St. Mary's Church / Iglesia Santa María

Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Biden administration seeks school regulation change to ban LGBT discrimination

nito/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2022 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration proposed expanding the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a gender equality law that applies to thousands of schools across the U.S.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects Americans from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. Today, its protections impact everything from women’s participation in sports to sexual harassment at schools. 

Its text reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Department of Education intends to expand discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based on “sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” it announced Thursday.

These changes, the Washington Post reported, would, among other things, permit transgender students “to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, using their correct pronouns and addressing bullying based on their gender identity.”

Title IX includes exceptions, including a religious exemption for educational institutions “controlled by a religious organization” if the application is inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.

Before becoming law, the proposed changes must undergo a public comment process. After it is published in the Federal Register, comments can be submitted the following 60 days via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov.

CNA reached out to several Catholic colleges and universities for comment Thursday. One responded by publication time saying that it will review the changes and will submit comments if necessary. 

Title IX applies to approximately 17,600 local school districts and over 5,000 postsecondary institutions, charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums, according to the department. It also applies to vocational rehabilitation agencies and education agencies.

Regarding athletics, the department announced Thursday that it will address Title IX's application to athletics at a later time. The announcement came the same day that female athletes from across the country expressed concern in Washington, D.C., about competing against transgender athletes.

For the 49th anniversary of Title IX, in 2021, the Biden administration issued a “notice of interpretation” that it would enforce Title IX protections against sex discrimination in education to also protect sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposed changes that came Thursday would make this federal law.

The Education Department’s fact sheet clarifies that the proposed regulations “would make clear that preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation of Title IX, except in some limited areas set out in the statute or regulations.”

The changes also include revisions regarding how schools and higher education institutions address and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment — and they expand the definition of sex-based harassment.

The changes also affect pregnant and parenting students. 

“The proposed regulations would update existing protections for students, applicants, and employees against discrimination because of pregnancy or related conditions,” the fact sheet reads. “The proposed regulations would strengthen requirements that schools provide reasonable modifications for pregnant students, reasonable break time for pregnant employees, and lactation space.” 

The department identifies “key issue areas” where Title IX applies: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; treatment of LGBTQI+ students; discipline; single-sex education, and employment.

Report: More than 800,000 lives saved by pro-life pregnancy centers since 2016

null / Prostock-Studio/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 23, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Pro-life pregnancy centers have saved over 800,000 lives since 2016, according to an analysis by the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The analysis says that pro-life pregnancy centers “exist to provide support, education, classes, medical care and critical resources for women faced with difficult circumstances surrounding unexpected pregnancy.”

CLI, the research arm of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, conducted the analysis with data from more than 1,100 Care Net pregnancy centers, according to a press release. Care Net is a Christian non-profit that offers a network of pro-life pregnancy centers and pro-life education. The data was then weighted by CLI to create national estimates. 

Data from the years 2016 through 2020 published by CLI show that an estimated 177,716 babies' lives were saved in 2019, marking the highest number out of all five years. The lowest estimated number of lives saved was in 2020, with 144,176. 

In 2016 there were an estimated 173,587 lives saved. In 2018 there were an estimated 169,547 lives saved. In 2019 there were an estimated 177,716 lives saved. 

The total number of estimated lives saved throughout the data set is 828,131. 

In the press release president of CLI, Charles Donovan condemned the recent attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. 

“Radical pro-abortion activists have violently attacked pro-life pregnancy centers in recent weeks, which Speaker Pelosi and other national leaders have failed to condemn,” he said. “Yet real-world data shows that compassion and decency are winning, with more than 800,000 precious babies saved thanks to brave volunteers and staff who willingly take the risk of helping women and their families.”

Data from 2019 shows that 2,700 clinics across the nation were run by just short of 15,000 staff members and nearly 54,000 volunteers. The staff and volunteers included 10,200 licensed medical professionals, the analysis says. 

Out of the 10,200 licensed medical professionals, the analysis says that 3,791 were clinic staff members and 6,424 were clinic volunteers. There are about 3,000 pro-life pregnancy centers across the country today, the analysis says.

The lead author of the analysis, Moira Gaul, said that “On average, pregnancy centers consistently have client satisfaction rates over 95% leading to many ‘word-of-mouth’ referrals to pro-life pregnancy centers — meaning that the 800,000 lives saved just since 2016 represent a significant number of women who received support and then told their friends and families about the compassionate and cost-free care they received.”  

“More than any other group, pro-life pregnancy centers are best equipped to support women facing unintended pregnancies in a post-Roe America,” Gaul, an associate scholar at CLI, said. 

Another analysis done by CLI showed that in 2019, approximately 2 million women, men, and youth were served by more than 2,700 pro-life pregnancy centers across the nation, the press release says.

Those services included free ultrasound services, prenatal and parenting classes, and over 1.2 million diapers given.

Pro-life pregnancy centers have come under attack since early May when a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked showing that the justices may have been poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that created federal protections for abortion. 

The court is expected to release the opinion or decision in that case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, at the end of June or beginning of July.

The analysis says that pro-life pregnancy centers began organizing in the late 1960s, the same time some states began legalizing abortion.

Female athletes advocate for women’s sports ahead of Title IX transgender changes

Cynthia Monteleone, shown at the "Our Bodies, Our Sports" rally in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022. The mother of three is a track coach, a Team USA World Masters track champion, and an advocate for the preservation of women’s sports. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2022 / 16:03 pm (CNA).

Women athletes who are opposed to biological males identifying as transgender females competing in women’s sports rallied in Washington, D.C., on Thursday ahead of new proposed regulations coming from the Biden administration regarding transgender athletes.

The event, “Our Bodies, Our Sports,” sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum, among other groups, coincided with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a federal law that ensures that no person at schools and colleges receiving federal funds is discriminated against based on sex. The Biden administration plans to broaden the scope of the law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to gender.

Several athletes spoke to CNA, including a Catholic track star from Hawaii and a swimmer from Kentucky who competed against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, said they attended the rally, which drew a counterprotest by trans-rights activists, to preserve women's sports.

Riley Gaines Barker, 21, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, competed against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male. Katie Yoder/CNA
Riley Gaines Barker, 21, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, competed against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male. Katie Yoder/CNA

Riley Gaines Barker, 21, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, has won many championships and awards for swimming throughout her college career. Earlier this year, she tied for 5th place with Lia Thomas in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Barker said Thomas, competing for the University of Pennsylvania, received the 5th place trophy, while she was told that one would be sent to her at a later date.

“Women have fought the past 50 years today for equal rights in terms of sports and equal opportunities,” Barker told CNA.

“Just when you think you're almost there, it's a complete 180. My goal is to be here, and to use my voice to help bring light to the situation, and to help get back what Title IX is supposed to stand for,” she said.

For Barker, this issue comes down to a matter of fairness.

“It's not that I'm transphobic. I don't think that. I think that you can do what you want in your free time, but when you're infringing on women's sport and it's involving lots of female athletes, that's when I'm going to get involved and that's when I'm going to speak up about it,” she said.

Cynthia Monteleone, who lives in Hawaii, is a mother of three, a track coach, a Team USA World Masters track champion, and an advocate for the preservation of women’s sports.

“It means more to me to champion this fight for women's sports than anything else, and that's because I'm being true to myself and allowing my faith to guide me,” Monteleone, who is Catholic, told CNA.

Monteleone said she decided to skip the world track championships in Finland to attend Thursday’s rally. Had she competed, she would have had to go against a biological male, she said.

“I began to ask questions about the fairness of this issue, and I was told to keep my mouth shut for my own safety,” Monteleone said. “I did not do that. I'm still speaking up louder than ever.”

Monteleone said the stand she’s taking stems from the moral values she derives from her Catholic faith.

“God will lead the way to the path you're supposed to be on, so I am not supposed to get that medal at that world championship this week,” she said. “It means nothing to me if there's not a fair playing field.”

Monteleone said her daughter, Margaret, had a similar experience at her first high school track meet, where she lost to a biological male.

