Browsing News Entries

LGBT grant-maker wants to win religious liberty fight within three years

Washington D.C., Jul 29, 2015 / 12:31 am (CNA).- A leader in LGBT grant-making has told business leaders that he wants to shut down the political fight for religious freedom exemptions in the U.S. within three years.

And these words are not empty rhetoric. A CNA investigation has found that millions of dollars have been poured into efforts to combat religious freedom exemptions in the United States.

“We are at a crossroads where the choices we make will mean we will fight religious exemptions for two to three years or have a protracted twenty year struggle on our hands,” Tim Sweeney told leading business executives and others attending the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates executive forum, held in San Francisco in late March 2015.

Sweeney is a former program director of the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and a former president and CEO of the Gill Foundation, which he left in 2013.

Both non-profit foundations are involved in funding LGBT advocacy, including gay marriage, and have begun to target religious freedom. A CNA examination of public grant listings and tax forms has found at least six foundations and funds have made grants totaling about $4.8 million to target religious freedom, especially as it is exercised by objectors to gay marriage.

The San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund is one of the major funders. It is a private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets. It has made at least $685,000 in grants opposed to a broad understanding of religious liberty, the fund’s grant database shows.

In 2014 the fund made two separate grants totaling $150,000 to the northwestern U.S.-based Pride Foundation in order to “lead a project to ensure that ‘religious liberty’ claims do not erode gains in marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections.” In 2015 it made another $200,000 grant for the same purpose.

The Berkeley, Calif.-based Pacific School of Religion received a $125,000 grant to support the Umoja project. The fund’s grant listing said the grant was intended to “engage African American clergy in preventing ‘religious liberty’ claims from eroding gains in marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections.” A $60,000 grant with the same aim went to the D.C.-based organization Many Voices.

A 2015 grant of $50,000 helped fund the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation to target religious liberty claims.

The Haas Jr. fund’s grant listings also show a $100,000 grant to the Gill Foundation in 2014 to support the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT advocacy think tank. The grant funded work including “research to develop messaging around gay rights and ‘religious liberty’ issues.”

The Colorado-based Gill Foundation is both a recipient of grants and a maker of grants that target religious freedom. The foundation’s tax forms show it made a $100,000 grant in 2013 to give general support to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and to support a “religious exemptions project” at the foundation.

The Gill Foundation had over $234 million in assets at the close of 2013. It was founded by the politically savvy former businessman Tim Gill. He has worked to increase the number of funders of LGBT advocacy. He has also pursued a long-term political strategy of advancing LGBT causes by targeting donations to local and statewide political campaigns to stop his political opponents at the start of their careers.

Another grantmaker involved against religious freedom protections is the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund. It has dedicated at least $825,000 to support “special litigation efforts and work on use of religious exemptions to attempt to justify the undermining of full marriage.” This litigation and work is part of its Civil Marriage Collaborative project, which backs “gay marriage.”

Its funding on religious exemptions work, as listed on its website, includes a $200,000 grant in 2014 and $75,000 in 2015 to the Oregon-based Basic Rights Education Fund to work on “religious exemptions public education work.” The fund is the political action fund of Basic Rights Oregon, which led opposition to a proposed religious freedom law in the state.

Other 2015 grants related to countering religious liberty exemptions include $300,000 in separate grants to ACLU groups in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas; and four grants totaling to $250,000 to other organizations in Arizona, California North Carolina and Texas.

A fourth foundation involved in the grant making is the David Bohnett Foundation, whose website lists a May 2014 grant of $150,000 over two years to the Columbia Law School’s Public Rights / Private Conscience Project, run by the law school’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.

The project gathers together scholars to oppose religious exemptions. It has been particularly critical of versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), including the legislation originally passed by the Indiana legislature in March 2015. After vocal opposition from LGBT activists and pressure from large businesses, the Indiana legislature changed the law in a way that drew harsh criticism from many religious freedom advocates.

The Columbia Law School project has also criticized legal efforts to protect employers with objections to mandated insurance coverage for contraception and efforts to protect individuals with religious objections to recognizing same-sex unions as marriages.

While the David Bohnett Foundation’s grant listing described the project as the “Public Value / Private Conscience Project,” Katherine Franke, director of the law school’s Center For Gender & Sexuality Law, confirmed to CNA May 22 that the grant went to the Public Rights / Private Conscience Project. The project’s backers include the Ford and Arcus foundations, which have given at least $900,000 to support it.

