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Archive of January 29, 2014

Church in Papua New Guinea warns against sorcery, violence

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Observing World Communications Day, Papua New Guinea Catholics gathered with local media to discuss charges of sorcery there, which often end in violence against the accused.

“Church and Media – A Joint Reflection on Sorcery” was held Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, in Boroko, a suburb of the capital, Port Moresby.

The social communications office of the bishops' conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands hosted the conference for Papuan journalists.

The Melanesian nation consists of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous other, smaller, islands, and is located north of Australia and east of Indonesia. Nearly all its population is Christian; and 27 percent is Catholic, yet many Papuan Christians integrate indigenous beliefs and practices into their religious life.

Many Papuans believe in sorcery, and those accused of practicing it – a majority of whom are women – are at times subject to mob attacks and murder.

The conference featured a presentation by an Italian missionary and sociologist, Fr. Franco Zocca, who discussed the Church's attitude toward magic and sorcery, as well as data collected by the Melanesian Institute, which studies indigenous cultures of the region.

Fr. Zocca coordinated a four year research study on sorcery in Papua New Guinea, and told conference attendees that “only scientific enlightenment and a massive education effort can help overcome sorcery beliefs” in the country.

The conference included talks by Church leaders who shared their knowledge of sorcery in the area, their assessment of its consequences, and strategies that could counteract frivolous accusations and unjust punishment of alleged sorcerers and witches.

At its conclusion, Bishop Rochus Tatamai of Bereina said Mass for all those attending the event, preaching on the life and writings of St. Francis de Sales.

The topic of sorcery is an important one in Papua New Guinea. According to Human Rights Watch, at least nine women were attacked after being accused of witchcraft in 2013; an improvement from the more than 50 sorcery related deaths which occurred in 2008.

Some indigenous Papuans do not believe in misfortune and accidents, and attribute them to sorcery, while the accusation can also be used for revenge or envy. Amnesty International reports that women are six times more likely to be accused of sorcery than are men.

In February 2013, 20 year old Kepari Leniata was stripped and then burned to death as a witch after a six year old child died in her city.

A 1971 Sorcery Act criminalized the practice of sorcery in Papua New Guinea, and accepted the accusation of sorcery as a defense in cases of murder; that act was repealed in May, 2013.

Yet the act's appeal was accompanied by a new law which included sorcery-related killings among crimes penalized by capital punishment, as well as aggravated rape and armed robbery.

While sorcery-related violence continues to be a problem in Papua New Guinea, the situation has improved in recent years, due in part to the Church's apostolates and evangelization, bringing a change in thought and ways of life through education and catechesis of indigenous Papuans.

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Ukraine protests seek to defend human rights, bishop reflects

Kiev, Ukraine, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A leading Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop has denounced the “brutality” of government crackdowns on protests in the Ukraine, while urging protestors not to take up arms.

“The country, in somewhat traumatic ways, is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being,” said Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

“Events in the last few months and days have been a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity,” he added.

Bishop Gudziak, the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, said the country has changed “dramatically” in the past two months.

“The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity,” he told Aid to the Church in Need Jan. 27.

He said the Ukrainian government’s respect for human rights has been “neglected” and in some cases “absent.”

“Protestors have been shot and others have been beaten – and the perpetrators of violence have not been brought to justice.”

The protests first began after the government’s Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union, in favor of a $15 billion bailout agreement with Russia. Since then, protesters have occupied government buildings in Kiev. At times they have filled the capital’s Independence Square with more than 100,000 people.

Some protesters have been beaten by police, while some young men have thrown fireworks and petrol bombs at police. Several protesters have been killed in the clashes, while hundreds have been injured. Several police have also been killed.

Ukrainians in the Kiev area and in western Ukraine tend to favor the European Union, while those in the Russian-speaking east tend to have an affinity for Russia. However, protests have begun to spread to the east, where President Viktor Yanukovych’s strongest support is based.

On Jan. 28, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned in hopes of advancing a compromise. Parliament also voted overwhelmingly to annul controversial anti-protest laws, the BBC reports.

Bishop Gudziak, who was born in the United States, described the protests as prayerful and non-violent. The demonstrations begin with prayers and prayers sometimes take place hourly. Priests also walk among the crowds and hear confessions.

