Archive of May 31, 2013

Targeting of crisis pregnancy centers draws sharp criticism

Washington D.C., May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A bill introduced in congress allowing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate crisis pregnancy centers has sparked a fiery reaction that abortion clinics warrant far greater scrutiny.

“It's outrageous to target generous people who are out there to give women a real choice,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association, told CNA May 30.

The bill was introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who argued that women “shouldn't be deliberately misled or coerced when they seek legitimate medical services.”

Crisis pregnancy centers “that practice bait-and-switch should be held accountable so that pregnant women are not deceived at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives,” the congresswoman said.

The measure was presented on May 16 by Rep. Maloney and 12 co-sponsors. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also introduced to the senate a version of the bill, which has garnered public support from the National Abortion Federation NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Earlier versions of the bill were introduced to the House in 2011 and 2012. The legislation will allow the Federal Trade Commission to investigate advertising that implies an organization performs abortion when it does not, or who says it does not provide abortion when, in fact, it does.

Upon his introduction of the companion bill, Sen. Menendez remarked that nobody “should ever be subjected to misleading information when they are seeking health care, especially during pregnancy.”

“We have worked too hard to expand the availability of women's health care services to have any confusion created by those who would deliberately deceive a woman to suit their own purposes.”

On the charge that crisis pregnancy centers pressure and mislead women, “exactly the opposite is true,” Ferguson countered.  

Abortion clinics, rather, “are pressuring women to take the life of their child and they're making money off of it.” These facilities, she argued, “fight informed consent laws,” advocate for minors having access to abortion, and actively try to mislead the public and parents.

Ferguson added that Sen. Menedez and Rep. Maloney “have a long history of abortion advocacy,” and that it is “highly hypocritical for these members of congress in the name of choice to be harassing volunteers trying to provide women with a real choice.”

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, has claimed that only 3 percent of its services are abortions. However, because Planned Parenthood counts every test and action within an appointment as a separate procedure, the percentage of abortion-related procedures performed by the organization is much higher.

According to Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, 98 percent of Planned Parenthood's services to pregnant women are abortion.

In 2012, Planned Parenthood was criticized for implying that it provides mammograms to women during its breast screenings. Following a statement by President Barack Obama stating that women “rely” on Planned Parenthood for mammograms, the organization admitted that it does not directly provide the service.

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Study documents abortion's global health threat to women

Geneva, Switzerland, May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new study released during the 66th annual World Health Assembly identified and exposed what it claimed to be the harmful and often overlooked impact that abortion has on women's health.

Decades-long research analysis issued by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach and National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund makes the case that rather than being a routine medical procedure, abortion is detrimental to the health of women globally.

“The evidence is overwhelming: abortion is dangerous for women,” executive director Scott Fischbach of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach said in a May 22 statement.

The analysis “How Abortion Hurts Women” released during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, examined the harmful side effects of abortion that are often overlooked or even “exacerbated” when performed in developing nations.

“Abortion is by its very nature a violent and damaging procedure,” Fischbach said.

The study shows that women who have undergone abortions – both surgical and non-surgical – in are at greater risk of breast cancer, pre-term birth, infertility and psychological problems than those who have not had abortions.

These risks are increased in areas where the quality of maternal healthcare is lacking, the report shows.

“The incidence of maternal mortality is mainly determined by the quality of maternal health care. Legalization does not improve outcomes, but only increases the number of women subjected to the risks of abortion,” Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative said in the statement.

Rather than promoting the legalization of abortion worldwide, the group suggested that the World Health Organization adopt measures that “protect women from abortion” while at the same time working to “improve women’s health care.”

The release of the analysis came just before the May 27 close of the World Health Assembly where a resolution passed which placed contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in the category of “life-saving commodities for women and children,” along with antibiotics and oral rehydration salts.

In the resolution, Member States of the World Health Organization are urged to “improve the quality, supply and use” of said “life-saving commodities” as well as “develop plans to increase demand and facilitate universal access.”

The resolution focused upon the promotion of female condoms, contraceptive implants and emergency contraception. These methods rank among the least popular modern artificial modes of preventing pregnancy, according to a 2009 study by the United Nations.

