- Legislative Review
- All Issues
- Bishops’ Statements
December 15 marks the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The Philadelphia Inquirer is running a 12-part series to mark the occasion, and invited Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is also the chairman of the PCC, to write about the First Amendment:
Religious freedom is a fundamental natural right and first among our liberties. This is borne out by the priority protection it specifically enjoys in the Constitution’s First Amendment.
First, religious faith and practice are cornerstones of the American experience. Many of America’s first settlers were fleeing religious persecution. Nearly all of the American founders saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. They believed that liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And for the founders, virtue needed grounding in religious faith.
At the heart of American public life is an essentially religious vision of man and government. This model has given us a free society marked by a wide variety of cultural and religious expressions. But our system’s success does not result from clever legal mechanics. Our system works precisely because of the moral assumptions that undergird it. And those assumptions have religious roots.
When the founders talked about religion, they meant more than a vague “spirituality.” The distinguished legal scholar Harold Berman showed that the founders – though they had differing views about religion among themselves – understood religion positively as “both belief in God and belief in an after-life of reward for virtue, and punishment for sin.” In other words, religion mattered. It made people live differently and live better. People’s faith was assumed to have broad implications, including the political kind.
That leads to my second point: Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not a sufficient part of religious liberty. For most believers, and certainly for Christians, faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.
We’ve told you before about the over $2 billion Catholic schools save Pennsylvania taxpayers each year. Of course the benefits go beyond the dollar signs, as the hundreds of Pennsylvania Catholic schools have graduated intelligent, successful, and community-minded citizens who have been encourage to grow in wisdom and grace throughout their education. Catholic high schools boast nearly 100% graduation rates, with over 90% of those graduates going on to college or university.
Now, new research tells Pennsylvanians of the huge positive charitable impact that Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and ministries have on the community. In real dollars, that impact translates to an average of $1.5 million per congregation, “They bring economic value, they bring a civic value, and that you don’t have to be Catholic to care about the Catholic Church.”
You can read more about the report and the so-called “economic halo effect” here.
The 2015-2016 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly officially closes on November 30. Here is the status of the several high priority bills that were on the legislative agenda of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
Pro-Life Legislation – House Bill 1948 would have banned barbaric dismemberment abortions and abortions when the unborn baby is able to feel pain (20 weeks). It passed in the House, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the session came to an end without a Senate vote. Governor Wolf promised to veto the bill, so it would have been unlikely to become law. The election brings some small but important political changes to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly which could bring strength to the pro-life cause in the next session.
Adoption Records – House Bill 162 was passed by the General Assembly and was signed into law by the governor. It allows an adoptee to obtain a noncertified copy of his or her original birth record (what is commonly referred to as a birth certificate), naming the birth parents, unless a birth parent files a name redaction request form with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The filing of the name redaction request form would protect that birth parent’s privacy because the birth certificate issued to the adoptee would not name the birth parent. This new law changes the current law, which kept the identity of a birth parent confidential unless the birth parent agreed to disclosure. Now, a birth parent, in past and future adoptions, must take affirmative action to protect his or her identity by filing the name redaction request form. The PCC will pursue opportunities to alert the public and especially birth parents through Catholic media channels and www.pacatholic.org when the redaction forms become available.
Human Trafficking – Senate Bill 851 would have ensured that juvenile victims of human trafficking are not prosecuted as criminals and that support services are made available to them. No action was taken by the end of the session, but legislation may be reintroduced next session.
Organ Donation –The Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association was successful in amending legislation that encourages organ donation so it is clear who is able to receive information and/or consent to an organ or tissue gift on behalf of a patient. The amended bill did not allow presumed consent for patients who have not explicitly indicated their wishes to donate organs; however, the General Assembly did not take up the bill before the end of the session.
End of Life – Although legislation concerning doctor-prescribed suicide or other end-of-life issues did not have much traction this session, the PCC did engage its advocacy network to urge the American Medical Association (AMA) to maintain its decades-long opposition to doctor-prescribed suicide. If the AMA weakens its opposition, the move will send a message to the legislature that legalizing suicide is acceptable. It is not too late to send a message to the leaders of the AMA urging them to remain neutral on the issue of doctor-prescribed suicide. Connect to the Catholic Advocacy Network at www.pacatholic.org to send an email.
Much work has been done with work groups behind the scenes on the issue of Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Draft legislation has already been submitted to the State Joint Government Commission Subcommittee on Powers of Attorney and the Legislative Reference Bureau in preparation for its introduction next session.
Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) & Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) – The legislative session ended with strong public statements by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), urging a significant increase in the EITC and OSTC programs next year. He announced this at several press conferences at Catholic schools in different parts of the state. Rep. Turzai has set this as a priority for the next session.
Statutes of Limitation Reform – House Bill 1947 was a proposal to reform the statutes of limitation for childhood sexual abuse The House of Representatives voted for legislation that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations in the future, extend the civil SoL for future cases and give an equal opportunity for victims in public institutions to bring suit (sovereign immunity prohibits these victims from suing now). The bill would also retroactively nullify the civil statute of limitations for past childhood sexual abuse cases from decades ago. In June the state Senate voted 49-0 in favor of an amended version of House Bill 1947 that removed the controversial retroactive provision, citing conflicts with Pennsylvania’s state constitution as the reason for the change. The Senate version maintained prospective changes to the law. The House Rules Committee did not act on the Senate-amended version of the bill; therefore it simply died at the end of the session.
Leaders of those pushing for the legislation stated publically that they are unwilling to accept any bill that does not include retroactivity. While the session comes to an end, no retroactive window was enacted; but it is anticipated that the proposal will be introduced again in the next session. The fight for fair statute of limitations reform is far from over.
Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Legislation – Legislation that would add “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” to Pennsylvania’s non-discrimination law was again debated this session. Changing the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) will jeopardize many churches and their charitable outreach if they continue to adhere to their religious beliefs. In other states, this law has closed Catholic adoption agencies and violated religious liberty. These bills could mean that Catholic agencies would no longer be able to make our contributions to the common good of Pennsylvania without violating our religious beliefs.
One bill passed in the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, but no further action was taken so the legislation died at the end of the session. This potential threat to religious liberty will need to be addressed in the new session.
“[To] ‘make America great again’ we also need a comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders and at the same time allows a path to citizenship for the millions who already live among us. If we need ‘walls,’ we need walls with ‘doors’ because some of our ‘greatest Americans’ have been immigrants or refugees … we won’t make America great again by making America mean.”
— Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, November 14
Where to begin.
This is a column impossible to imagine just 10 days ago. Despite raising and spending vastly more money than Donald Trump, despite celebrity endorsements, despite the predictions of experts and pollsters, despite the vigorous support of a sitting president, and despite the thinly disguised loathing of her rival by much of the mass media, Hillary Clinton is not the president-elect. Donald Trump is.
Whatever else can be said about the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump’s message clearly connected with massive numbers of ordinary Americans, and he won an open election fairly. He cannot be dismissed as a fluke. He deserves our prayers and an opportunity to serve the nation well without being deliberately undermined by his critics.
As others have already noted, Mr. Trump is a pragmatist. After eight years of an ideologically zealous White House, that could be a good thing. But words and actions have consequences. The trademark Trump bluster on the campaign trail further divided a fractured nation and frightened millions of immigrants and members of ethnic and racial minorities. Media hostile to Mr. Trump have clearly made the problem worse. But the main author of the current ugliness is Trump himself. And only he can fix it with responsible language and behavior, and a willingness to listen to those who feel threatened by his victory.
Ensuring public safety, the solvency of our public institutions and the nation’s border security in an age of narco-syndicates and terrorism — Mr. Trump has voiced all these concerns, and they’re all legitimate goals. But the vast majority of undocumented persons in the United States are decent people. They pose no threat to anyone. They want a fruitful life, they work for a living, they raise families, and their children born here are American citizens.
In other words, they’re a vital resource for the future of our country, not a tumor to be cut out of the body. Sweeping talk of building a border wall and deporting millions of people is not just impractical and wrong-headed. It’s also dangerous. It fuels anti-immigrant resentment. And it feeds the anxiety now creating turmoil in immigrant and minority communities.
Over the past week I’ve heard from dozens of laypeople and pastors in our Latino and other minority communities. Many spoke of sleepless nights and “great concern and fear” among their people. Another wrote that his “community was very upset, and feeling numb and hopeless.” Another, who lives in Center City, said that someone threatened his foreign-born wife on the street and warned her to go back where she came from. These are not invented stories. They involve real people and real suffering.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) is seeking a seasoned government relations professional to advocate the Catholic perspective on social concerns issues at the State Capitol in Harrisburg and beyond. He/she will have a specific focus on lobbying for issues related to human services, respect for human life, and social justice.