“It is hard to imagine a more prayerful protest in 21st century Europe,” he said.

“The people are not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate – they are gathering around principles.”

The bishop again called on the government to listen to the protestors’ demands and to denounce the use of violence. He also appealed for dialogue between the government and the various demonstrating groups.

“Dialogue is very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives,” he said, adding that effective dialogue requires “international mediation.”

He voiced hope that “reason and ethical principles will prevail and that authetnic dialogue will begin.”

Several other Catholic leaders have responded to the demonstrations.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Jan. 21 urged both the government and the protestors to act peacefully.

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Calif. archbishop says pro-life walk shows movement's strength

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Walk for Life West Coast held each year in San Francisco is an important opportunity for those in the western U.S. to demonstrate their solidarity with the unborn, according to the city's archbishop.

“The main purpose it serves is for those who can't get back to Washington for the March for Life, that we're still able to gather all of us together...and by virtue of our numbers, bear witness to the strength of the pro-life movement,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone told CNA after celebrating a Mass for the pilgrims who had come for the Jan. 25 event.

“I know there are walks in a lot of different cities, but I think it's important to have one key event on the east coast, and one one the west coast: it's a long ways to the east coast – sometimes people from back east don't realize that.”

Many of the some 50,000 participants in Saturday's walk were university students, coming from Berkeley across the bay, Thomas Aquinas College downstate, and even from Wyoming Catholic College, four states away. Alongside Catholics were Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, and agnostics as well.

Archbishop Cordileone noted the importance of the Walk's pro-life witness “especially here in San Francisco, which is always at the forefront of these social changes which are not always in keeping with the greatest respect for human life.”

The archbishop's homily at Mass, said on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, had focused on the inter-generational witness of the Walk for Life West Coast, noting both the large number of young people and those who have been defending the unborn for many years.

One of the prayers at the solemn blessing at the Mass' end, that God, “who endowed you with the teaching and example of the Apostles, make you...witnesses to the truth before all.”

This role of being “witnesses to the truth” is what makes the coincidence “very providential,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “I mentioned in the homily those who have come to the pro-life movement by means of conversion...it does take courage to proclaim the truth, it has in every age.”

“In every generation there has been some reason why it has taken courage to proclaim the truth,” he continued, “and certainly that is the case in our own age; the consequences aren’t as dire as in past ages, but still it will take courage, and in my homily I was trying to bolster that courage among our young people who really have to be strong in standing up for the truth now.”

To bolster their courage, during his homily he had pointed to the “first generation of pro-lifers,” who, in the years around the Roe v. Wade decision, couldn't even speak of their views “in polite company.”

When asked about this, he explained that he thinks it was “worse” then.

“Now I'm basing this on my own experience, and that of others whom I know, and my recollections of those years, but it was the kind of thing that you couldn't really bring up, and if it did come up, you had to be really careful about letting it be known where you stood on the issue, because remember, that was the heyday of the so-called women's liberation movement.”

“So (there was) this idea that you're being anti-woman if you're standing for life. That's what ostracized you.”

Archbishop Cordileone expressed hope, however, noting that he believes today's situation to be more conducive to dialogue on the issue.

“Well it's still very emotionally volatile, but less than it used to be...so it's possible to have a calm, rational discussion about it, at least sometimes.”

He commented that “it's coming more and more to light that the pro-life movement really is a pro-woman movement; despite the lies that are still being perpetrated, more and more people are coming to realize that.”

“And the studies, surveys, show that most Americans are in favor of at least some restrictions on access to abortion, some, you would hope, reasonable things that anyone would want in place, such as informed consent, parental consent, a waiting period to think about it, these kind of things – just very reasonable measures, that I would hope even those who are in favor of keeping it legal would want, for the sake of the woman and helping her to make an informed choice.”

Archbishop Cordileone reflected on the many young people who were at the Mass, which he views as a sign of hope for the pro-life cause.

“Young people now realize what's been done to their generation: what is it, one out of three, or four, of them, are not here, because of this, and they're beginning to figure that out, and they don't like it. So I think over time people have begun to see this in a different light, when the realities are becoming clearer and clearer.”

“Every year it's a great encouragement to see all the young people. It's a young movement; the young people give us a lot of hope, a lot of encouragement.”

