Africans to keep them from using condoms that would save their lives. “The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom,” said the archbishop of Nairobi. Priests also told parishioners that condoms were impregnated with the virus.

They also lied to patients in small secular hospitals undergoing mergers with a Catholic healthcare network. Although the merger was not complete, a woman who miscarried and needed surgery to save her life was sent by ambulance to another hospital 80 miles away. To complete these mergers, CEOs of Catholic healthcare networks claim that the formerly-secular hospital can continue with contraceptives, vasectomies, tubal ligations, fertility treatment, and end-of-life patient directives, only to deny these once the merger is complete. The Catholic directives are in place despite the federal funding provided to these hospitals.

Deadly or “cardinal” sins are defined by Catholics as those from which all other sins derive: the seven cardinal sins are lust, gluttony, wrath, sloth, envy, pride, and greed. How does one classify the attempt to control physical lives of lay people? Or silence child victims to protect church assets? Or launder money? Pride? Greed? Wrath?

Not all the male leadership of the Catholic Church has ignored the needs of the people. Bishops have also opposed the Ryan budget, but they are far busier complaining about birth control for women. It’s the women who are doing the work that represents the Church’s religious belief that “charity is at the heart of the Church.” The bishops should think about this belief during their “Fortnight for Freedom.”

May 11, 2012

Catholics Attack Nuns, Girl Scouts

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:04 PM
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The Catholic Church declared war on women’s birth control earlier this year, creating a great media stir. But their latest crackdowns are even more unbelievable. First they attacked the nuns when, in mid-April, the 86-year-old pope came down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella group of women’s orders in the United States that represents 57,000 nuns in this country. A three-year doctrinal assessment determined a situation of “crisis ….characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center.”

The complaint from the Vatican was “a prevalence of … radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith …. theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father … including commentaries on ‘patriarchy’ which distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.” Sounds pretty serious. So what have the nuns been doing to deserve this condemnation?

According to the pope, the nuns are ignoring issues of “crucial importance” to the church such as abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia while devoting themselves to issues of poverty and economic injustice. Vatican officials are also riled because nuns made public statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” So the nuns want to help the poor and get them health care.

Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to oversee reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which includes rewriting the group’s statutes, reviewing all its plans and programs (including approving speakers), and ensuring the organization properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual. The reform, which could take up to five years, would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, which supported the health care act despite bishops’ objections that it would provide funding for abortion.

Many nuns and their supporters said the investigation reflected church officials’ misogyny and was an insult to religious sisters, who run hospitals, teach, and play other vital service roles in the church. The investigation into the sisters’ actions comes at the same time that the Vatican continues to fend off lawsuits against the male leaders of the Catholic Church—priests, bishops, etc.—for their involvement in huge numbers of child abuse by priests during the last half century.

According to Nicholas Kristoff, “Nuns were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s. They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world.” He writes about seeing them “defy warlords, pimps and bandits” and describes the actions of Sister Rachele Fassers, who defied the African warlord Joseph Kony after he kidnapped 139 students from a Ugandan girls’ school. She hiked through the jungle after Kony and his menacing army of 200 rapists and torturists, demanding that they release the girls. They let the great majority of the girls return with her. While bishops disgrace the Catholic Church by shielding priests who rape children, nuns continue to work for the neediest.

In the Bible Jesus was concerned about poverty and social justice with no mention of abortion and homosexuality. Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian, writes, “How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?” Just one example is Sister Joan Chittister’s order of 120 nuns that runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the largest education programs for the unemployed in the state of Pennsylvania. This is who the pope is attacking.

“To me, it’s quite puzzling that our work with the poor, which Jesus told us to do in the gospels, would be the source of such a criticism,” said Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK. Campbell said she believes the Vatican targeted her group because of their support for healthcare reform. “They like it when we just do service, but don’t have thoughts, don’t have questions, don’t have criticism. That is a real challenge in a political society, when we have to do a deep, nuanced analysis in order to know the way forward for this, for the common good.” She added, ”I actually find it quite a badge of honor to be thought to be working so much for those who live at the margins of our society. That’s what we’re about. That’s who we are.”

“The church hierarchy never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns,” Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column. Kristof added, “Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, the nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.”

In the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Eventually she was permitted to return to her order where she became famous for her work with the poor. The pope canonized Sister Mary in 2010 as Australia’s first saint. He declared, “Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings. Perhaps someone will remind him of what he did and said two years ago.

As if the attack on the nuns isn’t enough, the Catholic Church has gone after the Girl Scouts on their 100th anniversary. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops accuses the Scouts of having a partnership with Planned Parenthood (not true) and distributing materials on human sexuality (also not true). The bishops were very vague in the letter from the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, stating they will look into the Scouts’ “possible problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic” program materials. The Catholic bishops spend their time investigating the Girl Scouts while not protesting the Boy Scouts child abuse debacle.

Out-dated Catholic beliefs which may return because of the current pope’s narrowness are punishing even high school students. A conservative school operated by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group representing traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s, forfeited a championship baseball game rather than play the team from Mesa Preparatory Academy because that school has a girl on its team, Paige Sultzback. She sat out two other games against Our Lady of Sorrows in Phoenix (AZ) in respect to the Lady’s philosophy, but the coach wanted her to play in the final game. A statement from Our Lady of Sorrows explained that the school teaches respect by not placing girls in athletic competition where “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.”

The Vatican should be lucky that people still have an allegiance to the church after the way that they seem to endorse child abuse with no punishment and repress their members. They should just let the nuns do their good work, let the Girl Scouts have their campouts, and let school kids play baseball. As Dowd said, “How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?”

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