A successful candidate should have bachelor’s degree or equivalent in political science, public administration, communications, or liberal arts. Master’s degree is desirable. Experience and familiarity with the workings of state government is essential.
He/she must be a practicing Catholic in good standing who is intelligent, zealous, dedicated and committed to the interests of the Church, knowledgeable about and interested in Church affairs, and a creative and productive writer, researcher, and policy analyst.
He/she must have the ability and social skills to work with both individuals and groups, both inside and outside the Church and convey the Church’s teachings, especially as they apply to elected and appointed government officials.
This full-time position is office-based at PCC’s location in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Send cover letter and resume by December 21, 2016, to: PA Catholic Conference, PO Box 2835, Harrisburg, PA 17105 or send electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American people have made their decision on the next President of the United States, members of Congress as well as state and local officials. I congratulate Mr. Trump and everyone elected yesterday. Now is the moment to move toward the responsibility of governing for the common good of all citizens. Let us not see each other in the divisive light of Democrat or Republican or any other political party, but rather, let us see the face of Christ in our neighbors, especially the suffering or those with whom we may disagree.
We, as citizens and our elected representatives, would do well to remember the words of Pope Francis when he addressed the United States Congress last year, “all political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity.” Yesterday, millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity for their families voted to be heard. Our response should be simple: we hear you. The responsibility to help strengthen families belongs to each of us.
The Bishops Conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end. We will advocate for policies that offer opportunity to all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life. We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security. We will call attention to the violent persecution threatening our fellow Christians and people of other faiths around the world, especially in the Middle East. And we will look for the new administration’s commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form.
Every election brings a new beginning. Some may wonder whether the country can reconcile, work together and fulfill the promise of a more perfect union. Through the hope Christ offers, I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.
Let us pray for leaders in public life that they may rise to the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage. And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses to the healing love of Jesus.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
A few days ago, I was in a crowded metro car during early morning rush hour. At one stop a rather ordinary, but nervous young woman boarded. As the train started moving again, she braced herself and then spoke aloud to everyone.
She tried to project her voice, with a controlled self-consciousness as she did so. She explained, haltingly, that she had recently become homeless, had nowhere to go, and would be grateful for any money or help offered. She hesitated, and then added that she had just learned she was pregnant. When finished, she looked down at the floor, eyes clouded with uncertainty.
I’ve been riding the metro for several years. This was the first time I have seen a young woman explaining that she was both homeless and pregnant, her words faltering as she looked around at the many faces ignoring her. Her entire appearance expressed, in a striking way, someone who was both trying to contain her fear yet summon the courage to express her urgent need.
A few people came forward, holding out $20 bills, which she accepted with trembling hands. I felt compelled to do more, to give her something beyond the expectation that she would have to live in the streets and the subway, day by day, begging for money. I grabbed some paper and jotted down information about a local maternity home.
I offered her the piece of paper. She was startled, then took the paper and read. She looked back at me, curious. I gently explained how it was a place that could help her out. I saw a sense of longing well up in her, and something else: a flicker of hope in her eyes. I smiled at her and nodded reassuringly. She smiled in return, and thanked me quietly.
That brief encounter was very powerful. It was a small connection, with few words exchanged; but I’ll never forget the look of hope in the girl’s eyes. I pray that she was able to reach the maternity home so she will not have to spend nights on the streets, alone and vulnerable.
As it gets colder and we approach the holidays, let us especially keep in mind all who are homeless and all women facing unexpected pregnancies, especially young unmarried pregnant women who feel they have nowhere to go, no one to trust. If you know of any women in these circumstances, there are pregnancy help centers and maternity homes that can offer resources and support. Some homes have special programs to help mothers finish their education and get a job. Check with your parish or diocesan pro-life office about local resources.
The more we educate ourselves about what help is available to women in crisis pregnancies, the more we can be a light to others in dark situations. Even for the stranger we encounter, it is always possible to offer a bit of hope, no matter how small.
“During each election cycle, we all need to ask ourselves, ‘How can my vote count? How can my vote help to make my community, this nation and the world a better place?’
The Catholic Church doesn’t tell us whom to vote for or what political party to join. But it calls us to faithful citizenship, which means prayer and active, responsible participation in the political process.
To do that, we need a well-formed conscience.”
Watch the rest of Bishop Zubik’s video about faithful citizenship here: