Nov 2010

Eye on the Capitol: New Governors Must Hit the Ground Running

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From the Director

Those with their fingers on the pulse of popular culture might be inclined to believe that personal freedom has never been more robust than it is in 2010 America.  After all, with high art like “Desperate Housewives” and “Jersey Shore” on the entertainment menu, it is fair to say that we are not exactly living in an era of great restriction on self-expression.
Or are we?  Freedom of conscience is proving to be a far different matter than the freedom to exhibit bad taste.  For those still lulled by a sense of complacency regarding religious liberty, a recent court case should serve as the canary in the coal mine.
On June 28, in
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the University of California’s Hastings College of Law could deny recognition to the Christian Legal Society (CLS), because CLS bylaws requiring fidelity to Christian beliefs have the effect of excluding students who practice and advocate a homosexual lifestyle from holding voting or leadership positions.
This stunning decision is hardly an outlier.  Earlier this year, Congress and the president approved a health care reform bill that does not prevent government agencies from discriminating against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion.  This comes on the heels of an Obama Administration proposal to rescind conscience protection regulations for Pro-Life medical personnel.
Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the decision by Belmont Abbey, a Catholic college in North Carolina, to not provide contraceptives in its health plan was discriminatory.  And on it goes.
In September, while standing in the very hall where Thomas More was sentenced to death in 1535 for opposing King Henry VIII’s split with the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict warned of “a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”
How is it that, in a time of freedoms unimaginable in More’s day, the right of religious people to be full participants in public life is teetering on the precipice?  Perhaps because some rights are more fundamental, and thus more threatening to the ruling class, than others.
Foreign policy experts once promised that the dramatically increased economic freedoms in China in the decade after Tiananmen Square would inevitably be accompanied by political freedom.  That has not happened.  Instead, some now wonder if this formula is the new model for 21
st century authoritarianism.
The democracies of the western world have begun to experiment with their own adaptation of compartmentalized freedom.  The right to rent “Hot Tub Time Machine” is not in jeopardy.  The right to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs while working in academia, medicine, and elsewhere very much is.
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Capitol Comments: Modern Day Money Changers and Closing the Loophole

My commute to work is blissfully short—just enough time for one or two songs on the radio.  So when I hear a commercial, I am quick to change the station.  Yesterday as I headed out, I heard a peppy woman encouraging me to get $2,500 in fast cash today for an auto title loan.  Annoyed, I tried another station where I was urged to get quick cash now with no credit check.  When my third station offered another payday loan commercial, I was disgusted enough to simply turn off the radio altogether.
The claim of payday lenders is that they offer a solution to families who face short-term crises.  However, instead of promoting financial stability for families, these lenders actually benefit more from a family’s financial struggles.  Payday and auto title loan businesses have tripled in number in Texas since 2006, when they discovered a loophole in Texas law allowing them to charge excessive fees for loans that trap people in debt. Read Full Story >>