Bohnett has been an outspoken critic of religious groups who are not aligned with LGBT advocacy. In an Oct. 9, 2009 acceptance speech for the GLSEN Lifetime Achievement Award, he characterized Catholic, evangelical and Mormon leaders as “among our greatest adversaries” and said that “evangelical and fundamentalist groups that teach homosexuality is a sin” are those who “stand in the way of fairness and equality.”

The new discoveries add to CNA’s February 13, 2015 report that the Ford Foundation and the Arcus Foundation have committed over $3 million in combined spending to target religious exemptions and other protections for religious freedom. That spending has supported LGBT activist groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for American Progress and Planned Parenthood, among others.

Sweeney’s March 2015 remarks to the Out & Equal Executive Forum contended that LGBT advocates “face a new set of threats around religious exemptions to laws that protect us and our families.”

Sweeney contended that laws like Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and decisions like the 2014 Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) are “all about using ‘religious liberty’ as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people and others.”

At one point in his remarks, Sweeney said he appreciated “that many people on the other side sincerely believe that their religious freedom is under attack – but if I believed that I would definitely be on the other side of the table because safeguarding religious liberties is a core value of mine and many of us.”

He called on his allies to set up a national narrative that “questions the notion of an ‘attack’ on religious freedom” and “clarifies how discrimination affects gay people, women, religious minorities and other communities.”

Sweeney praised the failure of legislatures to pass religious freedom laws, saying “We exposed the discriminatory intention behind the Indiana and Arkansas RFRA laws, and limited some of the damage in these unnecessary and harmful measures.”

In an announcement released before the executive forum, Out & Equal said the forum would be attended by 50 “high-ranking and emerging” LGBT corporate leaders at business giants like Bain & Company, Comcast, Dell, Freddie Mac, Hilton Worldwide, Oracle, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The event’s presenting sponsors were the Walt Disney Company and Wells Fargo, while other leading sponsors included Deloitte, Hewlett-Packard, Intuit and the media company Thomson Reuters.

Asia Bibi's case shows need for interreligious dialogue in Pakistan, priest says

Lahore, Pakistan, Jul 28, 2015 / 04:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Dominican priest in Pakistan has praised the nation’s Supreme Court for suspending the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, and has emphasized the importance of dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

“The Supreme Court of Pakistan has made a great move as her death sentence was put aside,” Father James Channan said in a July 23 interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “I firmly believe that justice will be done, that she will be proven innocent and that she will be released.”

“The blasphemy law was used (in Bibi’s case) to settle a personal score – the accusation was an act of revenge,” the priest continued.

Asia Bibi had been on death row for nearly five years due to an accusation that she insulted Islam's prophet Muhammad during an argument. Bibi denies the accusation, and has stated her accusers were acting out of a personal vendetta.

Last week the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended Bibi’s execution, and will soon hear her appeal. However, many Pakistanis have spoken out against the court’s decision and have said they would carry out the execution even if she is deemed innocent. Fr. Channan commened that “fanatics are determined to kill once someone is accused, regardless of the legal outcome of a particular case … our people need to be educated and come to respect decisions of the courts of law.”

Bibi’s trial is one of many over charges of blasphemy in Pakistan. The nation’s blasphemy laws have often been misused for personal reasons or gain, and the accusations are often false, Fr. Channan warned.

He estimated some 130 Christians are currently being tried under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and that 950 Muslims are being held under the law.

“The misuse of the law should be stopped, such as its use to settle personal scores or to further business purposes,” he said.

Fr. Channan called for Pakistan’s government to revise its constitution, removing provisions that relegate Christians and other religious minorities to the status of second-class citizens. He also called for provisions to be put into place to punish those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy – an idea which he said is “also being supported by a growing number of Muslims, including some top leaders.”

The priest said interreligious dialogue will also help prevent malicious accusations of blasphemy. Fr. Channan directs the Dominican-run Peace Center in Lahore, which works to build ties with Pakistan’s Muslim majority.

Fr. Channan praised several key Muslim religious leaders who are taking part in Christian-Muslim dialogue including Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulama Council, and Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, grand imam of Lahore's Badshahi Mosque.

“Without dialogue there is no future of the Church in Pakistan,” Fr. Channan cautioned. “Today…Christians live in a state of fear because of all the recent violence. We need to somehow find a way to work with the Muslim majority…building bridges between the communities is of vital importance, however long it takes.”

“Pakistan’s Catholic Church is on the forefront of this process,” he said.

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only three percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

In 2011 the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim critic of the blasphemy laws, was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was also assassinated the same year by militant supporters of the blasphemy laws.