Implanted contraceptives are a long-acting hormonal device injected under the woman’s skin, halting the woman’s natural cycle of ovulation for up to three years. It must be inserted and removed by a doctor.

Emergency contraceptives have generated controversy for their potential to induce early abortions. While all forms can prevent ovulation, it is not known if these drugs can prevent the embryo from taking root in the mother implanting in the mother’s uterus.

Additionally, certain types of emergency contraception, specifically the drug ulipristal, is nearly chemically identical to the drug used for medical abortions, mifopristal, and is labeled as toxic to fetuses.

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Contraception funding charges inaccurate, NY archdiocese says

New York City, N.Y., May 31, 2013 (CNA) - Responding to media reports, the Archdiocese of New York said that its payments to a labor union fund that goes towards insurance coverage of contraception and abortion are involuntary and do not excuse the federal contraception mandate.

“The union, local 1199, is present in all health care facilities. Even if a health care facility chose not to negotiate with the union it would be forced to abide by the same terms of the contract,” archdiocese communications director Joseph Zwilling told CNA on May 30.

The New York Times on May 26 reported that the Archdiocese of New York “reluctantly and indirectly” funds objectionable health care coverage for about 3,000 full-time employees of ArchCare, which operates seven nursing homes and a number of other health care facilities.

ArchCare, like other health care employers in New York, pay into a union benefit fund that is then used by the union to pay for various benefits including an insurance plan that covers contraception and abortion.

Also known as the Catholic Health Care System, ArchCare is a member of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, which periodically negotiates a joint labor contract with the union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

However, even if the archdiocese chose not to be part of the league, labor laws prohibit Catholic facilities from simply opting to ignore the union.

“It doesn’t matter whether you join the league or you don’t join; the league determines the contract, and then the union goes and forces the same arrangement on the other homes whether you are in the league or not,” said Scott LaRue, the chief executive of ArchCare, according to the New York Times.

In a May 27 statement, Zwilling said the New York Times article “incorrectly equates” the union health care benefits with the federal  mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.

After strong opposition to the initial mandate, the government began a series of steps to modify the regulation. The most recent proposal would exempt churches and their affiliated organizations from the mandate’s requirements. However, religious institutions such as hospitals, schools or soup kitchens that are not run by a house of worship would not qualify for an exemption.

These religious organizations would instead be subject to a separate provision under which the health insurance plans they fund would trigger free coverage of the objectionable products for their employees. The administration argues that this coverage can be offered free-of-charge because the cost of the contraceptives would be offset by the “tremendous health benefits” that women enjoy from using contraception, along with the fewer childbirths that will result.

Critics have voiced doubt over these claims, arguing that the objecting religious groups will ultimately still fund the coverage through their premium payments.

Zwilling stressed that the labor union’s action insurance plan does not justify the federal mandate.

He noted that federal law and the First Amendment place restrictions on government imposition on religion that do not extend to labor unions.

He further explained that the archdiocese “has objected to the dilemma of choosing between providing health care to employees or violating its sincere religious beliefs in both instances.”  

“ArchCare did not exist at the time the contract with 1199 was finalized. When ArchCare was formed, it inherited this situation and objected to these services being included in the 1199 health plan,” he said.

“However, ArchCare had no other option but to pay into the fund which administers the union members’ benefits ‘under protest’ to continue to offer insurance to its union workers and remain in the health care field in New York.”  

In the same way, he explained, the archdiocese has appealed to the Obama administration, Congress and the court system to protect its religious freedom from the demands of the contraception mandate.

“In all cases where the health insurance benefit plan is under the control of the Archdiocese, including for all non-union ArchCare employees, contraceptive care services are not provided,” he said.

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Pope made apartment choice to avoid isolation

Vatican City, May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis told his friend he lives a normal life as pontiff and that he decided not to move into the Papal Apartments so would not become isolated.

“I let people see me and I live a normal life; (I have) public Mass in the morning, I eat in the dining room with everyone, etc.,” he wrote to his friend Father Enrique Rodriguez in a letter dated May 15.

“This does me good and prevents me from being isolated,” he explained to his friend “Quique.”

