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Pro-life group says campaign finance bill could unfairly limit their speech

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).- A pro-life advocacy group warns that a new campaign finance reform bill could unfairly restrict their communications.

 

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), framing the bill as a top priority of the 117th Congress. In a joint statement, Pelosi, together with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the reform bill was needed because “[o]ur democracy is in a state of deep disrepair.” 

 

A companion bill to H.R. 1 has been re-introduced in the Senate as well. 

 

Supporters of H.R. 1 say it would shed light on “dark money” in politics, or spending by political-advocacy groups such as 501(c)4 organizations which are not required to disclose their donors. 

 

However, the pro-life group March for Life Action--the political advocacy arm of the non-profit March for Life--says the proposed legislation is so broad, it would treat small-dollar donors like lobbyists. Thus, it would limit their communication with supporters and require the disclosure of small donors--possibly affecting future donations.

 

“It’s less about a direct threat to life as it is about how we can communicate, either to elected officials or to the grassroots about problems in legislation,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA in an interview on Thursday. 

 

He expressed concern that these small donors would become the subject of unwarranted scrutiny “especially in this atmosphere we have today.” 

 

“Say a donor gave to us because they wanted to help fund the Virginia state [pro-life] March--even though they have nothing to do with our work on judicial nominations, we would have to release their names to this federal database,” he said. “It exposes donors for certain entities, especially if you even remotely work on judicial issues.” 

 

In the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, McClusky argued, his group would be “limited in what we can and can’t say about the next nominee.”

 

In the joint statement introducing the legislation, House Democrats cited “rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money” in the 2020 elections as problems their bill seeks to help overcome. 

 

They stated their “commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms” by passing H.R. 1.

 

The statement added that the bill “will protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, hold elected officials accountable and end the era of big, dark, special-interest money in our politics.”

 

McClusky added that his group has not been the only one to oppose such legislation; the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the 2019 version of the bill. At the time, the organization said that the legislation would “require disclosure of an overbroad number of donors.” 

 

A 2019 ACLU letter notes that under the proposed bill, “many donors to issue advocacy organizations may be surprised to find themselves held responsible for communications they may not know about, or, potentially, even support.”

 

“It is unfair to hold donors responsible for every communication in which an organization engages,” the ACLU letter stated. “Moreover, it is unclear how such an overbroad requirement serves the government’s interest in providing the electorate information about who is supporting or opposing a candidate for office.”

 

The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they will oppose the 2021 version of the bill.

In far-reaching executive order, Biden redefines 'sex'

Denver Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- In one of his first acts in office, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to interpret sex discrimination in federal law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The move could impact high school sports, the privacy of single-sex bathrooms, faith-based organizations that are government grantees or contractors, and whether employees may face retaliation for voicing “discriminatory” religious beliefs.
 
“This executive order is a massive overreach,” John Bursch, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, told CNA Jan. 21. “It essentially has the effect of taking the word ‘sex’ and ‘sex discrimination’, anywhere those words appear in federal law, and converting them to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
 
He warned that the executive order’s redefinition of sex will result in “a destructive effort to re-invent reality and destroy long-standing protections for women and girls,” even if this is not immediately evident.
 
“Redefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ isn’t equality, and it isn’t progress,” he said. “The reason for that is that biology is not bigotry. When the law does not respect biological differences between men and women, it creates chaos and it hurts women and girls.”
 
Saying the Catholic Church has recognized such differences for millennia, Bursch added, “it’s unfortunate that the government is now choosing this to be the very first act it is going to engage in to ‘unify the country’.
 
The executive order, titled “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” declares Biden administration policy “to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
 
The order, which Biden signed on the day of inauguration, discusses children’s access to restrooms, locker rooms, and school sports; access to health care; and workers whose dress “does not conform to sex-based stereotypes,” among other topics.
 
The order drew comment on social media, where some critics used the hashtag #BidenErasedWomen.
 
Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA the order means, “Boys who identify as girls must be allowed to compete in the girls’ athletic competitions, men who identify as women must be allowed in women-only spaces, healthcare plans must pay for gender-transition procedures, and doctors and hospitals must perform them.”
 
