Ann Arbor, Mich., Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - On Thursday a New Jersey Federal Court heard oral arguments in a legal challenge to a public school district’s policy totally banning from year-end celebration in its schools all Christmas music, including instrumental versions without lyrics. The policy had been the subject of Fox News anchor John Gibson’s book “The War on Christmas.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Law Center and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, who argued the ban conveys a government-sponsored message of disapproval and hostility toward religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution prohibits school districts from adopting policies that disfavor religion. Contrary to popular myth, our Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any,” said Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney who argued the case. “The school district’s policy is plainly unconstitutional,” he summarized.
The case has been filed on behalf of Michael Stratechuk, who sued on his own and on behalf of his school-age children on the grounds that the policy deprives the children of the right to receive information and ideas.
In September 2005 the district court had dismissed the complaint, declaring that the suit failed to state a claim under the U.S. Constitution. The Thomas More Law Center appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The Third Circuit Court ruled that “a categorical ban on exclusively religious music” for the purpose of sending a message of disapproval of religion, “appears to state a claim under the First Amendment,” and therefore the complaint could not be dismissed.
The court also awarded legal costs to the Thomas More Law Center for having to bring the appeal.
Sacramento, Calif., Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - Supporters of a California amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman have said they will file a lawsuit challenging California attorney general Jerry Brown’s decision to rewrite the wording of the measure, arguing the new phrasing is “inherently argumentative” and “inflammatory.”
The original wording says the amendment, called Proposition 8, “amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Last week Brown’s office changed the proposition’s title from “Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment” to “Eliminates Right of Same-sex Couples to Marry,” the California Catholic Daily reports.
The proposition’s summary now reads “Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The summary says the initiative could lead to “revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments,” but also indicates there would likely be little impact state and local governments’ fiscal budgets.
Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy told the San Jose Mercury News that such changes in ballot wording often occur and claimed the change was necessary after the state Supreme Court, in what he called an “extremely important” decision, recognized same-sex marriage as a right.
Proponents and opponents of the measure both agreed the changes will make voters less likely to approve it because it asks voters to remove an existing right.
“What Proposition 8 would do is eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, which is exactly what the attorney general put in the title of the measure,” Steve Smith, campaign manager for No on Proposition 8, who also claimed it would be “very difficult” for proposition backers to win their lawsuit.
Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for Protect Marriage, said the new language was “inherently argumentative” and a “complete about-face” from the title assigned during signature gathering.
“We feel the ballot language is so inflammatory that it will unduly prejudice voters against the measure,” Kerns said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. She said the attorney general had not fulfilled his duty to provide ballot titles and summaries that are “fair, accurate and not prejudicial.”
“Proposition 8 simply seeks to restore the definition of marriage back to its original meaning of the previous 158 years of California statehood,” Kerns commented in an e-mail statement to CNA, saying its proponents simply seek a “fair, accurate ballot title and summary.”
“At the end of the day, it should be the people of California – not the Attorney General – who decides what their opinion of a ballot measure is,” she continued.
Protect Marriage claimed that research shows the attorney general has never used an active verb like “eliminates” in the title of a ballot measure in the fifty years in which ballot measures have been used.
According to a July 18 Field Poll, 42 percent of voters surveyed supported the measure, while 51 percent said they opposed it.
However, Frank Schubert, Proposition 8 campaign manager, argued that the Field Poll has “consistently understated support for the initiative,” citing a Los Angeles Times poll that showed support at 54 percent.
Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - A group which says it is trying to expose Sen. Barack Obama’s “radical pro-abortion views and voting record” on Wednesday filed a “pre-emptive” suit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Department of Justice to prevent them from enforcing rules that the group claims hinder its engagement in issue advocacy.
The Richmond, Virginia-based group The Real Truth about Obama (RTAO) is a 527 Group, meaning it is a non-profit “political organization” classified under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. An RTAO statement released on Wednesday said the group was formed to tell Americans the “real truth” about Obama’s political positions, beginning with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s support for legalized abortion.
RTAO has produced a radio ad called “Change,” which reportedly describes Obama’s position on abortion without expressly advocating his election or defeat. The group also has a website but it is not operational due to what the group says are the FEC’s enforcement policies which prohibit it from raising money for the project.
According to the RTAO statement, the group fears it will be deemed a federal Political Action Committee (PAC) because of FEC actions prompted by various issue-advocacy groups active in the 2004 election, such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The Swift Boat Veterans were fined for failing to register as a federal PAC, though they were only engaged in issue advocacy, RTAO claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court described issue advocacy in the case “Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission,” in which the court said: “Issue advocacy conveys information and educates. An issue ad's impact on an election, if it exists at all, will come only after the voters hear the information and choose--uninvited by the ad--to factor it into their voting decisions.”