Pope Francis also told his friend that he tries “to keep my nature and my way of behaving that I had in Buenos Aires because if I change at my age, I would surely make a fool out of myself.”

And despite all of the changes to his life, the Holy Father said, “I’m well and I haven’t lost peace after a totally surprising event, and I consider this a gift of God.”

According to the Argentinian daily El Clarín, which published the message on May 28 in Spanish, Fr. Rodriguez gave an interview on radio La Red La Rioja saying he received the letter without a return address.

“That called my attention and I immediately opened it, which gave me a nice surprise that it was the Pope’s response, whom I knew from a long time ago,” he said.

Fr. Rodriguez received the letter just before saying Mass and decided to read it at the end of the Eucharistic celebration, according to El Clarín.

“It made the community happy, so much that the congregation clapped after I finished reading it,” he said.

Pope Francis told his friend that his May 1 letter that he was responding to “brought him a lot of joy” and that Fr. Rodriguez’s description of a national feast day gave him “fresh air.”

Pope Francis also explained that he did not want to live in the Papal Apartments because it would isolate him and that he only goes there to work and for audiences.

“I stayed to live in Saint Martha House, which is a guest house (where we stayed during the conclave) for bishops, priests and lay people,” he wrote.

“I ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask others to pray for me,” he stated.

Pope Francis also offered his “greetings to Carlos and Miguel.”

“May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin take care of you,” he said. “Fraternally, Francisco.”

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Vatican bank president focusing on image change

Vatican City, May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The new head of the Vatican’s Institute for Works of Religion, Ernst von Freyberg, says his main goal is to improve the image so that the Pope’s message remains in the spotlight.

“My dream is that our reputation is such that people don’t think of us any more, when they think about the Vatican, but that they listen to what the Pope says,” remarked von Freyberg in an exclusive May 31 interview with Vatican Radio.

The president of the so-called Vatican bank stated that contrary to some eye-catching headlines, the institute remains one of the safest places in the world for people’s money.

“During the financial crisis we were never in trouble,” he recalled.

“No government had to bail us out. We are very, very safe.”

He labeled the outfit as a “well managed, clean financial institution.”

“We can improve on all areas as can everybody else and we are trying to be as good as the comparable institutes are,” admitted von Freyberg, who was appointed to his post on Feb. 15.

The Vatican institute is not technically a bank because it does not carry out certain transactions that are commonly done by banks.

“We do not lend money, we do not make direct investments, we do not act as financial counterparts so you cannot get a swatch or a hedge from us,” he explained.

“We receive money as deposits and we then invest it in government bonds, some corporate bonds and in the inter-banking market where we deposit with other banks, for a slightly higher interest rate than we receive,” he reported.

He noted that this is done in order to be able to “give it back to our customers whenever they want it.”

The institute contributes 55 million euros to the Vatican budget, making it one of its most important economic pillars.

Von Freyberg underscored the institute earns that amount through the interest it pays to those who deposit and then the interest income the institute gains from that.

“That is our most important part of the income and that in any year would be between 50 and 70 million euros, from that you deduct our costs,” he said.

“Then we have some gains on bond prices which move up and down so you arrive at our profit,” he remarked.

According to him, it is an interest margin and “changes in values of bonds we own” from which the operating cost of roughly 25 million euros is deducted.

Another effort he is undertaking to improve the reputation of the institute is working closely with the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, a watchdog agency that began operating in April 2011to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Von Freyberg’s job also comes with an unusual perk. When he travels from Frankfurt to the Vatican three times a week, he stays in Saint Martha House, the same place where Pope Francis lives.

“A normal day starts in the most extraordinary way because I have the privilege to live in Saint Martha and I am allowed to occasionally attend Mass with the Pope,” he said.

“That itself is a privilege, to be there at seven o’clock in the morning and to listen to his short and always very poignant sermons,” he remarked.

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Praising God frees us from sorrow, Pope proclaims

Vatican City, May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians often act like they are “going to a funeral procession rather than to praise God,” Pope Francis declared, urging believers to spend time praising God so they are not slaves to their sorrows.

“You here at Mass,” the Pope said in the chapel of St. Martha’s House, “do you give praise to God or do you only petition God and thank God?