“It spells the end of girls’ and women’s sports as we know them,” he said. “And, of course, no child should be told the lie that they’re ‘trapped in the wrong body,’ and adults should not pump them full of puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones,” said Anderson, author of the 2018 book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
 
Bursch said that the executive order would also redefine “sex” in Title IX, which governs education and sports. One client of Alliance Defending Freedom was affected by a similar effort to redefine gender, allowing biological boys to compete against girls in girls’ sports.
 
“This isn’t something theoretical, it’s already happened,” he said. In Connecticut, two males who identify as females have won 15 girls state track and field titles since 2017.
 
“One of our clients, Chelsea Mitchell, has lost four state championships to one of those males competing in the girls’ division,” he said. “In that respect, this is not equality, this is not progress, this is anti-women.”
 
That case led to vigorous protests and a successful legal injunction.
 
The redefinition of sex has also led to problems for women’s shelters.
 
“In Alaska, the City of Anchorage insisted that a women’s overnight shelter, allow a man identifying as a woman to sleep mere feet away from women who had been raped, trafficked and abused,” Bursch said. “We had to go to court to protect the overnight shelter’s ability to not have biological men in the space with those abused women.”
 
Biden’s executive order claims to build on the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination in employment also includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
The ruling, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was deliberately narrow in scope, but Biden’s executive order adds: “Under Bostock‘s reasoning, laws that prohibit sex discrimination — including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended, the Fair Housing Act, as amended, and section 412 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended,  along with their respective implementing regulations — prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.”
 
Bursch said that the Bostock decision was narrowly phrased to hold that an employee could not be fired solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It deliberately avoided questions about dress codes, privacy in restrooms, and women’s sports.
 
In his view, however, Biden’s executive order “dramatically expands it” by “applying it in all kinds of areas where the court never said (to), where the court said the exact opposite.”
 
Describing the consequences, he said “a ‘tidal wave’ is the phrase that comes to mind.”
 
Anderson said the executive order was “radically divisive transgender policy.” He characterized Gorsuch’s decision as showing “simplistic logic.”
 
“Privacy and safety at a shelter, equality on an athletic field, and good medicine are at stake for everyone,” said Anderson. “We can—and should—defend commonsense policies that take seriously the bodily differences that provide valid bases in some areas of life (locker and shower rooms, athletics, women’s shelters, healthcare) for treating males and females differently (yet still equally).”
 
 
Biden’s executive order said “all persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
 
“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” said the order. “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.  Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.  People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.”
 
Bursch said the rule change could affect religious organizations that are government contractors or grant recipients.
 
“For a Catholic charity that does human development work and has a contract with the government to do that, it’s entirely possible that the government will require the Catholic charity, in the government’s view, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. This means “forcing Catholic and other religious entities to give up their most deeply held beliefs about marriage and the human body.”
 
While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could provide some protections, “it’s not going to be a one-sized-fits-all solution to the enormous problems that this executive order creates,” Bursch said.
 
The rule could also cause problems for employees in government or the private sector. A Catholic worker’s statement supporting the Catholic view of marriage as a union of one man or one woman could be considered discriminatory or harassment, he said.
 
“It essentially says to religious employees: ‘You’re not welcome to express your views in public anymore,” said Bursch. He considered this a twofold First Amendment violation, affecting both free speech and free exercise of religion.
 
At the same time, he noted that objectors like women high school athletes might not have a religious objection to competing against men who identify as women. Rather, their objections are sex-based or based on a desire for fair competition.
 
CNA sought comment from the U.S. Conference of Bishops but did not receive a response by deadline. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as the bishops’ conference president, issued a prepared statement on Biden’s inauguration.
 
The archbishop said he finds hope and inspiration in Biden’s personal witness of relying on faith in difficult times and commitment to the poor. He stressed the wide variety of issues on which the U.S. bishops advocate in ways that do not “align neatly” with political party platforms. He added: “our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
 
“Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area,” he said, are “guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.”
 
Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, criticized the executive order ahead of its release, focusing on how it equates sex discrimination with discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
 
The text of the order is “based on a lie,” Hasson said, “that ‘gender identity’ enables a male person to ‘be’ a woman.”
 