Monteleone said she does not place any value on the words of those who call her position on the issue “transphobic” or “discriminatory.” Instead, she noted, “I just say ‘stay strong’ and don't put value in those words.”

Madisan DeBos, a Division I track and cross country student-athlete at Southern Utah University, speaks at the "Our Bodies, Our Sports" rally in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Madisan DeBos, a Division I track and cross country student-athlete at Southern Utah University, speaks at the "Our Bodies, Our Sports" rally in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

Another outspoken woman at the event was Madisan DeBos, a Division I track and cross country student-athlete at Southern Utah University.

“This is something that is so important to me because I have personally been affected by this issue at hand,” DeBos said, recalling a time when her relay team lost out to a team with a transgender athlete.

“Being here today and being alongside all of these athletes, I think our voices together are what's going to help make change,” DeBos said.

DeBos spoke on the biological differences between men and women and how women have the right to fight for fairness in their sports.

“This is within the sports world, and that really is a different world,” she told CNA. The physical advantages that come with being a biological male have “nothing to do with the outside world” when it comes to fair treatment.

Can laity preach at Mass? Chicago parish offers pulpit to same-sex couple

Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka deliver a 'Gospel reflection' during Mass at Old St. Patrick's in Chicago, Ill., June 19, 2022. / Old St. Patrick’s/vimeo.

Denver Newsroom, Jun 22, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Chicago Catholic parish is facing questions after the pastor allowed a couple in a same-sex marriage to offer a “reflection” in lieu of the homily at a June 19 Mass. 

The parish, Old St. Patrick’s, is a historic and prominent parish on Chicago’s west loop. The priest celebrating the Mass, Father Joe Roccasalva, introduced the two men immediately after proclaiming the Gospel and said they were to give a Father’s Day “Gospel reflection.” According to canon law, laypeople are not allowed to preach homilies during Mass — only the ordained, meaning priests, bishops, and deacons, are allowed to do so. 

Upon taking the lectern, Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka — who say they have been members of the parish for a decade — described their same-sex marriage as a “blessing” and the adoption of their two children as “miracles.” 

“Let’s be honest, there are probably not too many gay dads speaking on Father’s Day at many Catholic Churches on the planet today,” one of the men said. 

Later in the presentation, one of the men stated: “We wanted to raise our children in the Catholic Church…On the other hand, we didn’t want to expose our children to bigotry and have them feel any shame or intolerance about their family.” 

The men described as a “miracle” the fact that they had found an LGBT-affirming community at the self-described “radically inclusive” Old St. Patrick’s parish, as they said they had experienced rejection and a lack of welcome at other Catholic parishes. 

The Catholic Church teaches that people who identify as LGBT should be treated with dignity and respect, but also that homosexual acts are sinful and that homosexual unions — even if recognized as marriage by governments or society — cannot be approved by the Church under any circumstance. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." At the same time, the Catechism and popes have drawn a clear distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual inclinations, the latter of which, while objectively disordered, are not sinful

"Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection," the Catechism adds.

In terms of the question of laypeople giving homilies, Father Pius Pietrzyk OP, a canon lawyer, told CNA in written responses that although the allowance of the reflection was technically a clear violation of the law, Catholics should not merely be concerned with the letter of the law, but also the reasons behind it. 

“[The law] expresses the Church's understanding of the role of the priest in the life of the parish community,” Pietrzyk explained. 

“More importantly, it expresses the essential link between the munus sanctificandi [duty to sanctify, or consecrate] and the munus docendi [the duty to teach], which is rooted in the sacrament of holy orders.” 

Pietrzyk said he hopes that the men who spoke at Old St. Patrick’s continue to participate in the Catholic Church. 

“We should continue to encourage these two men to participate in the life of the Church,” Pietrzyk stressed, but reiterated that the fact that they are living publicly as a same-sex married couple — a state the Church teaches to be sinful — cannot simply be ignored. 

Moreover, Pietrzyk described the priest’s decision to allow the men to speak during Mass as a “politicization of the Eucharist.”