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Pakistani blasphemy law a threat to all religions, chairman says

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a special round-table meeting last week, various professionals gathered to raise awareness of Pakistan’s extension of the death-penalty for persons who commit crimes against the Koran.

“The consequences of this legislation has been anger against Christians or any other religious believers,” Luca Volonté told CNA in a Jan. 21 interview, “there could be any assault against any normal idea of religious freedom.”

Volonté, chairman of the “Novae Terrae Foundation,” which is a European organization that works to promote the values of life, the family, religious freedom and freedom of education, was one of the speakers present in Rome for a Jan. 21 round table seeking to raise awareness of the increasing dangers the Pakistani Blasphemy law presents.

The round-table, which followed the theme “Blasphemy laws and the death penalty in Pakistan: a conviction for the illiterate,” was organized by all of the associations of Pakistani Christians living in Italy as part of the Church’s ongoing mission in the country.

Under the law, anyone may be condemned to death by hanging for blaspheming against the Koran, and many have already faced unjust consequences by those who manipulate the law, using it as a tool for abusing religious minorities, as well as vengeance between Muslims.

Among those who have faced persecution are a young girl with Downs Syndrome from Islamabad, who was arrested in 2012 for allegedly burning pages in the Koran, as well as the ongoing case of Asia Bibi.

Bibi is a Christian woman who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for violating Pakistan’s strict law, and has been moved to an isolated cell without any windows, sink or toilet because of Muslim threats against her life, while she awaits the answer of an appeal for the death sentence.

Referring to her unjust treatment, Volonté stated that “Asia Bibi is a symbol, a symbol of religious freedom. A symbol, not only for religious freedom in Pakistan, but also everywhere in the world.”

“Sometime, in our history, one person for many different cases, became a symbol of a human right,” the chairman noted, and “in this case, Asia Bibi is a real symbol for any Christian persecuted on behalf of their faith.”

“It is a symbol for Pakistan, a symbol for Asia, but she could also be a symbol for Christians persecuted in Europe.”

Volonté revealed that Bibi has written a letter to Pope Francis regarding her situation, telling him that she is only alive still thanks to the many prayers she has received.

Although the chairman observed that the mainstream media coverage regarding Bibi’s situation has been scarce, he explained that he is still optimistic that the situation regarding Christians in Pakistan will improve.

“We should hope and use any, I hope, diplomatic pressure from the United Nations,” he said, “but also from any bilateral country that has some agreement with Pakistan to convince the Pakistani authorities to delete this blasphemy law.”

This law, which “has also been copied by Indonesia,” Volonté noted, has produced an unjustified anger against Christians, as well as other religions, adding that if it continues, “there could be any assault against any normal idea of religious freedom.”

 

Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this piece

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Pope: confirmation gives us the strength to defend the faith

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis reflected on the sacrament of confirmation, explaining that it is intrinsically linked to our baptism, and that through it our relationship with the Church is fortified.

“It unites us more firmly to Christ,” the Pope said in his Jan. 29 general audience, referring to the Sacrament of Confirmation, “it strengthens our relationship with the Church and it gives us a special strength from the Holy Spirit to defend the faith and confess the name of Christ.”

The Pope began his weekly audience by addressing the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square, stating that “dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the seven sacraments, we now reflect on confirmation.”

Confirmation, he explained “together with baptism and the Eucharist, is one of the sacraments of Christian initiation.”

These three Sacraments, he noted, form part “of the unique process of Christian initiation, through which we are gradually inserted in Christ, dead and risen, and we receive a new life, making us members of the Church.”

Reflecting on the term confirmation, the Pope highlighted that the word “indicates that this sacrament ratifies baptismal grace.”

He then explained that during our confirmation, “through the sacramental sign of anointing with sacred chrism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to be more closely conformed to Christ, God’s ‘anointed one.’”

“We are also strengthened – ‘confirmed’ – in the grace of our Baptism and in our mission of bearing daily witness to Christ and his love,” the pontiff continued, adding that “Confirmation is God’s work,” as is every sacrament.

And this particular sacrament, observed the Pope, “ensures that our life be embodied in the image of his son, for us to love like him, infusing his Holy Spirit.”

“This Spirit acts with strength within us, within all people and during one’s whole life,” he emphasized, highlighting that “when we receive him in our hearts, Christ makes himself present and takes shape in our lives.”