She contrasted this with Biden’s comments in his inaugural address, in which he emphasized the need for truth and quoted St. Augustine to underline the need for unity in truth.
 
In January 2017, the U.S. bishops had voiced criticism of the Trump administration’s decision to maintain what they said was a “troubling” Obama-era executive order that could demand federal contractors violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender ideology.
 
Signed by President Barack Obama in 2014, the order prohibited federal government contractors from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, and forbids gender identity discrimination in the employment of federal employees.
 
That executive order immediately drew criticism for its lack of religious exemptions.
 
A different Biden executive order on “Advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities in the federal government” indicated that “LGBTQ+ Americans” would be included in the underserved categories alongside people of color, Americans with disabilities, religious minorities, and “rural and urban communities facing persistent poverty.”
 
This executive order aims to embed this vision of equity “across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions,” the Biden-Harris Transition Team said.

Secretary of State nominee agrees with ‘genocide’ determination for Uyghurs

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State agrees with his predecessor’s declaration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang.

 

“That would be my judgment as well,” said Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, when asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday if he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s genocide designation.

 

Blinken appeared before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday for a hearing considering his nomination to Biden’s cabinet. He also said he was “very much in agreement” with the Trump administration’s view of the situation in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

 

On January 19, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he had “determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.”

 

Pompeo stated, “[t]he People’s Republic of China and the CCP must be held to account.” 

 

On Tuesday, Blinken said that the gravity and scope of the atrocities committed in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and others has risen to the level of genocide.

 

“The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps; trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” he said. 

 

Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest nearly three times the size of France, is home to 23 million Turkic people including Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities. 

 

China has escalated its control over the region in recent decades, citing national security as the reason for its crackdowns on public assemblies and freedom of movement.

 

Beginning in 2017, China constructed a system of around 1,300 detention camps where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are estimated to have been imprisoned. Detainees have reportedly been subject to forced labor, indoctrination, beatings, and torture.

 

Uyghurs outside the camps are also subject to mass surveillance, including DNA sampling, facial recognition technology, and predictive policing platforms.

 

The largely-Muslim population has also been subject to repression of religious practice, such as men growing beards or women wearing veils; children have reportedly been separated from their families and forced to denounce Islam.

 

In addition, the AP reported in June that many Uyghur women were subject to forced abortions, sterilizations and implantations of IUDs as part of China’s coercive family planning limits of two children per family.

 

In August, two Asian cardinals joined 74 other religious leaders in a joint statement decrying the treatment of the Uyghurs as “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust.”

 

Pompeo on Jan. 19 said he believes “this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

 

“The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image,” he said.

 

If confirmed as secretary of state, Blinken said that he would look to possibly banning imports of products suspected to be made by Uyghurs in forced labor situations, and would also seek to ban exports to China that could be used to repress the Uyghur population and other ethnic minorities.

 

In August, Joe Biden’s campaign referred to the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang as “genocide.”

 

“The unspeakable oppression that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.

Trump admin proposal a last-ditch effort to offer religious groups SBA loans

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 02:34 pm (CNA).- A proposal made on the last day of the Trump administration would make religious businesses eligible to receive loans from the Small Business Administration, removing previous restrictions.

The U.S. Small Business Administration published a proposal Jan 19. that would remove five restrictions that “run afoul of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. All five provisions make certain faith-based organizations ineligible to participate in certain SBA business loan and disaster assistance programs because of their religious status,” the proposal’s summary states.

“Because the provisions exclude a class of potential participants based solely on their religious status, the provisions violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. SBA now proposes to remove the provisions to ensure in its business loan and disaster assistance programs the equal treatment for faith-based organizations that the Constitution requires,” the summary adds.

If passed, the proposal would allow religious businesses to qualify for SBA loans, though it is unclear if it would also allow churches and other houses of worship also to be eligible, the Washington Post reported.

The SBA proposal cites two Supreme Court cases as precedent for removing the religious exclusions from SBA loan qualification criteria.