The Francis effect takes hold at a notorious Bolivian prison

La Paz, Bolivia, Jul 28, 2015 / 04:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ July 10 visit to a prison in Bolivia was just one of several dozen events over the course of the recent papal trip to Latin America.

But for many of the inmates and workers present at the notorious Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, the Pope’s visit was a turning point and an invitation to make a new start.

“The man who is standing before you is one who has been forgiven. A man who was and is saved from his many sins,” Pope Francis told the prisoners that day.

Father Leonardo da Silva Costa, the National Coordinator for Prison Ministry in Bolivia, said many of the prisoners took the Pope’s words to heart.

“It was a thrill to see him at ease and speaking his native language. I was moved by his expression when he saw the statue of the Virgin of Copacabana on the way between the women’s section, the prison administration offices, and the men’s section,” the priest recounted to CNA.

After the Pope departed, Fr. Da Silva – who was in charge of the visit – said he noted that the inmates were talking among themselves. “They wanted to tell about what they heard, what moved them, how they felt, what they were thinking and how life would be going forward.”

“People cried together, and their eyes were filled with joy and hope. Some of them wondered how it could be possible that the representative of Christ on earth would come to see them,” the priest explained. “The police, the security guards, came away from the meeting with a joy that was unusual, brotherly, a smile unlike any other…it was a revolution of love. Even non-Catholics were saying, ‘What a grace!’”

Even so, it was not an easy encounter. Three of the prisoners offered their testimony to the Pope, speaking about the rough prison conditions and the government’s prison policy.

Palmasola Prison is a maximum security facility notorious for its corruption, bribery and gang activity. Security guards are stationed only outside the facility; the inside is a “prison village,” run by gangs of prisoners themselves. Might makes right for the 3,000 inmates who are able to move about freely in the facility. Securing one’s own prison cell costs money, as do blankets, decent food, and protection from other prisoners. Two years ago, a riot killed more than 30 people, most of them burned to death.

“This is real life in the prisons in Bolivia. I even think they really toned down their complaints. They didn’t tell everything,” Fr. Da Silva said of the testimonies.

“All the authorities that have the power to manage, administer, decide upon and implement prison policy in the whole country were there,” he continued. “They didn’t hear anything new or surprising. It was a cry for help, aid, relief, to the point of desperation, taking advantage of the Pope’s presence to bring about structural change.”

While those in the prison are separated from society, “they haven’t lost their ability to analyze reality, to provide thoughtful contributions, knowing prison conditions from the inside with the goal of improving them,” the priest said.

Asked whether they were afraid of reprisals or if they had received any warning, he replied, “I still believe in democracy, in good intentions, in an ethical conscience, in morality and in the recovery of the values that are dormant in everyone. They asked the Pope to ‘be their spokesman and to make known the constant violations of fundamental rights.’”

Now, a few weeks after the Pope’s visit, Fr. Da Silva said, “it’s expected that there will be an evaluation of everything that was organized, articulated and experienced with the representatives of the inmates, the authorities and the Church.”

He voiced hope that all of those present for the encounter with the Pope will not merely return to their everyday routine.  

“We want to get the most we can out of this pastoral visit, reducing the bars, going forward with restorative justice, reducing the walls, and closing up the open wounds,” he explained. “(W)hat we have to do now is publish the Pope’s messages, re-read them, listen to them over and over again, pray, give thanks, form committees and working groups.”

Concerning possible changes in the country’s prison ministry, Fr. Da Silva said, “We have to keep on listening, show them love, and set in motion actions to improve the system and the lives of the prisoners.”

This requires “pastoral ministry with a prophetic visibility, involving comprehensive evangelization, proclamation, condemnation (of evil), witness, and commitment, with the feelings, thoughts and actions of Jesus Christ.”

Additionally, “we’re going to need to help the authorities respond with greater sensitivity to the prison problem, revising the inconsistencies in legislation, addressing social inequalities, poverty and violence, and working on prevention, not just rehabilitation,” he said.

African leaders counter Obama's 'ideological colonization' in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya, Jul 28, 2015 / 02:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. president Barack Obama has come under fire from African politicians and Church leaders after advocating for gay rights in Kenya this weekend – a practice Pope Francis has referred to as “ideological colonization.”

“Even if people don’t like us for it, our Church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman,” Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja told the News Agency of Nigeria July 26.

He stressed that “there is no question of the Catholic Church changing its positions on this matter.”

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, a Ghanaian, also weighed in on the U.S. president’s comments, emphasizing that for the Church, homosexual activity is both contrary to the law of God and “anti-human,” Breitbart News reports.