“The selection of these two as [homilists] on Father's Day must be seen for what it is, a political act of submission to modern sexual ideologies and an act of rebellion against the teachings of Christ and his Church,” the priest said. 

In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal office clarified that the Catholic Church does not have the power to give liturgical blessings of homosexual unions, writing that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.” The ruling and note were approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not responded to questions on the matter from other Catholic publications. 

Museum of the Bible exhibit explores architectural history of St. Peter's Basilica

An exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., focuses on the history of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. / Courtesy of Museum of the Bible

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2022 / 18:41 pm (CNA).

Known for its grandeur, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City has long been an architectural inspiration worldwide. Now the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is honoring the history of the structure’s architecture with a new exhibit.

Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” opened May 27 and will remain in the museum's long-term Vatican exhibit, Treasures from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library, through Sept. 25.

The exhibit features numerous original prints of design ideas put forward by infamous artists of the 16th century such as Antonio da Sangallo, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Fontana, Agostino Veneziano, and Antoine Lafréry.

“We have that historical perspective, but also these unique and beautiful prints at the same time,” Jeff Kloha, chief curator of the Museum of the Bible, told CNA. “So it's a combination of a historical exhibit and an art exhibit. You get to see what [the artists] started on, an idea, and how it changed.”

St. Peter’s Basilica is designed with a combination of primarily Roman and Latin influences. Its current state depicts bits and pieces from each artist’s prints.

“Basilica Sancti Petri,” the 2014 book by Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, inspired the Museum of the Bible exhibit. Kloha told CNA that Jatta’s collection of the prints for the book led her to offer the original copies for display in the exhibit.

St. Peter’s Basilica was originally built by Roman Emperor Constantine during the pontificate of Pope Sylvester I (314–345) and was completed in 337. It was eventually demolished and rebuilt in the 16th century. The basilica has been the primary church of the Vatican and the site of papal celebrations for centuries. Its architecture has been a blueprint for numerous churches and secular buildings, and it is the first Christian church to be built on the burial site of a martyr — its namesake, St. Peter.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

“It's an interesting way that the Bible becomes kind of concrete in that sense,” Kloha told CNA, while also noting that “in many ways it becomes a model, a pattern for what follows,” both in Catholicism and other traditions.

Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” will be included as a part of general admission tickets to the Museum of the Bible through Sept. 25. To learn more about this exhibit and others, visit the museum’s website.

US bishops file brief supporting web designer who objects to gay marriage

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. / Alliance Defending Freedom.

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are coming to the aid of a Colorado web designer, a Christian who fears prosecution under state anti-discrimination law for stating her faith-based objections to providing services that promote same-sex marriage.

Along with five other faith groups, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amici curiae brief in support of the web designer, Lorie Smith, in her Supreme Court case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

“Free speech plays a critical role in protecting religious exercise because ‘freedom of conscience and worship’ have ‘close parallels in the speech provisions of the First Amendment,’” the June 2 amici brief reads.

Supreme Court justices will hear the case next term, considering “Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Smith, the owner of the graphic arts and website designing business 303 Creative, is being represented in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom

Her work is animated by her deeply-rooted faith, she says.

“As a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor Him in how I operate it,” her website description states.

The Colorado-based web designer fears prosecution under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

Smith's attorneys say that the law would force her to live under threat of prosecution if she declines to design and publish websites that promote messages or causes that conflict with her beliefs, such as messages that promote same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings. Because of the law, Smith has not sought to expand her business to include designing websites for weddings.

Her case is not a response to government action. Rather, it is a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law that Smith's attorneys say affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs.

Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.

The Masterpiece case is the basis for many arguments in Smith’s brief, as well as amici briefs in her favor.

Alongside the USCCB, the June 2 amici brief was filed by the Colorado Catholic Conference, The General Council of the Assemblies of God, The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan’s Purse.

The brief states, “Values of particular importance to the USCCB include the protection of the rights of religious organizations and religious believers under the First Amendment, and the proper development of this Court’s jurisprudence in that regard.”

The amici brief also states, “More broadly, our culture and our politics have become increasingly polarized, leading to regulations and policies that would force minority voices to choose between violating their conscience or being pushed from the public square."

Smith, as stated in her petitioner’s brief, does not discriminate against clients on the basis of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. She instead cares about the message she is asked to create.

Her brief says, “Smith will decline any request—no matter who makes it—to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, demeans or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, endorses the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes a concept of marriage that is not solely the union of one man and one woman.”

The USCCB’s involvement in the case aligns with its mission statement, which calls the bishops to “act collaboratively and consistently on vital issues confronting the Church and society.”

Pro-abortion vandalism targets Michigan clinic, Minnesota pro-life group

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between the night of June 19 and the morning of June 20, 2022. / Courtesy of The Lennon Pregnancy Center

Mansfield, Mass., Jun 21, 2022 / 12:52 pm (CNA).

A pro-life pregnancy center in Michigan and a pro-life organization in Minnesota have both been vandalized within the past week. 

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. 

Gary Hillebrand, the center’s president, told CNA Tuesday that 12 of the clinic's front windows were smashed. Four glass doors were smashed as well, he said.

He said graffiti was left that said “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you!”

In Minneapolis, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) had four of its office building windows smashed between the night of June 14 and the early morning of June 15. 

The building was also written on with red graffiti that said "ABORTION IS LIBERATION.”

MCCL has now been vandalized twice in the past two months, Paul Stark, communications director for MCCL told CNA Tuesday. 

The first vandalism against the group’s office occurred May 9 and included red graffiti spelling out the words “Never Again.” A hanger and an anarchist symbol were also graffitied on the building in red. 

There was also a homemade sign taped to the building which said, "You are BAD people. You can't take away people's rights."

The Minneapolis Police Department was notified but no perpetrator has been caught yet. Stark said the group is not intimidated nor afraid and will continue to serve women and families. He also said the group is planning to heighten its security measures.

MCCL serves its pro-life mission through education, advancing pro-life legislation, and supporting pro-life candidates for office.

In the Michigan attack, photos posted by the clinic’s Twitter account show that the pro-abortion graffiti has been painted over and the windows have been boarded up. Hillebrand said the graffiti was painted over by police. The online post at Abolition Media shows what the graffiti originally said. 

“On the night of 6/19 a gang of criminal queers smashed the windows of two fake abortion clinics in the greater Detroit area leaving the messages ‘if abortion isn’t safe, neither are you’ and ‘fake clinic,’ the post says.

In the post, “Jane will have her revenge” claimed responsibility for the vandalism. 

Hillebrand estimates that the repairs will cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The staff at the clinic is not intimidated, he said, but they are cautious. The clinic has ordered more security cameras, he said. 

Hillebrand’s clinic provides all its services for free such as ultrasounds. The clinic also offers free classes on parenting, preparing for childbirth, relationship counseling, budgeting, nutrition, and more. The clinic offers material help as well by providing “anything from diapers to strollers, to car seats,” Hillebrand said. 

The Dearborn Heights Police have been notified about the vandalism. 

Vandalism against pro-life pregnancy centers have surged in the past two months after a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court of a Mississippi court case showed that the justices may have intended to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roe is the 1973 court case that federally legalized abortion. 

Since the leak on May 2, not only pregnancy centers but churches as well have come under attack from pro-abortion activists. The FBI said last week that they are investigating the attacks. 

US Supreme Court rules against Maine's ban on tuition aid to religious schools

null / Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend “sectarian” schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

“Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June 21 decision in Carson v. Makin.

He added that “a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.”

“Maine’s decision to continue excluding religious schools from its tuition assistance program … thus promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires.”

Roberts noted that Maine “pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

Having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Roberts said, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.

The case was brought by the Carson family, consisting of parents Amy and David and their daughter Olivia, who reside in Glenburn, Maine. Because Glenburn has no public school system, families with school-age children are eligible for a school-choice program that pays tuition at either public or non-sectarian schools.

About 5,000 Maine students are eligible for this program, which excludes private schools that are “​​associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith,” which Maine considers “sectarian”.