“It is He who prays, forgives, infuses hope, serves the brothers most in need, creates communion and seeds peace in our lives. It is He who does that!”

Turning to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which are received when one is confirmed, Pope Francis noted that the direct works of the Holy Spirit are “reflected” in these “spiritual gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.”

Encouraging all present to “thank the Lord for the grace of our confirmation,” the Pope urged them to ask “that, filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, we may always mirror Christ’s presence in our relations with others, our openness to those in need, and our living witness to the Gospel message of joy and peace.”

He concluded his audience by extending personal greetings to pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including those from Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

Giving a special greeting to a group of pilgrims who traveled from the diocese of Rapid City, SD accompanied by their bishop, Robert Gruss, the pontiff then invoked “God’s blessings of joy and peace!”

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'Superpope' artist acclaims Pope Francis as a true hero

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA) - Artist Mauro Pallotta revealed that his viral depiction of Pope Francis as a superhero was done to portray how the pontiff uses his papal authority “for the good.”

“I thought of representing this Pope, Francis, as a super hero of the Marvel (Heroes), simply because, according to me, he is one of the few people who, having a real power as a Pope, he uses it for the good like the superheroes of the American Marvel,” Pallotta told CNA on Jan. 29.

Pallotta, 41, is a painter and sculptor who has been living off his artwork in Rome for the last fifteen years. Although he says he does not consider himself a street artist, that might change after images of his “Superpope” caught the attention of millions after its Jan. 28 appearance on the wall of Via Plauto.

Discussing his artwork, Pallotta explained that “It is a little bit like Greek mythology brought to modernity.”

Pope Francis, he said, is “Pop” star “undoubtedly, and according to me this is his perfect portrait. I don’t know, but I see it like this.”

Drawing attention to the briefcase the pontiff is holding in the image, the artist noted that the word “valores” written on top “means values in Latin,” and represents the “Christian values that he carries behind so he doesn’t carry anything else. He only carries Christian values.”

The artist described how he tried “to respect the clothing that he always wears” by depicting the Pope in “simple shoes, a black bag and iron cross.”

However, he observed that “there is also the scarf” of the soccer “team he loves, Saint Lorenzo, that is coming out” of the bag. This “is the team of Argentina for which he cheers,” Pallotta explained, “and which makes him come back to being human.”

“So he is a superhero but with that little scarf he reminds everyone that above all, he is first human.”

Pallotta said that because the area where his graffiti is located is historical – in the Borgo Pio neighborhood just steps away from to the Vatican – he drew the image on drawing paper, which he then cropped and glued to the building.

“I did not want to interfere directly with the color of the building,” he said, “so I thought of making it large and then of applying it on the wall in a way that is removable.”

In this way “it will be protected a little bit (from the rain), but it will not last long,” the artist noted, adding that “I would like to donate the original to Pope Francis. The idea was born like this.”

When asked the global reach his “Superpope” has had in just a day, the artist was unaware, stating “I still haven't noticed that. Has it really gone worldwide?”

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Bishop sees movement away from 'culture of death' in Europe

Madrid, Spain, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA) - A series of recent pro-life and pro-marriage events show that Europe is reacting against the 'culture of death,' said Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Alcala de Henares in Spain.

“Something is changing in Europe,” the bishop said in an article published in the Alpha and Omega Catholic weekly.

He pointed to events including the recent March for Life in Paris and defense of marriage demonstrations reportedly drawing more than 1 million participants, as well as the European Court of Justice's ruling banning stem cell patents when human embryos are destroyed.

He also noted the 2012 Council of Europe resolution against euthanasia and the “One of Us” campaign, a European citizens’ initiative that gained more than 1.8 million signatures to protect human life from conception.

These victories show that “people are beginning to react against the crushing culture of death,” he said.

“It is curious that with serious studies and demonstrations in the streets, secular France is now continuously voicing its desire to defend the dignity of human life and to respect marriage between one man and one woman as a basic institution for the common good,” Bishop Reig Pla observed.

“The plural and inter-religious character of those who attend the demonstrations or raise their voices in books and writings” is striking, he added.

The bishop drew encouragement from the various rulings and initiatives, which he described as “an expression of a clear set-back for the culture of death.”