In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court ruled that a playground resurfacing grant that excluded churches and religious organizations was unconstitutional. The court said the grant violated the Free Exercise Clause, which “`protect[s] religious observers against unequal treatment' and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for `special disabilities' based on their `religious status.' ”

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Supreme Court repealed a state court decision to block religious schools from a scholarship program. While the state argued that it had an interest in preventing the religious use of the funds, the Supreme Court ruled that “Status-based discrimination remains status based even if one of its goals or effects is preventing religious organizations from putting aid to religious uses.” The SBA also noted that its proposal also follows the 2017 executive order from President Trump entitled Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. The order stated that “Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government” and added that the executive branch would enforce such protections. Furthermore, the removal of religious restrictions also follows a decision by the Trump administration to allow religious organizations to apply for the Payment Protection Program, a coronavirus relief program that provided billions of dollars in pandemic relief to businesses and non-profits, including thousands of Catholic parishes, schools, and other religious organizations.

The proposal is likely to spark a heated debate about religious freedom under the Biden administration. While the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment ensures the free practice of religion, the Establishment Clause prohibits the US Congress establishing a religion by law.

The SBA is collecting public comment on the proposal until Feb. 18. Afterward, the Washington Post reports, the determination of the proposal’s future falls to Biden-appointed administrator Isabel Guzman.

San Francisco archbishop responds to Pelosi: 'No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion'

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 21, 2021 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco on Thursday responded to the Speaker of the House accusing pro-life Trump voters of being sellouts.

 

In a Jan. 18 podcast with former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that support of pro-life voters for former President Donald Trump was an issue that “gives me great grief as a Catholic.”

 

“I think that Donald Trump is president because of the issue of a woman’s right to choose,” she said of abortion, implying that pro-life voters boosted Trump to victory in 2016. She added that these voters “were willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”

 

On Thursday, Pelosi’s archbishop responded to her comments on abortion and voting.

 

“No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Pelosi’s home diocese, in a statement issued on Thursday. “Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop.”

 

Pelosi has long supported abortion despite her Catholic faith. In 2008, she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” regarding when life begins, “over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.” She said that her Catholic faith “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” 

 

On Thursday, Archbishop Cordileone clarified that "Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church."

 

“And on the question of the equal dignity of human life in the womb, she [Pelosi] also speaks in direct contradiction to a fundamental human right that Catholic teaching has consistently championed for 2,000 years,” Cordileone said.

 

The archbishop added that Pelosi’s use of the phrase “right to choose” in reference to abortion “is a smokescreen for perpetuating an entire industry that profits from one of the most heinous evils imaginable.”

 

In 2010, the previous archbishop of San Francisco—George Niederauer—called Pelosi’s support for abortion “entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching.”

 

Pelosi signaled in August that she intends to bring up spending bills in 2021 that do not include the Hyde Amendment—thus allowing for taxpayer-funded abortions in Medicaid. It is unclear if Democrats would have the votes in both chambers of Congress to ultimately repeal Hyde.

 

Cordileone, in his statement on Thursday, said he would “not presume” why individuals voted for Trump. “There are many issues of very grave moral consequence that Catholics must weigh in good conscience when they vote,” he said.

 

Cordileone also supported Archbishop Jose Gomez—the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference—who issued a statement of prayer and congratulations to new President Joe Biden, and who noted areas of agreement and disagreement between Biden and bishops.

 

Gomez, in his statement upon Biden’s inauguration, reiterated that ending abortion is the “preeminent priority” of the conference due to its threat to families and the sheer number of abortion victims.

 

The language on abortion received opposition from within the conference, including by Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago who issued a scathing statement of criticism of Gomez’s words, CNA reported.

 

Cordileone on Thursday thanked Gomez for restating the conference’s priority and added that just because abortion is a “preeminent” concern does not mean it is the “only” concern of the conference.

 

“In his inaugural speech yesterday, President Biden gave a moving call to unity and healing,” Cordileone said, and added that Pelosi’s accusations against pro-lifers were “not the language of unity and healing. She owes these voters an apology.”

 

“Christians have always understood that the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ applies to all life, including life in the womb,” Cordileone said. “Pope Francis continues this unbroken teaching.”