He said that although the Church respects homosexual individuals since they are created in the image and likeness of God, it cannot support homosexual acts and is committed to upholding “the fundamental truth about marriage and family life.”

Cardinal Onaiyekan and Archbishop Palmer Buckle’s comments fell the day after Obama advocated for gay rights during his two-day visit to Kenya, after which he travelled to Ethiopia.

In his July 25 speech at a joint news conference with his Kenyan counterpart, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama spoke out about the importance of gay rights, despite requests from Kenya’s leaders to not address the issue. Homosexual acts are illegal in Kenya, as well as several other African countries.

“With respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, I have been consistent all across Africa on this,” Obama said. “I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the State should not discriminate against the people based on their sexual orientation.”

Prior to Obama’s visit, 700 evangelical pastors wrote an open letter asking the president not to use the trip as an occasion to push the homosexual agenda.

Mark Kariuki, who leads of an alliance of 38,000 churches and 10 million Kenyan Christians, was the primary author of the letter.

“We do not want (Obama) to come and talk on homosexuality in Kenya or push us to accepting that which is against our faith and culture,” Kariuki wrote.

In response to Obama’s comments, Kenyatta noted that while the U.S. and Kenya hold many values and goals in common, such as democracy and entrepreneurship, gay rights is not one of them.

“It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I repeatedly say for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is generally a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas.”

Both Kenya's deputy president, William Ruto, and the speaker of its National Assembly, Justin Muturi, spoke publicly against same-sex marriage in the day's leading up to Obama's visit.

Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, who is Nigerian, responded to Obama's advocacy saying, “Most Africans care about religious values, about the family, about the complementary nature of man and woman and the culture that makes us Africans. Why can we not choose what 'benevolence' to accept from the West? Why can we not just be helped to fight corruption, terrorism, unemployment disease and illiteracy?”

“Nobody should be killed for private wayward or immoral behaviors that do not compromise other people's lives,” the bishop affirmed, “but that does not mean all kinds of exotic sexual adventure must be foisted on other nationalities in the name of rights.”

“America claims to be a great democracy and the proof of that fact will be found in her capacity for sincere dialogue and readiness to respect the legitimate values and world view of other peoples,” Bishop Badejo concluded.

The negative response to Obama's advocacy come amid other responses to what Pope Francis has called the “ideological colonization” of poorer countries by wealthy Western nations.

Pope Francis has frequently spoken out against aid and humanitarian organizations which make support of gay rights, abortion, and birth control a condition for receiving assistance. Speaking in Manila Jan. 16, the Pope decried the “new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family,” warning against efforts “to redefine the very institution of marriage.”

A few days later, Pope Francis again cautioned against this new form of colonialism: “A people enters with an idea that has nothing nothing to do with the nation … and they colonize the people with an idea that changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure," he said Jan. 19 during a press conference on his return flight to Rome from the Philippines.

The Pope's statements have been echoed by bishops across the developing world.

At the beginning of July, the Nigerian bishops conference issued a statement reacting to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland and the U.S.

In their statement, the bishops re-emphasized that “marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman for the begetting and care of children.”

The Nigerian bishops voiced concern that countries such as Canada, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, and the U.S., which have approved such unions and which hold profound influence over Africa, will begin to influence people’s opinion on the matter.

These countries, they noted, “also give generous humanitarian aid to various establishments and projects in our country and continent.”

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila has noted that foreign aid given to the Philippines is oftentimes is linked to some measures that the receiving country is somehow forced to accept … some of the conditions for the aid seem to be an acceptance or a welcoming of some views regarding marriage, or sexuality, or what, which could be alien to the vision of the receiving country or culture.”

And Bishop Badejo, the Nigerian who chairs communications for the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), said in a February interview with Aleteia that the U.S. has made its help in fighting the radical Islamist group Boko Haram contingent on the Nigeria's support of homosexual acts.

“The United States actually said it would help Nigeria with Boko Haram only if we modify our laws concerning homosexuality, family planning and birth control,” he said.

“It’s very clear that a cultural imperialism exists. In fact, I think that Africa is suffering greatly from a cultural imperialism that threatens to erode our cultural values.”

Bishop Badejo called the U.S. decision “criminal,” saying that if the West boasts of the value they place on human freedom, they shouldn’t try to impose values on Africa with which its people do not agree.

“It is part of human freedom … if the West cherishes freedom for gays and homosexual unions and abortion and contraception, suppose Africans are not wired that way,” he said.

“There is a diminishing sense of the respect for the sanctity of life. And all of this is to be imposed on Africa, at whatever cost: we think that it is immoral and that it is unjust.”