James Bopp, Jr., lead attorney for RTAO, argued the group should not be registered as a PAC.
“Issue advocacy cannot be regulated by the FEC, and groups that engage in it cannot constitutionally be required to register as federal PACs,” Bopp asserted. “The FEC’s enforcement actions arising out of the 2004 election were outrageously unconstitutional, and we hope that this lawsuit will to put a stop to a repeat in 2008.”
Bopp further argued that the FEC has not changed its regulations to conform to the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation that issue advocacy enjoys constitutional protections.
“Instead, the FEC plans to use its complicated PAC enforcement policy, developed in 2004, to punish groups for engaging in issue advocacy,” he said. “This is unconstitutional, and we hope the federal courts will put an end to it.”
The RTAO complaint charges that FEC regulations enforce a “vague and overbroad” rule which prohibits “express advocacy.”
Speaking in an interview with CNA on Thursday, Bopp said that RTAO’s concerns originate in the treatment of the Swift Boat Veterans and other groups active in the 2004 elections.
“The FEC pursued these organizations, claiming that they should have registered with the FEC as a Federal PAC and be subject to all their issues and restrictions,” he explained.
“They were able to coerce many of these organizations into paying heavy fines,” Bopp said, claiming the FEC justified the fines according to what he called a “bogus and unconstitutional” legal theory.
According to Bopp, the FEC has threatened similar action in the 2008 election cycle and the RTAO group wishes to engage in issue advocacy without being punished.
“Rather than risk an enforcement action, they have decided to bring suit so they can get a federal injunction,” he explained. “This is a pre-emptive suit.”
The RTAO feared “anything that they would do to pursue even funding for this project would be illegal under the FEC’s unconstitutional enforcement policy.”
“They don’t want to be violating any law. They chose to go to court to determine whether the FEC’s rules are lawful or not,” Bopp continued.
He explained that political advocacy, which can be regulated under FEC rules, takes place when one expressly advocates the election of a candidate by saying “vote for” or “vote against” the candidate.
“Issue advocacy is just talking about public policy issues,” Bopp said. “’Obama voted for or against this bill, he’s in favor of partial-birth abortion, he’s in favor of federally funding for abortion in the United States,’ that’s just talking about an issue.”
He argued that FEC regulations were an unconstitutional threat to free speech because “they would regulate groups that engage in issue advocacy by requiring them to be a federal PAC subject to very extensive requirements and restrictions.”
“That’s the problem we’re facing,” he said, speaking of RTAO. “If this group started talking about Obama’s radical pro-abortion position, then they would be punished by the FEC, and they don’t think it’s lawful for them to be punished.”
Santiago, Chile, Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - Maria Mercedes Correa Maldonado, a 23 year-old Chilean woman who in explicably “woke up” from cerebral palsy when she was 18, is now pregnant, in what could be the second miracle attributed to Italian seminarian Nicola D’Onofrio (1943-1964), whose cause of beatification is open in the Diocese of Rome.
Maria Mercedes suffered from grave cerebral palsy but on a March afternoon on 2003, after her mother had incessantly prayed to the Italian seminarian for his intercession, she woke up in her hospital bed in Puataendo, sat up and said, “I’m hungry.”
Inexplicable from a medical point of view, the case drew the attention of the Sons of St. Camillus, who are following D’Onofrio’s beatification process in Rome, which began in 2000.
Now, five years after her miraculous recovery, Maria Mercedes says she is experiencing a new miracle from D’Onofrio, as she has become pregnant despite doctors’ diagnoses that it would be impossible. “All the specialists who examined her came to the conclusion that she could never have any children. But now she is pregnant. It is a new miracle,” her mother said.
“I realized she could be pregnant; I took her to the doctor and tests confirmed it. For me, this is the second miracle by Nicola, a way of closing Maria Mercedes’ cycle of recovery,” she told the Chilean daily “El Mercurio.”
“I feel good and I’m happy about this new stage in my life and happy to know that my son is going to be born healthy. I’m a little bit afraid to go back to the hospital even though I spent eighteen years there,” Maria Mercedes told “El Mercurio.”
Nicola D’Onofrio joined the Order of St. Camillus at the age of 17. He was know for his deep devotion, which led his spiritual director to ask him to write a diary in order to keep a record of his experiences of the love of God for others to read. Towards the end of 1962, he suffered the first symptoms of cancer that would end his life at the age of 21.
He bore his illness with heroism and enthusiasm and inspired joy and fervor in his fellow students. His superiors, seeing that his end was near, asked for a dispensation from the Holy See to allow him to make his perpetual profession, which Nicola longed for. On May 28, 1964, he made is perpetual vows.