“Do you praise God?” he repeated, pointing out that this “is something new, new in our new spiritual life.”

Anticipating a common excuse for not praising God, he said, “‘this Mass is so long!’”

“If you do not praise God, you will never know the gratuity of spending time praising God, the Mass is long. But if you go with this attitude of joy, of praise to God, that is beautiful! This is what eternity will be: giving praise to God! And that will not be boring; it will be beautiful! This joy makes us free,” Pope Francis said in his May 31 homily.

He based his words on the daily readings, one from the prophet Zephaniah and the other from Luke’s Gospel, which recounted Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth.

The Old Testament reading contains the exclamation “Rejoice! Cries of joy, the Lord is in your midst,” while the story of Mary’s visit recalls how John the Baptist “rejoices” in Elizabeth’s womb when he hears Mary’s greeting.

Both of the readings speak of joy, “the joy that is celebration,” the Pope said.

But “we Christians are not so accustomed to speak of joy, of happiness. … I think often we prefer to complain,” he stated.

“Without joy,” he added, “we Christians cannot become free, we become slaves to our sorrows. The great Paul VI said that you cannot advance the Gospel with sad, hopeless, discouraged Christians. You cannot.”

Being joyful “comes from praise, Mary’s praise, this praise that Zephaniah speaks of, Simeon and Anna’s praise: this praise of God!” the Pope preached.

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is “the author of joy, the Creator of joy,” Pope Francis said that Christians learn to praise and become joyful, which leads to “true Christian freedom.”

He finished his homily by pointing to Mary as the model of “this praise” and “this joy.”

“The Church,” the Pope noted, “calls her the ‘cause of our joy,’ Cause Nostrae Letitiae. Why? Because she brings the greatest joy that is Jesus.”

“We need to pray to Our Lady, so that by bringing Jesus she gives us the grace of joy, the joy of freedom. That it gives us the grace to praise, to praise with a prayer of gratuitous praise, because he is worthy of praise, always.”

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Pope closes Mary's month reflecting on her spiritual attitude

Vatican City, May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After a Rosary in St. Peter’s Square to mark the end of May, Pope Francis asked people to “listen, decide, and take action” like Mary did.

“Listen to everyday reality, to people, to the facts because the Lord is at our door and knocks in many ways, he places signs in our path; he give us the ability to see them,” the Pope said in front of thousands of pilgrims, following the 8:00 p.m. Rosary.

He spoke about the Gospel reading for May 31 that recounted Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Vatican City State’s vicar general and Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, led the Rosary at 8:00 p.m.

During the celebration, the statue of the Virgin was carried in procession around the different parts of St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis said Mary’s attitude can be summed up as listening, deciding and acting, and it indicates a road for us “in front of what the Lord asks of us in life.”

He explained that listening relates to “attention, acceptance, and openness to God” and not “the careless way in which sometimes we put ourselves in front of the Lord or others.”

Mary’s decisiveness, the Pope taught, was present when she refused to be carried away by events.
“In life it is difficult to make decisions, we often tend to postpone them, to let others decide for us,” he said.

“We often prefer to get carried away by events and follow the fashion of the moment,” he added.

The pontiff noted, “sometimes we know what we should do, but we do not have the courage to do it or it seems too difficult because it means going against the current.”

But he believes Mary was decisive, especially on two occasions: when she listened to God and visited Elizabeth despite being pregnant herself and when she relied on her son to “save the joy of the wedding.”

As for the third characteristic of Mary’s attitude, action, Pope Francis explained that one should not hesitate when one knows God’s will, and only meditate if it remains unclear.

“Mary is not in a hurry … she does not get carried away by events, but when it’s clear what God asks of her she does it quickly,” he remarked.

“Sometimes, we also stop listening, stop reflecting on what we should do and perhaps it’s even clear to us the decision we should make, but we do not make the transition to action,” stated the Pope.

Instead, he counseled, we should “move quickly toward others to give them our help, our understanding and our charity.”

“To give them, like Mary, that which we have of most value and have received, Jesus and his Gospel, with the word and especially with the concrete testimony of our actions,” he said.

Pope Francis then invoked Mary’s intercession so that God may “open our ears,” so that he may give us “courage to take decisions,” and so that we “may move quickly toward others in charity.”

