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Teacher fired for abortion rights social media posts sues Catholic school in SC

Charleston, S.C., Jul 11, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A teacher at a Catholic school in South Carolina whose contract was not renewed because of her posts on Facebook in support of abortion rights is now suing the school, claiming that her First Amendment rights have been violated.

According to the July 8 lawsuit, Elizabeth Cox taught at Bishop England High School in Charleston for 16 years before being informed at the end of the last school year, June 7, that her contract would not be renewed.

Cox had shared on Facebook several posts and links expressing pro-choice views, while at the same time listing the Catholic school publicly as her employer.

According to ABC News 4, included among Cox's social media posts were a quotation from feminist activist Gloria Steinem asserting gun purchasers should be subjected to rigorous screenings similar to those of women seeking abortions, and an unattributed quotation casting suspicion on pro-life claims of people who do not also support gun bans, free healthcare, and other political causes ostensibly meant to protect and improve quality of life.

Another post includes a link to a Washington Post news story, without comment from the teacher, with the headline “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale,” the Charlotte Observer reports.

The Catholic Church has consistently condemned direct abortion, the intentional taking of an innocent human life, as a grave moral evil, and has upheld the sanctity of the life of the unborn child.

Teachers accepting jobs at Bishop England sign contracts agreeing to speak publicly and to act in accordance with Catholic beliefs, regardless of whether they are Catholic, to aid in the “intellectual and spiritual development of students according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.” A copy of the contract is included in the lawsuit.

“When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do so differently in the future,” Bishop England principal Patrick Finneran is quoted as saying in Cox’s termination letter.

“Parents send their children to [Bishop England] expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing. Your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that."

The Diocese of Charleston is not named in the suit, but the school, Principal Finneran, and four additional people Cox believes to be involved in her firing are, ABC 4News reports.

In her lawsuit, Cox contends that her firing "violates political rights and privileges of free speech guaranteed by the United States Constitution and/or the Constitution of the State of South Carolina." She also argues that her firing violates South Carolina law prohibiting the firing of employees for expressing political opinions.

Cox is seeking a monetary award as well as reinstatement as a teacher at Bishop England. The school has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

“Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and Bishop England High School have received notice of the complaint that was filed on July 8. We will review and file a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time,” diocesan spokesperson Maria Aselage said in a statement to CNA.

Several other cases of teachers being fired for failing publicly to uphold Catholic teaching are ongoing in the US.

This week, a teacher at a Catholic school in Indianapolis whose contract was terminated due to his same-sex marriage announced he is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, one day after reaching a settlement with the school.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that government cannot interfere with religious institutions’ hiring and firing decisions regarding employees whom they consider to be ministers.

Ariz. Catholic agency hopes to house asylum seekers in unused detention center

Tucson, Ariz., Jul 11, 2019 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- A Catholic agency in Tucson, Arizona is hoping to transform an unused portion of a juvenile detention center into housing facilities for immigrants seeking asylum.

Since January, Catholic Community Services in Arizona has housed asylum seekers in the local Benedictine Monastery, the third largest shelter for migrants in the United States, according to the Sahuarita Sun. Due to monastery renovations, they must relocate later this month.

Arizona Public Media reported this week that a $100 one-year renewable lease is currently being drawn up for the organization to use a portion of the Pima County's Juvenile Justice Complex.

The county board of supervisors must approve the move during the next board meeting in August.

The justice complex can hold 350 people, but currently houses less than 50. Catholic Community Services is hoping to use the additional 300 beds, plus an attached kitchen and laundry room, in a portion of the facility that is separate from the area still used as a juvenile detention center.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson said the justice complex will provide a safer and healthier environment to shelter the migrants, who typically stay no longer than a few days.

“Even though the monastery was a lovely environment, it was not setup in its infrastructure for our needs. The plumbing system especially was a real challenge,” he said, according to Arizona Public Media.

The county would pay for operating costs, and would then request reimbursement from the federal government, which is responsible for the immigrants seeking asylum, the Sahuarita Sun reports.

Some renovations will be necessary, to make the space more comfortable and inviting. Jan Lesher, chief deputy county administrator, stressed that the asylum seekers are not being imprisoned, and the building will be altered to reflect that.

“What we hope to do is make it as seamless as possible for those who live in the community and those asylum seekers passing through,” she told Arizona Public Media.

 

Va. legislature ends gun session, after bishops had hoped for 'genuine discussions'

Richmond, Va., Jul 11, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The Virginia legislature adjourned Tuesday a special session called by the governor after fewer than two hours. The session was meant to consider gun control bills, and the state's bishops had earlier expressed hope for dialogue.

The July 9 session was called by governor Ralph Northam (D); both houses of the General Assembly are controlled by Republicans with one-seat majorities.

“It is our hope that our elected officials will engage in genuine discussions about comprehensive legislation that will help save lives and make our communities safer,” Bishops Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Barry Knestout of Richmond had said in a July 8 statement ahead of the special session.

“We urge our state leaders to engage in civil and meaningful dialogue, seeking to combat all violence in our communities,” they added, while also recognizing “that many factors contribute to the violence in our society, which will not be solved by a single piece of legislation.”

Northam had called the special session in light of the May 31 killings in Virginia Beach, in which a gunman shot to death 12 people. The gunman, DeWayne Craddock, died in a shootout with police.