The Carson parents are alumni of Bangor Christian Schools, a K-12 school in the nearby city of Bangor. But because Bangor Christian Schools mandates Bible class, it is ineligible for the town tuition program, meaning the Carsons have to pay for Olivia’s tuition. 

The Carsons, along with two other Maine families seeking to send their children to “sectarian” schools, filed suit in 2018.

The Carson v. Makin decision referred to other recent rulings on free exercise and and equal protection.

In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Dissenting from the decision on Tuesday were Justices Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Elena Kagan, and in part, by Sonia Sotomayor, who also filed a dissenting opinion.

Breyer argued that the interpretation of the First Amendment advanced by the majority opinion will work against its “general purpose,” which he said is “to allow for an American society with practitioners of over 100 different religions, and those who do not practice religion at all, to live together without serious risk of religion-based social divisions.”

He also argued that Maine “excludes schools from its tuition program not because of the schools’ religious character but because the schools will use the funds to teach and promote religious ideals.”

“State funding of religious activity risks the very social conflict based upon religion that the Religion Clauses were designed to prevent. And, unlike the circumstances present in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, it is religious activity, not religious labels, that lies at the heart of this case,” Breyer maintained.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chairmen of the US bishops's committees for religious liberty and Catholic education, respectively, commented that "The Supreme Court has rightly ruled that the Constitution protects not just the right to be religious but also to act religious. This common-sense result reflects the essence of Catholic education ... In our pluralistic society, it is vital that all people of faith be able to participate in publicly available programs and so to contribute to the common good."

"It is fitting that this decision concerns a program in Maine, the state that James G. Blaine served as Senator in 1875 when he worked for the passage of the Blaine Amendment – a cynically anti-Catholic measure to amend the U.S. Constitution to ensure that no public aid be provided to ‘sectarian’ schools. While his effort was narrowly defeated, Blaine Amendments were ultimately adopted in some form by 37 states. These laws have nothing to do with government neutrality towards religion. Rather, they are expressions of hostility toward Catholics. We are grateful that the Supreme Court continues to rebuke this harmful legacy," the bishops concluded.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, called the majority opinion “another blow to bigoted and arcane anti-Catholic laws. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that parents want and deserve better school choices for their kids. Religious families, and even families that aren’t religious but see the value in faith-based schools, should not be cut out from programs that help parents make the best educational choice for their kids. Maine’s law and others like it especially hurt low-income children who suffer the most in failed schools. Today’s win helps to end anti-religious discrimination and expands sorely-needed school choice for low-income families.”

Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, a law firm focused on religious freedom, commented: “We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country.  Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government.”

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."

"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children."

Firebombed NY pregnancy center facing investigation — for not offering abortion services

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. / CompassCare

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 17:08 pm (CNA).

While Jim Harden waits for those responsible for firebombing the pro-life CompassCare pregnancy center he runs in upstate New York to be brought to justice, he's facing another, unexpected investigation — of the clinic itself.

One of several pro-abortion measures New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law on June 13 authorizes the state’s commissioner of health, currently Dr. Mary T. Bassett, to conduct an in-depth study of pro-life pregnancy centers like CompassCare that don't provide abortion services. 

The probe will assess the impact that so-called "limited service pregnancy centers" have on women's access to "accurate, non-coercive health care information" and "a comprehensive range of reproductive and sexual health care services," the legislation states. A final report is due in December 2023.

Harden, CompassCare's CEO, told CNA that the state wants him to turn over information on CompassCare's donors, patients, service processes, affiliates, and more. Meanwhile, no arrests have been made in the June 7 firebombing and vandalism of the clinic, located in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, New York.

“They want to know anything and everything. They want an open book," said Harden, who does not intend to comply. “It's absolutely ironic and crazy."

CompassCare is one of a growing number of pro-life pregnancy centers that have been vandalized in the past two months in response to the leak of a draft decision in a Mississippi abortion case that calls for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. The FBI confirmed Friday that it is investigating the attacks.