He urged continued work to promote life and marriage with the “light that dissipates the darkness of the culture of death.”

“If we win other difficult battles, we ought to win this battle as well. Our children and mothers deserve it.”

Stressing the importance of fighting abortion, Bishop Reig Pla pointed to the abolition of slavery as a comparison.

“It’s not possible to settle for abolishing slavery 'a little bit,'” he said. “It needs to be ended. The same thing happens with abortion.”

“The future is not going to come through the deaths of children but through the promotion of women and motherhood, through a greater presence of fathers and their responsibility,” the bishop emphasized.

“The future comes through the hands of married couples who joyfully live out faithful love and joyful openness to the gift of motherhood and fatherhood.”

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Ban on taxpayer abortion funding passes US House

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 28 passed bipartisan legislation to further restrict federal abortion funding by a vote of 227-188.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a co-sponsor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, praised its passage.

“This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will protect American taxpayers from footing the bill for the barbaric practice of abortion, in turn helping to protect women’s health and unborn life,” she said Jan. 28.

She said her experiences as a nurse witnessing “countless” births and also the loss of a woman’s life in an abortion have informed her belief that all life is “a precious gift.”

“I hope to see the day that this truth is reflected in our nation’s laws. But until then, we can - at the very least - protect the values and consciences of millions of American taxpayers by passing this legislation,” she said.

The bill would bar federal funds from being used to support abortion in the U.S.

Such a funding ban has been incorporated into most funding appropriations bills for the past 40 years through a provision known as the Hyde Amendment.

However, pro-life politicians have argued that the amendment has been implemented inconsistently and have noted that it allows some funding of abortion in limited cases.

Supporters of the new bill have also noted several gaps in current restrictions on federal monies for abortion. Several legal provisions set up by the 2010 Affordable Care Act bypass existing restrictions and appropriate their own funds.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), another of the bill’s 165 co-sponsors, said that the legislation would fulfill President Barack Obama’s promises that his plan would not use federal dollars for abortion.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) also applauded the bill's passage, stressing the need for “permanent” legislation to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion rather than relying on “a patchwork of policies like the Hyde Amendment.”

“Ending taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people, and ought to be the law of the land,” he said.

Rep. Black explained that the legislation is “not about taking away anyone’s choice” but rather about “giving a choice to the vast majority of Americans who don’t want their hard-earned tax dollars funding the destruction of innocent life.”

The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate, where Democratic majority leaders have vowed to fight it.

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Syrian patriarch: aid needed to calm Christian flight

Damascus, Syria, Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Syria’s leading Catholic bishop has said that humanitarian aid should be increased in and near Syria to help contain Christians’ flight from the war-torn region.

“Of course, we cannot decide for ourselves what response our people should make, the suffering is so great,” Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch told Aid to the Church in Need Jan. 27.

“But the real answer is to provide more help, more relief, on the spot and not outside, which will encourage them to leave.”

“But if they must go, we understand their situation,” the Damascus-based patriarch said.

Since fighting broke out in March 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed and 9.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, the BBC reports.

“Daily the suffering is getting worse, daily the problems are growing,”  Patriarch Gregorios lamented. “The level of suffering is much greater than the aid provided.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that the British government is actively considering a plan to accept “particularly vulnerable” Syrian refugees into the country, Aid to the Church in Need reports. Hague also stressed that the British government’s main effort remains assisting displaced persons in the region.

The patriarch warned that if refugees leave the Middle East, especially for countries like the U.S. and Australia, they may “never go back.”

“This applies to other groups as well as the Christians.”

He said that despite the heavy pressure on Jordan, Turkey and other neighboring countries that are hosting Syrian refugees, aid programs can be improved there.

“There is more that can be done locally, within the region,” he said.

Peace talks are underway in Geneva, but are making little progress.

The Syrian opposition has said that the Syrian government is not cooperating on humanitarian aid or a plan for a power transition, a goal which was one condition of the talks. The Syrian government, which often characterizes its opponents as “terrorist groups,” said its delegation will not “hand over power to anyone,” the BBC reports.

Patriarch Gregorios stressed the importance of a “common vision” among the U.S., Russia and Europe in helping both the Syrian government and the opposition proceed.

“When the big countries are divided, it means the others will be too,” he said. “What matters is that we have a local, Syrian solution to the problem.”