State Catholic Conferences Support Bp. Herzog's Call to Engage Social Media

State Catholic conferences that utilize Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are strongly supporting Bishop Ronald Herzog’s speech to the USCCB annual gathering this week on the need for the Church to engage further in social media. According to Bishop Herzog, the Catholic Church must begin to adapt to social media platforms, otherwise she risks incurring a third millennium digital version of the Protestant Reformation. 
“Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are just a few of the more popular social networking sites that state Catholic conferences are utilizing to share with Catholics what is taking place in the public square,” says Dave Maluchnik, director of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference. “As technology fields continue to grow and expand, communication mediums such as social networking help the laity become more involved in legislative advocacy. By engaging Catholics through social media platforms, we believe we can be of service to our bishops in their role as teachers and shepherds.”
State Catholic conferences have been in existence in their current form since the early 1960s and present their respective bishops’ positions on matters of public policy to state government and the state’s congressional delegation. Catholic conferences exist in approximately 38 states, a handful of which employ communication directors that have been actively involved with social media in their profession. States such as California, Maryland, New York, Florida, Texas and others use Facebook to share legislative developments and opportunities to become more involved in the democratic process with their followers.
“Over the last year, Facebook and Twitter have become integral to our advocacy,” said New York State Catholic Conference communications director Dennis Poust. “Email is quickly becoming an afterthought for online communications, particularly among the young. We need to reach people where they are, and that’s on social networking sites. We’ve established a thriving community on Facebook, and it really helps us to keep our fingers on the pulse of the Catholics in the pews.”
Catholic conference staff members use the social media site Twitter to share news and positions on legislative issues with those who follow the organization. Twitter allows its users to broadcast messages in 140 characters or less, which is ample space for seasoned communication professionals to provide pithy, informed quotes to members of the news media who may also follow the organization. Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and North Dakota are just a few of the state Catholic conferences that can be found “tweeting.”
“We’ve found Twitter to be an excellent resource for making our position known to a large number of people without having to dedicate an inordinate amount of staff time to the exercise,” says Kathy Dempsey, director of communications for the Maryland Catholic Conference. “Twitter also provides an opportunity to link to web pages, YouTube clips or other media where additional, more detailed information can be conveyed to Catholics, their friends and families.”
Young people are no longer relying on traditional email accounts for news or to converse electronically with their peers, Bishop Herzog noted in his 16 November speech. According to Bishop Herzog, a member of the USCCB communications committee: “The news, entertainment, their friends—are all coming to them through their mobile devices and through their social networks. If the church is not on their mobile device, it doesn’t exist. The Church does not have to change its teachings to reach young people, but we must deliver it to them in a new way.”
“Social media is directly integrated into our mission of serving as the bishops’ public policy arm,” says Maria Huemmer, communications director for the Texas Catholic Conference, which also tweets in Spanish at
@TXcatolica. “We welcome social media as a new method of informing Catholics about the legislative priorities of our bishops and helping Catholics continue to form their consciences and to act as faithful citizens on issues that concern our state and our nation.”
Editor’s Note: State Catholic Conferences can be found on Twitter by following @MiCatholicConf @TXCatholic @NYSCatholicConf @mdcathcon @ndcatholic @IACatholicConf @mocatholic @VaCatholicConf
State Catholic Conferences that can be found on Facebook include California, Maryland, New York, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Virginia and North Dakota.

Statement on Decision to Not Charge for Illegal Abortions

Cass County state’s attorney Birch Burdick’s failure file charges stemming from illegal abortions performed at the Red River Women’s Clinic is disappointing and sets a dangerous precedent.
The interest of the North Dakota Catholic Conference in this case has not been about attacking Dr. Thorndike or the Red River Women’s Clinic, but about whether our state’s abortions laws will be enforced and whether women seeking abortions will get the full protection under the law.
The investigation left no doubt that Lori Thorndike performed “a number of abortions” without a North Dakota license on September 30.  According to state law, that means she committed several misdemeanors and one felony for each abortion.  The facts are established.  The law is on the books.  What is missing is a willingness to enforce the law.
The reasons given by Mr. Burdick for declining to prosecute are not persuasive.
Burdick concludes that the “administrative mechanisms” available to the Board of Medical Examiners provides a “suitable remedy.”  That conclusion, however, disregards the express provisions of the law and the will of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly.  If the administrative remedies were sufficient, the legislature would not have passed the provisions of the Abortion Control Act.
Burdick states that he is “unable to conceive of a reason” for treating unlicensed abortionists differently from other physicians.  With all due respect, it is not his place to second guess the legislature on why they enact laws.
In fact, there do exist reasons for the difference.  As I wrote previously:
“One reason is that some abortion providers around the country have shown disregard for basic health, safety, and medical standards.  The North Dakota legislature took notice of these instances and chose to prevent them by enacting more stringent standards.  In addition, abortion advocates have insisted that non-physicians have a ‘right’ to conduct abortions.  A felony penalty prevents non-physicians from performing abortions – thus endangering women’s lives – and accepting a misdemeanor penalty as ‘one for the cause.’”
The state’s attorney concludes that he “believes” the only purpose of the legislation was to prevent medically untrained persons from conducting abortions.  That belief is not supported by the language of the law itself and would lead to the absurd conclusion that a medical school graduate never needs to get a license to perform abortions.
While the state’s attorney has the discretion to consider extenuating circumstances when recommending penalties, the complete absence of any charges for the many criminal violations that occurred at the clinic sends the wrong message about protecting women and rule of law.
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Bishop Samuel Aquila responds to decision regarding illegal abortions

Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fargo, who is attending meetings of the U.S. Bishops in Baltimore this week, provided the diocese with the following response regarding the decision not to file charges against the physician who performed illegal abortions at the Red River Women’s Clinic.
“I am disappointed by Cass County state’s attorney Birch Burdick’s decision to not file charges stemming from illegal abortions performed at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.  The North Dakota legislature enacted laws specifically designed to protect women seeking abortions, including those that expressly require a properly licensed physician.  At the same time, there is no fulfillment of the regulations of any civil law which will transform the evil of abortion into a morally acceptable act.  Abortion harms children, women, and fathers in all instances, whether ‘legal’ or not.” – Bishop Samuel Aquila
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Modern Day Money Changers and Closing the Loophole

By Jennifer Carr Allmon, Associate Director, Texas Catholic Conference
My commute to work is blissfully short—just enough time for one or two songs on the radio.  So when I hear a commercial, I am quick to change the station.  Yesterday as I headed out, I heard a peppy woman encouraging me to get $2,500 in fast cash today for an auto title loan.  Annoyed, I tried another station where I was urged to get quick cash now with no credit check.  When my third station offered another payday loan commercial, I was disgusted enough to simply turn off the radio altogether.
The claim of payday lenders is that they offer a solution to families who face short-term crises.  However, instead of promoting financial stability for families, these lenders actually benefit more from a family’s financial struggles.  Payday and auto title loan businesses have tripled in number in Texas since 2006, when they discovered a loophole in Texas law allowing them to charge excessive fees for loans that trap people in debt.
Payday and auto title lenders in Texas often charge upwards of 500% APR for a $300 loan. More than 75% of payday loans are taken out within 2 weeks of the previous loan in order to fill the financial gap caused by the loan itself. Because of the debt trap, in Texas an average payday borrower pays $840 for a $300 loan.  Regulatory standards are already in place for small dollar lenders, but payday and auto title loan operators take advantage of a loophole in Texas law to avoid that regulation.  They use the loophole to get around Texas laws that cap rates and fees for consumer loans by claiming that they are not lenders, but Credit Service Organizations.  Legitimate credit service organizations (CSOs) help people clean up their credit and pay off debt.  Payday and auto title loan operators advertise no credit check for fast cash.
In the teachings of our faith we have many warnings about usury and the exploitation of people.  Lending practices that take unfair advantage of one’s desperate circumstances are unjust.  Such practices risk the stability of the family. Catholic Social Teaching demands respect for the dignity of persons, preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable, and the pursuit of the common good.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church tells us, “Usury is a scourge that is also a reality in our time and that has a stranglehold on many peoples' lives. Although the quest for equitable profit is acceptable in economic and financial activity, recourse to usury is to be morally condemned. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them. (341)
These principles, coupled with our teaching on economic justice, compel our questioning of current payday lending practices.  In the upcoming legislative session, the Texas Catholic Conference calls on the legislature to close the loophole in our state law that allows payday, auto title, and other consumer loans to operate as CSOs, and provide a level playing field by requiring that all lenders and brokers of payday, auto title, or other consumer loans be licensed and comply with the same standards and consumer protection laws of licensed lenders in the Texas Finance Code.  In the meantime, my car radio will be off.

Texas News

Bill filing started on Monday, and that we now have bills up on our web site. Our bill reports page lists bills that we are supporting and opposing, and is sorted by issue area. You can visit the bill reports page here or you can click the “legislative bill reports” button on our home page at  For every bill listed, we include a link to the state web site for that particular bill, as well as a summary of the bill and why TCC is taking a position on it, and any available resources that we have on the bill issue. 

We read each bill and determine if the proposed legislation is one that we should support or opposed based on the 
Bishops’ legislative agenda.  If a bill has been filed and is not on our site, it does not mean that we will remain neutral on that bill.  Throughout the pre-filing period and the legislative session, we will continue analyzing bills and our positions will be updated often. We will continue to add new bills to the reports as well as edit reports as we have more information available.

Read More:
Weekly Legislative Update
Texas Catholic Conference Urges Catholics to Be Faithful Citizens During Texas’ 82nd Legislative Session
Click here to read the entire Texas Catholic Voice e-newsletter online. You can sign up for the e-newsletter here.

MCC's Advocacy Day

What to expect for Maryland's 2011 leg session? Sign up for MCC's Advocacy Day - Nov 13

MCC Advocacy Day 2010
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public policy interests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington.
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Still Be Faithful Citizens

The elections are over, bills are being drafted, and before we know it, the 82nd Texas Legislative Session will be here. This year’s Texas House general election results have left Capitol observers and advocates scrambling to rethink their strategy and priorities. As a part of this post-game analysis several people have contacted the Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas, to ask how the election results affect its approach to the upcoming session.
“For us, the answer is simple: we will continue to advocate for the fullness of the Bishops’ legislative agenda,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, Associate Director of the Texas Catholic Conference. “In the same way that we don’t get involved in recommendations for the election, we also don’t make predictions about the fate of our issues based on the election outcomes. Keeping in mind the instructions of St. Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1-5), we will be persistent in season and out of season, whether convenient or inconvenient, to fulfill our ministry of proclaiming church teaching to the people of Texas. We congratulate all the election winners and we look forward to working with them this session. We thank the legislators who are moving on for their service.”
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News for Advocates for Catholic Education

News for Advocates for Catholic Education in Pennsylvania November 4, 2010

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Advocacy Day

As the 2010 elections results are being finalized, our work is just beginning! Continue to make your voice heard by learning how to communicate with the men and women who have been elected to represent your interests during the 2011 legislative session in Annapolis.

The Maryland Catholic Conference invites you to sign-up and attend our first-ever “pre-session” Advocacy Day on Saturday, November 13, 2010 from 8:30 am – noon at the Miller Senate Office Building’s Presidential Conference Center. Visit for details.

Sign up for Advocacy Day 2010: Make Your Voice Heard and join Catholics from around the state who want to know:

* Who are our newly-elected legislators?
* What are the important issues for 2011?
* How can we and our parishes get involved?

Learn about the issues, pray for guidance, and act.

Advocacy Day
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End of Session Review

These are among top issues tracked by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) in the 2009-2010 legislative session. What happened and where do we go from here?
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New Column: The State's Alternative to Abortion Program

Most North Dakotans have probably not heard of the state’s alternative-to-abortion services program, but it is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of women and their unborn children.
Shepherded through the legislature in 2005 by former state senator Aaron Krauter with bipartisan support, the program confronts the culture of death by giving financial assistance to the pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes that provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion. In 2009 the legislature appropriated $400,000 to the program for the biennium. That is small change in the state’s budget, but it is enough to make an impact.
Read more . . .

Farmworker Sunday

FARMWORKER SUNDAY November 7, 2010
The bishops of Florida have designated November 7 as Farmworker Sunday. Resources and materials are provided to assist parishes, parishioners and groups plan activities for the weekend of November 6-7.
> More information

"So why does the Church oppose embryonic stem cell research?

"So why does the Church oppose embryonic stem cell research?" - A talk by Nancy Paltell

Nancy Paltell, associate director for respect life with the Maryland Catholic Conference, will kick off the first night of A 6-week series. Paltell will explain the ins and outs of stem cell research, the moral concerns with embryonic stem cell research and the great potential of adult stem cell research. She holds a doctorate in analytical chemistry and is a former research scientist with Procter & Gamble.

Join others for a social at 7 p.m. The talk begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by more fellowship and conversation. Tap into Your Faith is geared to Catholic young adults (21-40), but older age groups and people of all faiths are welcome!

Dr. Nancy Paltell to Speak at 'Tap into Your Faith'