On EWTN’s "The World Over" with Raymond Arroyo on June 16, Harden took issue with the New York law calling pro-life pregnancy centers “limited.” He said abortion clinics are actually the ones with limited service because they only provide one service: abortion. 

“The only intent here is to draft more legislation to regulate us,” he told Arroyo. You can watch the full interview in the video above.

CompassCare provides women with free, baseline OB-GYN care, diagnostic pregnancy services, sexually transmitted disease (STD) treatment, and abortion pill reversal care. More information is available on the center's website.

Did a saint work in Catholic campus ministry? Bismarck diocese opens inquiry for Michelle Duppong

Michelle Duppong, about whom the Diocese of Bismarck has opened an investigation with a view to a cause for beatification. / University of Mary

Denver Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 14:26 pm (CNA).

Michelle Duppong was a North Dakota Catholic woman who lived such an exemplary life of faith, joy, and campus missionary work that her home diocese will open an inquiry into whether she should be recognized as a saint of the Church. 

That was the news Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck had for a Fellowship of Catholic University Students gathering on Thursday.

“Michelle’s holiness of life and love for God certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary, and throughout FOCUS, but hers is also a witness which should also be shared with the Universal Church,” Kagan said June 16 at a new staff training for the organization at the University of Mary campus.

Others who knew Duppong, like former colleague Mark Bartek, praised her life.

“I think she just had such a zeal and passion for souls and an urgency to help them to encounter the joy that she was able to experience through her own relationship with Jesus,” said Bartek, who was a regional director for FOCUS when Duppong was on the college missionary organization’s staff.

“Her joy was contagious,” he told CNA on June 17. “People describe the experience of meeting Saint John Paul II or Teresa of Calcutta, as (being) like you're the only person in the room. Michelle definitely had that quality as well, where it felt like the whole rest of the world faded away and there’s just this conversation between you.”

“Every time people would see her, she would just have a big smile for them,” he said. “I remember she always was smiling. It was not a forced smile. She lived with this joy that always sought to draw other people, and she would go really the extra mile in order to try to encounter them and just make sure that they were OK.”

Duppong joined FOCUS in 2006 as a student missionary and worked for years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota, and the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Her missionary and mentoring work reached hundreds of students. In 2012 she joined the staff of the Diocese of Bismarck as director of adult faith formation.

A cancer diagnosis in December 2014 was followed by a year of declining health. She died on Christmas Day in 2015 at the age of 31, surrounded by family at her childhood home.

Kagan’s announcement that the Bismarck diocese would investigate her life is a first step to possible beatification and canonization. The investigation will gather evidence about Duppong’s life and deeds, compile any private or public writings, and collect testimony from witnesses of her life.

The diocese will present her case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If the congregation accepts her cause, she will be known under the title “Servant of God.” Not all cases proceed beyond the diocesan phase. Typically a prospective saint advances to beatification after a credible report of a miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession, and a second miracle is required for canonization. 

Bartek said from what he knew of Duppong, the investigation into her sainthood wasn’t much of a surprise.

“Actually, I was not really surprised by it,” he told CNA. “Knowing Michelle over the years, I just always assumed that this would be the natural way things would go. I didn't expect it to happen within my lifetime.” 

The Bismarck diocese’s announcement did bring him “quite a bit of sadness,” recognizing “that we miss Michelle.” 

“We were pretty good friends. Her passing leaves a big hole in the world and my life,” he said.

Duppong was born in Colorado on January 25, 1984. At the age of one her family moved to a farm in Haymarsh, N.D., about a 60-mile drive west from Bismarck. Her obituary said she loved farm life, working in the gardens and vineyards, and taking part in campfire sing-alongs.

“Michelle will always be remembered as a spirited woman of God who loved to have fun and spread joy,” her obituary said. “Aside from constantly opening her own home to share her faith and enthusiasm for music and dancing, one of her greatest joys was in sharing her love for Haymarsh and the family farm with others.”

“She cherished the small country church of St. Clement located near their home and as an adult, frequently made trips there to visit her Beloved Lord Jesus,” the obituary added.