Why this former rock journalist authored a book about chastity

Washington D.C., Jul 28, 2015 / 12:46 pm (CNA).- One day, when Dawn Eden was 31 years-old, she ventured into the section of a bookstore that she had never visited before.    This journey into the store was somewhat out of character for Eden, who preferred listening to rock music instead of delving into books. Even more rare was the part of the bookstore she found herself in, because she had never been interested in what it had to offer – until her recent conversion to Christianity.   It was a shelf of how-to books on living with sexual purity.   Eden, who was an agnostic Jew for most of her life, used to spend her days as a rock journalist interviewing Harry Nilsson and hanging out with Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, living her nights bouncing from one New York nightclub to the next.    It was surprising then that she, with her well-seasoned experiences, would find herself flipping through page after page of books searching for the meaning of chastity.    To her disappointment, the stores she ventured into only offered books for teens, which aimed at frightening them into not having sex rather than offer a truthful explanation on why living a chaste lifestyle was important for every human being.    When her quest proved fruitless, Eden decided to write a book of her own for adults who were looking for more than just the thrill of the chase. She hoped that there would be others out there like her – and hoped that she could give them the book that she herself had searched for.    After her conversion to Christianity in 1999, Eden published what she calls “a chastity book for grown-ups” in 2006, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding fulfillment while leaving your clothes on.    Not long after its publication, Eden converted to Catholicism. Armed with this new world view, she re-wrote the original edition of her book through the new lenses of her Catholic faith, which was published in 2015.   Fellow author Colleen Carroll Campbell hailed the new Catholic edition for its humor and brutal honesty, as well as drawing on “the depth and insights of the saints, Church Fathers, and Catholic teaching in a way that the original did not.”   Besides including various elements of her new-found Catholic faith, Eden also inserted a few additions to the Catholic version: it now catered to a male audience, who had expressed a need for a book like hers, and also addressed those individuals who were discerning a celibate life.    “In this new edition, I take a different approach – I give people practical advice not on dating, but on living, because the real question of our lives is not 'How am I going to find a spouse'? but the real question is 'How am I going to be happy whether I have a spouse or not'?” she told CNA.   “If we are just thinking that we have to find the right person to be happy, then we are really missing the point of life in Christ, and risking the possibility that we will never be happy – because if you put your happiness in a human being, then sooner or later you are going to be disappointed,” she said.   In writing her book, Eden wanted to address the person she had been before her conversion – the person who was searching for ways to fill her hurting, lonely heart. She wanted to offer hope and healing to the other men and women who had also been hurt by past experiences.   Eden wasn't the only one out there who felt the harrowing, sweeping feeling of loneliness – she found that it was becoming an increasingly popular sentiment. However, that lonely feeling wasn’t always a negative thing, she recalled.   “I have come to realize that hunger and loneliness are not bad things: they are signs that I am made for something better and higher than this world, signs that I am meant to make room for God.”   “We are all made with a God-shaped vacuum in our heart that can only be filled by the love of God in and through Christ,” Eden reflected.   The ex-rock journalist wanted to impress upon her readers that their lives have meaning – here and now – and that they don't have to wait until marriage or a romantic relationship to feel fulfilled. But how could this be achieved in an age of growing existential loneliness?   “As I began to let Jesus enter more deeply into my heart and entire life, then I learned how to let other people enter into me in a deeper way,” she asserted, acknowledging that her pledge to purity helped her become a better friend, daughter, and woman.   Chastity proved to surprise Eden. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the denying admonishment that she had anticipated.    In fact, Eden points out in her book that chastity does not deny love, but rather, shows men and women how to love more fully.    “Our chastity is how we become personally integrated, body and soul, so that we can really love fully in every relationship, in the manner that is appropriate to that type of relationship,” she explained.   Although written as the “Catholic edition,” Eden believes that everyone, even non-Catholics, can glean something from the Catholic Church's stance on sexuality, purity, and chastity.    “Everyone needs the good news and the Church's sexual teachings are part of the good news,” she stated, saying that too often Catholics take for granted the treasury of Church teachings on the matter, seeing them as bitter pills rather than beautiful truths.    “To live a life of chastity is to live in the truth – the truth of the dignity that you and those you encounter have from being made in the image of God,” she explained.   Eden ends her chastity book for grown-ups with a beautiful description of how chastity changed her life and worldview. Not only did it enhance the quality of her relationships, but it has also drawn out the beauty of other people.   “The world is no longer my meat market – it stopped being that for me years ago – and it is no longer my waiting room,” Eden wrote.   “It is my cathedral, and every human being is a tabernacle of Christ.”