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The Point Special Edition - May 2012

In this edition:

  • Catholic Dioceses sue the administration
  • Religious discrimination lawsuit
  • Vanderbilt University's all-comers policy discouraging

Article #1
Excerpt from "Cardinal Dolan of NY, Cardinal Wuerl of D.C., Notre Dame--And 40 Other Catholic Dioceses and Organizations--Sue Obama Administration," CNS News, by Terence P. Jeffrey. May 21, 2012--The Archdiocese of New York, headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., headed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the University of Notre Dame, and 40 other Catholic dioceses and organizations around the country announced on Monday that they are suing the Obama administration for violating their freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The dioceses and organizations, in different combinations, are filing 12 different lawsuits filed in federal courts around the country.

"This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference," the archdiocese says on the website "It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs." The suits filed by the Catholic organizations focus on the regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last August and finalized in January that requires virtually all healthcare plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that can cause abortions.

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress--and we’ll keep at it--but there's still no fix," Cardinal Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement released by the conference this morning. "Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now," the cardinal said. "Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate--ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all.”

"The lawsuit in no way challenges either women’s established legal right to obtain and use contraception or the right of employers to provide coverage for it if they so choose," said Cardinal Wuerl. "This lawsuit is about religious freedom." "The First Amendment enshrines in our nation’s Constitution the principle that religious organizations must be able to practice their faith free from government interference," Cardinal Wuerl said. Full story can be found here.

Commentary #1
CMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA, (Ethics): "Cardinal Dolan is the President of the U.S. Council of Bishops in Washington, D.C., and the council serves as the public policy voice for the Catholic Church. We often stand alongside each other on bioethical and religious freedom issues, and we even coordinate our efforts at times.

"Religious freedom and right of conscience are the most important issues that all people of faith face. This is a battle we dare not lose. As one of our founding fathers so aptly said, 'We will hang together or we will hang separately.'

"That is why I traveled to New York City last week and met with Cardinal Dolan at his invitation in St. Patrick's Cathedral after he completed mass. He wanted to know more about CMDA and we discussed how we could work more closely together. I found him congenial, articulate, bold and decisive. A few minutes into our conversation, he asked if I could join him that afternoon on his radio program that is broadcast on Sirius Radio across the U.S.

"As his comments on Bill O'Reilly's show reveal, he has a clear and comprehensive understanding of the significance of the issue of religious freedom. During our on-air discussions during his radio show, I made the point that the contraceptive mandate is not a women's issue nor a Catholic issue as the secular media likes to portray. It affects all people no matter what their faith is, and it is an attack on our first and most precious right.

"George Washington articulated its importance well in a letter he wrote to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia on May 10, 1789, 'If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the constitution framed in the convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it.... if I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.'

"After the interview, I told the Cardinal I was meeting that evening with John Brehany, PhD, an ethicist who leads the Catholic Medical Association in Philadelphia. He asked me if CMDA could advise their organization to help them grow and develop from their present membership of 1,700. John and I had a great time together and he will be coming to Bristol to spend a day at CMDA so we can learn from each other.

With the challenges medicine faces in cost containment, access, professionalism, bioethics and right of conscience, I’m convinced we must strengthen our bonds with other like-minded organizations and coordinate our efforts to reach the outcomes we all desire."

Article #2
Excerpt from "FedEx Worker Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuit, Citizen Link, by Steve Fountain. May 16, 2012--Federal Express settled a lawsuit this week with a former employee who claimed the delivery service failed to accommodate his religious beliefs.

The settlement, which is confidential, was reached after U.S. District Court Judge Edmund E. Chang denied FedEx’s bid to rule in its favor without further court proceedings. “FedEx supervisors tied Weathers’ hands (more precisely, his tongue) on a topic of great importance to him, and did not bother to respond to his request for an accommodation,” Chang wrote. In addition to being told by supervisors he couldn’t answer coworkers’ questions about the Bible, Eric Weathers — who has a degree in youth ministry from a Christian school and is pursuing a divinity degree — was told he would have to lie about that if people asked him directly. According to the lawsuit, Weathers’s supervisors also refused to tell him why his speech was banned.

When he sought clarification from human resources, he received an e-mail stating religious and political discussions are “forbidden in the workplace,” and that his specific speech was an “act detrimental to the company” — a designation reserved for sexual harassment, illegal drugs, theft and other such actions. “You can’t make somebody check their faith at the door just because you’re a big corporation,” said Jason Craddock, an attorney allied with the Alliance Defense Fund, who represented Weathers. Weathers never received a company response to his formal request to exercise his free speech under federal law protections. Though Weathers received good performance reviews, he was demoted. He later quit and sued the company. Full story can be found here.