Duppong was a 2002 graduate of Glen Ullin High School. She studied horticulture at North Dakota State University in Fargo, where she graduated in 2006, but she also spent the time focused on her faith. She took part in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students ministry at St. Paul’s Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry. 

During this time, she later wrote, she was inspired by the life of St. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young Italian who contracted polio from working with the poor and died at the age of 24 in the early twentieth century.

“Why do I share his story? Well, reading about Pier Giorgio’s life made holiness seem so practical, so attainable,” she wrote in a March 2, 2015 column for the Dakota Catholic Action newspaper. “He was an ordinary young person who loved Jesus and allowed this love to pour forth into his relationships with others. He embodied what Jesus taught in the eight beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-10). He’s a hero to me; and I want to be like him.”

Bartek told CNA he believes her faith truly blossomed during her time as an undergraduate student at North Dakota State. 

“I think that was a very significant time in her life,” he said.  “Michelle, because she found a good community in a place where she could grow in holiness was really just beginning her life of holiness.”

She joined FOCUS full-time in 2006, the same year as Bartek. 

“She just prayed at all times,” he recalled. “I remember just being in conversations with her and thinking that she's actually talking to the Lord as we're having this conversation as well. She always seemed to have this interior presence, showing her connection with Jesus and the way that she prayed. She was also unbelievably faithful to her prayer and in every circumstance.”

“She always just really brought that spirit of prayer into everything we do, and it was very inspiring to me and something that I continue to take with me,” he said.

He added that Duppong was “always joyful and hopeful.”

“It could be really annoying to people because she was always finding the hopeful outcome, and so because it's not easy to see that or experience that or when you see when you're experiencing hardship when her joy would come. I think that sometimes people were a little bit irritated by that, but for the most part, she  just really inspired people to want to pray more and want to seek care for God's will in their life and to desire to be around her.” 

Monsignor James Shea, president of the University of Mary, described her as “a radiant, joyful woman with the heart of a true servant.”

“For the students on our campus, she was an inspiration and a treasured mentor, teaching them by her example the transformative power of friendship with God.”

Bartek said he learned from her that “it’s possible to have joy in all circumstances.”

“She put Jesus first and foremost, and then she put others before herself,” he said.

Her obituary said her cancer diagnosis started “a year-long journey that brought many joys in the midst of sorrows and suffering.” 

“She received everything with a docile spirit, praying that the Lord’s will be done and trusting in his providence,” the obituary said. “Though she often felt helpless lying in a hospital bed, the last year of her earthly life was spent in complete service of the Lord continuing her most fruitful work as one of God’s servants and pouring her love out on those around her.”

Bartek spoke to her the day of her cancer diagnosis.

“I called her to pray with her a little bit and she was just almost nonchalant about it,” he told CNA. “Not joyful or anything like still trying to meet it, but just very resigned,” Bartek said. 

He summarized her sentiment in that conversation as “yeah, one way or another, God’s will be done.” 

“That's just the way that she encountered so many circumstances,” he said. 

Duppong reflected on her own diagnosis in a Jan. 30, 2015 column for Dakota Catholic Action.

“We have no idea how God’s plan will unfold in our lives and how he is using us to reach others,” she wrote. “We know that we're all in this together and that we're all on the same team in the body of Christ, so I see the present suffering as taking one for the team. May God be glorified by all the good that comes through this!”

Her funeral Mass was celebrated at Bismarck’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and she was buried at St. Clement’s Cemetery in Haymarsh. She was survived by her parents, five siblings, and a boyfriend.

For Bartek, Duppong was a woman who defied categories.  

“I think that she could have been a saint in any time, the way that she pursued Jesus with such a selfless abandonment,” he said. "She definitely lived in the midst of the world, but she was not above the world, so she definitely related to and encountered the people that she walked with, not as if she was from someplace else, but as one of them.” 

A documentary about her life is in development. “Thirst for Souls: the Michelle Duppong Story” will premiere at the FOCUS national conference SEEK23, scheduled for Jan. 2-6, 2023 in St. Louis.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 21 to correct a misspelling of Mark Bartek's last name.