On June 12, 1964, after a full of day of prayer, Nicola met with his brother religious and encouraged them to follow him on “the path towards eternity.” Nicola passed away in the evening of the same day.
The remains of the Servant of God are buried at Bucchianico, near the crypt of St. Camillus, a popular pilgrimage destination.
Rome, Italy, Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican Television Center (CTV) aired the first images of Pope Benedict XVI comfortably enjoying his vacation this week, together with his brother Georg in the city of Bressanone in northern Italy.
“The Holy Father spends his days in prayer, rest, study and playing the piano,” said an official from the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone.
The Pope wakes up at six in the morning, celebrates Mass, has breakfast and then divides his time between reading and writing at the famous library of the 400 year-old seminary and walks outside in the gardens. The Holy Father rests briefly after lunch and then spends more time reading and studying. “Only his walks in the garden and the piano interrupt his intellectual activities,” the official said.
He normally takes his walks with his 84 year-old brother Georg, with whom he exchanges ideas and jokes in their native language of German.
The images aired by CTV showed the Pope standing in front of a statue of Mary and the child Jesus and seated on a bench in the gardens praying the rosary.
The next public appearance by the Holy Father will be this coming Sunday for the recitation of the Angelus.
Quito, Ecuador, Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - The new Constitution of Ecuador currently being drafted could make it obligatory for all schools in the country to offer the course “Education for Citizenship,” which has been rejected by thousands of parents in Spain because it indoctrinates children with secularism, relativism, legal positivism and gender ideology.
According to pro-family reporters, some Ecuadoran schools have been experimenting with Education for Citizenship for the past two years, and article 347 of the future Constitution would make it obligatory.
The article in question affirms that in the area of education, it is the responsibility of the State “to assure that all schools impart an education in citizenship, sexuality and the environment based on rights.”
According to sources consulted by the Catholic News Agency, for two years some children in Ecuador have been attending the Education for Citizenship course, financed through an agreement between the governments of Ecuador and Spain.
The Ecuadoran daily “El Universo” reported that 640 teachers in the country have been trained to teach the course and teachers may be required to be certified in the course in order to qualify for promotions and raises.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - During the inauguration of a summer course on modernization in Spain, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Toledo denounced the existence in Spain and the Western world of a social revolution aimed directly at undermining the Christian roots of the West.
During his remarks, Cardinal Cañizares denounced the existence in Spain of a plan presented as a “modernization” movement, but that “in reality seeks to modify the social and cultural reality of Spain, transforming its identity.”
“This social and cultural project aims to construct a secular society without any moral or religious reference, attempting to impose nihilist thought and deliberately eliminating everything Catholic from public life,” the cardinal said.
While such a plan is present in the West in general, “it is especially intense in Spain,” he added, where it is supported by “powerful and sometimes dark forces, present everywhere from the media to schools.”
The promoters of this plan “have made the Catholic Church their target,” as they see her and the family as the main obstacles to their plans. “Thus the Church is presented as the enemy of democracy and modernization, opposed to science and progress, against freedom, the enemy of happiness or the promoter of division, confrontation and violence…in an effort to isolate religion to private life,” the cardinal stated.
“The silencing of God is the fundamental event of our times,” he continued. “There is nothing else that compares in terms of its radicalism and serious consequences.”
In the designing of this new society, Cardinal Cañizares explained, relativism plays an important role, since “nothing can be said to be definitive, it is at the center of a society that constantly doubts itself. There is no law, only rights that are restricted or broadened according to the will of whoever is in power. In all of this is the concept of man as a being autonomous of the will of God, who counts for nothing.”
Konigstein, Germany, Aug 1, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka said Bosnia needs truth and conversion in order for there to be a real future for the country after the war in the former Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1995.
He made his statements to Aid to the Church in Need in response to the capture of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian leader accused of massacring almost eight thousand Muslims in Srebrenica and of the 43 month-long siege of Sarajevo, during which 10,000 people died.
Bishop Komarica said it was important that those responsible for the massacre be held accountable, but he also called for prayers “for all those whose hands are bloody with the cruel atrocities committed during the last war in Bosnia.” He recalled that the Church prays for these people because “they need personal conversion.”
He went on to denounce local politicians for lacking the will to hold accountable those responsible for the crimes. “Passivity and calm cement acts,” he said, noting that “the Gospel teaches us to call acts and person who commit them by their names.”
Bishop Komarica added that the task of the Church is to serve the truth which, together with justice, can alone give people the chance to return to their country.
According to ACN, during the Balkan war more than 243,000 people died, and more than two million were displaced as a result of the redistribution of land.