Patriarch Gregorios also called for the end of weapons imports into Syria, especially criticizing imports that supply jihadist groups and other extremists.

On Jan. 27 Reuters reported that the U.S. Congress secretly approved providing light arms to “moderate” Syrian opposition factions. The supplies include anti-tank rockets, though not surface-to-air missiles.

Russia, for its part, sides with the Syrian government and is supplying arms to its forces.

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Hobby Lobby draws wide breadth of support in mandate case

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Hundreds of individuals and groups from a broad range of religious and political backgrounds have filed briefs supporting the owners of Hobby Lobby in their religious freedom case at the Supreme Court.

“The breadth of support has been incredible,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby and its owners before the Supreme Court.

“Where else do you see Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews coming together?” she asked. “Religious freedom is important to Americans of all faiths, and we hope the Supreme Court will protect that freedom.”

Windham told CNA that the “overwhelming support for the Green family and Hobby Lobby sends a strong message: the government cannot and should not restrict religious freedom.”

The outpouring of support comes amid a legal challenge to the controversial federal contraception mandate, filed by David Green and his family, owners of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby.

Founded in an Oklahoma City garage in 1972, Hobby Lobby has grown to include more than 500 stores across the country. The Greens say they have operated the company from its beginning in accordance with their Christian beliefs, closing all stores on Sundays, donating to charity and maintaining minimum wages that are above the national standard.

The company and its owners are currently engaged in a legal battle against a federal mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.

While the Green family does not object to some of these products and procedures, it argues that being forced to provide abortion-causing drugs violates their deeply-held religious beliefs.

The federal government has argued that First Amendment rights to religious freedom do not apply to religious individuals making decisions about for-profit businesses.

Failure to comply with the mandate could result in fines of more than $1 million per day, although the Greens have received a temporary court injunction protecting them from penalties until they receive a final ruling on their case.

The Supreme Court has taken up the Hobby Lobby case and is expected to issue a ruling this summer.

In what the Becket Fund described as “one of the largest amicus brief filings in Supreme Court history,” 81 “friend of the court briefs” were filed in the case on Jan. 29. Fifty-six of the briefs – more than two-thirds – were in support of Hobby Lobby and its owners.

The support for the Green family spans creeds, denominations and party lines. More than 107 members of the U.S. House and Senate, from both major political parties, have signed three briefs supporting the Green's ability to run their business according to their beliefs.

Additionally, 20 states across the country have signed onto briefs, as well as Democrats for Life and other pro-life groups.

Other signatories include women's organizations and medical associations, including several breast cancer groups pointing out concerns over the medical data used by the government to justify promoting hormonal contraception.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also filed a brief of support, reiterating opposition “to any rule that would require faithful Catholics and other religiously motivated business owners to choose between providing coverage for products and speech that violate their religious beliefs, and exposing their businesses to devastating penalties.”

Religious support of Hobby Lobby and its owners was not limited to Catholics, however.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, and the Hindu International Society for Krishna Consciousness all filed supporting briefs, along with Muslim and Christian scholars, a Jewish publisher and a halal food company.

Nathan J. Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, one of the nation's oldest Orthodox Jewish organizations, explained his group's support for Hobby Lobby in a Jan. 27 piece in Tablet Magazine.

“We take this stance because we, particularly as a religious minority in the United States, must stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in demanding the broadest protections for rights of conscience in the face of government (and socio-cultural) coercion to the contrary,” he said.

He explained that while the Orthodox Union does not have theological and moral objections to contraception and related products, it does have serious concerns over religious liberty.

In the Hobby Lobby case,  Diament said, “forcing business owners to subsidize activity that violates their religious beliefs is unnecessary,” because the government could find far less restrictive ways to “ensure women’s access to contraceptives” than by requiring the involvement of objecting employers.

“All people of faith should understand and actively support the right of religious (and other forms of conscientious) dissent from the popular and majority view,” he asserted, adding that while “Catholic objections to women’s use of contraceptives may be broadly unpopular” today in America, other religious practices, such as circumcision, may fall out of favor in the future.

To refuse to ensure religious exemptions, Diament said, “is to relegate religious belief and action to second class status among our civil rights – something Jews, and all people of faith and conscience, must resist.”

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