According to the AP, Northam had proposed eight gun control measures for the special session.

Senate majority leader Tommy Norment had proposed a bill July 8 to ban broadly guns in government buildings in the state. Norment's fellow Republicans strongly objected to the bill, and it was withdrawn.

During the brief session, legislators did task a bipartisan crime commission with studying policy proposals that might have prevented the Virginia Beach killings.

In November, all 140 seats in both houses of the General Assembly are up for re-election, and gun control is expected to be an important topic of campaigning.

In their statement ahead of the special session, the bishops noted that they continue to keep in prayer Craddock's 12 victims, and that “we also continue to pray for their families, those injured, their co-workers and those who provide assistance within the community.”

“We must also discern what can be done to make our communities safer and address the root causes of violence and terror,” they added.

“Respect and reverence for human life – all life, at every stage of development and in all circumstances – require us to protect it. The culture of violence pervading our society must be challenged.”

The bishops said that the Virginia Catholic Conference has advocated “for reasonable safety regulations for firearms and proper screening for those seeking to acquire a firearm.”

They added that “firearms often serve the legitimate purpose of self-defense and the defense of loved ones,” and that “mental health has been a factor in past shootings and more resources should be invested in early intervention for those at risk of committing a violent act due to mental illness.”

“We will continue to be advocates for proposals that promote a comprehensive approach to combating increasing occurrences of violence, keeping respect for all life at the forefront and ensuring the fundamental liberties of all Americans are protected,” the bishops stated.

Court denies stay against Title X Protect Life Rule

San Francisco, Calif., Jul 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday that a new Title X rule banning organizations in reciept of funds from co-locating with abortion facilties can go into effect. Planned Parenthood called the decision “devastating” and “crushing news.”

The court refused to grant an emergency stay of its June 20 decision allowing the rule to be enforced. 

The decision was 7-4. All four dissenting judges were appointed by Democrats, and the seven in the majority were appointed by Republicans. 

This decision means that organizations that receive Title X family planning funds must maintain a physical and financial separation from facilities that perform abortions. Fund recipients are immediately prevented from referring patients for abortion services. By March 2020, health clinics must be located separately from abortion facilities in order to be eligible for continued funding.

Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds. 

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The new rule is expected to strip about $60 million in federal funds from Planned Parenthood, although the organization will still receive about $500 million in other federal programs. 

“We are greatly encouraged to see the 9th Circuit rule in favor of allowing President Trump’s Protect Life Rule to take effect while it continues to be litigated,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List. 

“A strong majority of Americans have consistently voiced their opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion – it is even unpopular among Democrats and self-described pro-choice Americans,” said Dannenfelser. 

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen tweeted that her organization was “incredibly concerned the panel did not recognize the harm of the Trump-Pence administration’s gag rule” and that she “will not stop fighting for the millions across the country in need of care.” 

In late February, the Trump Administration finalized the Protect Life Rule, which created the new eligibility requirements for Title X fund recipients. 

Shortly after the policy was announced, several states sued in an attempt to prevent it from going into effect. Acting together, California, Washington, and Oregon received a preliminary injunction that blocked the rule from going into effect. The Ninth Circuit’s decision overturned that injunction, finding the rule a "reasonable" interpretation of federal law.

A previous version of the policy was enacted in 1988 and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court three years later. When President Bill Clinton became president in 1993, his administration changed the policy to make abortion providers eligible for funding. 

Planned Parenthood currently receives about one fifth of the total Title X funds. 

On Twitter, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the lobbying arm of Planned Parenthood, tweeted “Crushing news from the Ninth Circuit:  the illegal, dangerous, and unethical Title X gag rule can go into effect across the country.” 

“This is what taking away birth control & other health care, and allowing the government to censor doctors and nurses looks like,” they added.

The Protect Life Rule does not contain any new regulations on who can receive birth control or health care, nor does it reduce the amount of funds allocated for Title X.

Raids on undocumented migrants to go ahead, Trump announces

Washington D.C., Jul 11, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Planned raids to detain and deport thousands of undocumented immigrants will go ahead after a postponement of several weeks, the Trump administration has announced.

Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli told reporters on Wednesday that immigration raids are “absolutely going to happen.” 

According to a report in the New York Times, the raids could take place on Sunday of this weekend. Immigrants eligible for deportation include those with a final order of removal from an immigration judge.

On June 22, President Trump postponed a widespread campaign of immigration enforcement that was planned for that weekend, stating at the same time that Congress needed to update asylum laws. 

The American Civil Liberties Union announced 11 July that it would file a lawsuit, along with other immigration advocacy groups, against the administration in anticipation of the raids.

The ACLU said that the administration’s targeting of immigrants who failed to appear in immigration court was “illegal and immoral,” noting that immigrants could have failed to show up for a variety of reasons including bureaucratic notification errors.

“The families and children whom Plaintiffs serve fled their countries within the last five years,” the lawsuit stated. “But none of them ever had their claims for asylum and related relief heard by an immigration judge. Instead, the government ordered them removed in absentia because they failed to appear in court.”

On the same day as the raids were first announced, the U.S. bishops’ conference stated its opposition to the move, saying that “broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration.”

“Instead, we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.