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Legion of Christ update presented to Pope Francis

Vatican City, May 31, 2013 (CNA/Europa Press) - The papal delegate overseeing the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christ met with Pope Francis on Monday to discuss the progress that has been made in reforming the two religious bodies.

During their 45-minute meeting, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said, he and the Pope discussed the drafting of a new constitution for the Legion of Christ, which will be presented at the order’s General Chapter in early 2014.

They also discussed the general statutes that govern Regnum Christi and its consecrated and lay members. New leaders of both congregations will be elected at the General Chapter.

Cardinal De Paolis described Regnum Christ to the Holy Father as “a precious reality that enriches and complements the work of the Legion.”

The final results of the renewal process will be presented to the Holy Father for his approval, he said.

The meeting comes as part of ongoing reform efforts for the Legion after revelations that its founder, Fr. Marcel Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians and fathered children. The Vatican responded by calling for a period of renewal that includes a redefinition of the Legion’s mission and governing structure.
The Legionaries of Christ and the members of Regnum Christi recently announced a period of atonement and prayer in preparation for the General Assemblies that will determine their future, as well as Pope Francis’ expected decision about their spiritual family.

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Bishops denounce attacks in Central African Republic

Madrid, Spain, May 31, 2013 (CNA) - A bishop in the Central African Republic is denouncing the plundering and profanations of Church missions in the country, as well as the sexual assaults carried out by Islamists in the rebel militia Seleka.

“They have burned down the pediatric hospital, the internet center and the pharmacy. Outside of Bangassou there have been summary executions of adults and children,” said Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre of Bangassou.

“Women are constantly being raped,” he said, adding that at least three different churches “have been plundered and profaned.”

“They have stolen all of our means of transportation for visiting churches and the faithful – more than 20 cars,” the bishop said.  “I have to walk everywhere and carry my backpack.” 

In an effort to respond to the situation, Aid to the Church in Need has launched an urgent campaign to raise money for the four most affected dioceses – Alindao, Bangassou, Bambari and Kaga-Bandoro.

The organization warned that militants supporting the new government being imposed by force are “extremely armed” and “smother all efforts to resist in the country,” with Christians being “their primary target.” 

The country has seen a widespread exodus of families, the group added, and it is primarily only priests, religious and the bishops that have chosen to stay.

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New Oakland bishop looks to Pope Francis' example

Oakland, Calif., May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., was ordained and installed as Bishop of Oakland on May 25, promising to follow Pope Francis' emphasis on caring the poor and the suffering.

“I would like to do for Oakland what Pope Francis is doing for the whole Church,” Bishop Barber said in his remarks at the end of Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

“My vision is this: the priests take care of the people. The bishop takes care of the priests. And we all take care of the poor, the sick and the suffering – those suffering physically and spiritually,” he said to a filled cathedral.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the previous Bishop of Oakland, served as the new bishop’s principal consecrator.

The archbishop delivered the homily, saying that Pope Francis “certainly has given us much to think about, and not just think but do, to respond in kind to his example.”

“He is calling us to reexamine our lives, calling us back to basics, to reflect more deeply,” Archbishop Cordileone continued.

“Perhaps, for those in ordained ministry, the most striking of all is his style of preaching. He is so direct and so down-to-earth, getting down to the heart of the matter in a pastoral, personal way.”

Bishop Barber emphasized the importance of collaboration, saying that as a priest he was always grateful “when my superiors allowed – or better yet, made it easier – for me to do my job.”

He said he did not know what he would do about the diocese’s debt.

“But what I do know is this,” he said. “If we are generous with God and generous in taking care of his people, God will take care of us.”

Bishop Barber has roots in Oakland, where his father was born. His mother was born across the bay in San Francisco.

The new bishop thanked former San Francisco Archbishop John Rafael Quinn, who ordained him to the priesthood. He thanked the priest who baptized him, Father John Cummins, who later served as second Bishop of Oakland.

He also had special words for Sister Mary Jude, O.P., who taught him religion in eighth grade.

“You may not realize it, but this sister has taught every person in the diocese of Oakland -- because she taught me the faith, and I will hand it on to you,” Bishop Barber said. “In honoring her, I honor all consecrated religious women, all teachers, and all catechists in our diocese.