Commentary #2
CMDA Member Robert Rogan, MD, JD: "Religious liberty is undergoing numerous changes in our modern society, a far cry from the age of having prayers in schools and state constitutions requiring one to be a believer to hold public office. Now we must walk a fine line in our interactions in our work and public arenas. The FedEx case recently settled exemplifies the potential muzzling of a witnessing believer of our Master and Savior.

"The believer here followed appropriate steps to ascertain his witnessing limitations or boundaries. He was not willing to lie about his education if asked by coworkers, however. The judge appears to have carefully weighed the legal issues and arrived at a reasonable decision, unlike other recent cases where judges make law instead of interpreting the law.

"As believers in today's intolerant yet tolerance-demanding society, we have our work cut out for us. We face increasingly unreasonable restrictions and consequences for sharing our faith. Sadly, as one reads the prophetic scriptures, this will get worse until the return of the One we share about. While we are still protected by law, we should continue to share our faith and hope.

"Although for the present, we may need to go 'by the book' in sharing about the Writer of the Book and maintain appropriate respect to worldly authorities. As the New Testament shows, knowing what authority is legitimate and its proper boundaries will be our struggle. If we remain silent at the wrong times, the rocks may even cry out."

Article #3
Excerpt from "Vanderbilt University's All-Comers Policy 'Discouraging,' But Unites Christian Students," Christian Post, by Katherine Weber. May 17, 2012--While some consider Vanderbilt University's new all-comers policy to be an assault on religious freedom, one lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice argues that the university's Christian students have become more unified as a result of increased campus hostility. In early 2012, the private university, located in Nashville, Tenn., implemented an all-comers policy for its student-run organizations. The policy prohibits campus groups from selecting members and leaders based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Vanderbilt University's new policy excludes members of Greek life, still allowing them to be selective in their membership and leadership processes. "Vanderbilt became increasingly aggressive [and] hostile towards Christian groups on campus, and really made it very clear that they were going out of their way, despite public denial to the contrary, they were going out of their way to single out Christian expression and to target Christian clubs for expulsion from campus effectively," David French, senior council of the ACLJ said. Christian students on campus rallied against this new policy, arguing that it holds a double standard for the university's Greek life and also infringes upon students' religious freedom.

Christians argued that the new policy violated the central tenets of their faith, as being able to elect faith-filled leaders is integral to the survival of a religious group. Eleven Christian groups protesting the policy formed the group Vanderbilt Solidarity. To promote their cause, they created a seven-minute video that was shared with faculty and students, as well as issued statements and attended town hall meetings. Several campus organizations that chose to keep religious requirements in their individual charters were not given university recognition, and therefore will not enjoy the perks of using the university name, campus locations or university sponsorship in the upcoming school year. Full story can be found here.

Commentary #3
National Director for CMDA's Campus & Community Ministries, J. Scott Ries, MD: "Supreme Court Justice Alito had it right. Following the high court’s surprising and controversial 5:4 ruling in CLS v. Martinez (aka 'Hastings case'), he predicted the ruling would arm 'educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups.' In less than two years, Vanderbilt University fulfilled this prediction, issuing an edict that student groups on campus may not restrict their leadership to those who actually share the beliefs upon which that group was founded.

"Other schools are observing these outcomes closely. Two CMDA campus chapters in just the last few months have been challenged in regard to their ability to meet on campus as officially recognized student groups. More challenges are likely to come. Some states, like Ohio, recognize the untenability of such a position with the constitutionally protected freedom of religion enjoyed in our country for more than two centuries. To ensure these protections, the state of Ohio revised its laws to state:

'No state institution of higher education shall take any action or enforce any policy that would deny a religious student group any benefit available to any other student group based on the religious student group's requirement that its leaders or members adhere to its sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.' (Ohio Revised Code Section 3345.023)

"To be sure, participation in any of our CMDA chapters or activities is open to anyone. We welcome not only those who share our faith, but also those who question it. Membership, however, in CMDA is defined by the bylaws of our organization as governed by our Board of Trustees. Provision for a separate membership at a local level is not provided within our organization. Anyone may participate, but if one desires to join CMDA as an official member, that person is required by our formative documents to sign a Statement of Faith. Leadership then must be held to a higher standard, consistent with biblical standards of leadership, including being a member of CMDA and agreeing to abide by the CMDA Code of Conduct.

"CMDA will continue to be a voice for our chapters’ religious freedoms on campuses across our country. However, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they approached the government of their day confident of God’s deliverance, we also say, '…but even if He does not…,' we will continue to serve Him. With God’s continued blessing and favor, the transforming ministry of CMDA in the lives of the next generation of healthcare providers in our country will continue…regardless of the location of its gatherings. The courageous persistence shown by a number of evangelical campus ministries (formerly) located on the campus of Vanderbilt are already showing this to be the case, and they are to be commended for their integrity."

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