Until Pope Francis named him as bishop, Bishop Barber had served as Director of Spiritual Formation at Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1973. He served in numerous capacities, including as a missionary in Western Samoa, an assistant professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a tutor and chaplain at the University of Oxford, and as chaplain for the U.S. Navy Reserve.

The bishop took a moment to joke about his Jesuit past.

“I overheard a woman say to a Jesuit before Mass this morning: ‘Thanks for giving us Father as our bishop.’ The Jesuit replied: ‘Thank you for taking him!’” Bishop Barber said.
“Good people of Oakland, thank you for taking me!” he added.

“In my 58 years of life, it never entered my mind that I would be bishop of Oakland,” he concluded. “It probably never entered your minds either. I know I am unworthy.”

“But I also know that from all eternity it has been in the mind of God that this is my vocation,” he said. “With your prayers, and the grace of God, and Mother Mary’s love, I intend to fulfill it.”

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Religious freedom leader says threats in US are real

Washington D.C., May 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of a federal commission that promotes religious liberty warned that while threats to religious freedom in the U.S. are not violent, they still pose a serious ‘moral test’ for the country.

“There is no doubt that religious freedom faces extraordinary and novel challenges that grow out of increasing and aggressive secularism, coupled with fundamental redefinitions of core social institutions,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett on May 30.

“These changes are putting some religious communities on a collision course with newly emerging social concurrences on matters of morality, equality and how we define fundamental civil and human rights,” she added.

Lantos Swett delivered the keynote address at the National Religious Freedom Award Dinner in Washington, D.C. The May 30 event was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program.

As the chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, Lantos Swett oversees efforts to call attention to international religious liberty violations, a process that includes advising the president, Congress and State Department on the status of religious freedom, presenting an annual report on abuses and recommending steps to promote greater global religious liberty.

In addition, she works with the Lantos Foundation, an organization named after her father, Tom Lantos, which addresses human rights concerns around the globe. She has also served as a lawyer for then-Senator Joe Biden and is involved in several human rights and public policy initiatives.

Lantos Swett remarked that her work with the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom last year found that some five billion people across the globe live in societies that permit severe religious freedom violations.

Compared to these dire situations elsewhere in the world, “the state of religious freedom in the United States is remarkably secure,” she said. However, while “we, here in this country are very fortunate indeed,” there are new obstacles facing religious freedom in America.

Unlike other situations around the world, America’s “great moral crisis will not be a matter of life and death that demands instantaneous acts of great physical moral courage,” she explained. Instead, it will draw the nation “into tangled thickets of competing moral claims.”

Still, the “moral test” posed by these challenges is of the utmost importance, she cautioned, explaining that when “fundamental religious beliefs and teachings” collide with “changing social laws and mores,” the traditional beliefs often “end up being characterized as narrow-minded vestiges of an unenlightened past.” 

In addition, religious individuals are often forced to choose between values they admire, such as tolerance, and “upholding morality and trying to be faithful to God’s commandments.”

An easy solution is to relegate religious belief only to the private spheres of the home and houses of worship, Lantos Swett said, but this solution would be “quite unacceptable” because of the crucial role that religion plays in society.

She noted that many of “the most important moral crusades of our nation’s history” were led by religious figures and were compelling precisely because of their religiously-grounded teachings on human dignity. 

“When men and women for themselves have the opportunity to read the Word of God,” she said, “they will be empowered not only spiritually to face the challenges of this life, but they will also be empowered and emboldened to change the world in which they live now to be a better and more decent place.”

“For people of religious convictions to abandon the public square would be, I believe, an abdication of both their rights and duties as citizens, and our nation and the world would be poorer for it.”

Lantos Swett also observed that such a retreat from public life is a far cry from the language of the U.S. Constitution, which describes protected religious activity with the phrase “free exercise.”

“‘Exercise’ is an active, powerful, muscular world that signifies engagement, not withdrawal,” she explained.

Religious persons, like other citizens, are called to active civic engagement, she continued, “and the fact that their views may be informed by their deeply held convictions should in no way disqualify them.”

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