Human Rights

Catholic Hospitals at Odds with Bishops Over Birth Control Mandate

The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.

The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.

Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.

Who Would Jesus Drone?

A drone launches a missile. Photo courtesy Paul Fleet/shutterstock.com

Dear Liberty University,

I want to write truthfully about God. I know many will find that an odd way to begin a letter about U.S. drone warfare, but I see no other way. This morning, I was discouraged to read that Liberty University has been training Christians to pilot armed U.S. drones since 2011 in your School of Aeronautics (SOA). The reasons for my discouragement are many — not least of which is the idea that Liberty graduates can somehow "serve the Lord" by targeting and killing their neighbors. Here, I would like to outline some of my concerns in detail with the hope that Liberty might reconsider, or at least restate theologically, its position regarding U.S. drone warfare.

African Religious Leaders Reject Obama’s Call to Decriminalize Homosexuality

Photo courtesy RNS.
Cardinal John Njue addresses journalists at a news conference in Nairobi on June 29. Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious leaders in Africa strongly rebuked President Obama’s call to decriminalize homosexuality, suggesting it’s the reason why he received a less-than-warm welcome during a recent trip to the continent.

In a news conference in Senegal during his three-nation tour, just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, Obama said African nations must grant equal protection to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally,” Obama said. “And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Struggling Alongside the People of Sudan and South Sudan

Protests against violence in Darfur, David Burrows / Shutterstock.com
Protests against violence in Darfur, David Burrows / Shutterstock.com

Americans were introduced to Sudan and what is now South Sudan by immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees like the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, who sought protection from a brutal dictatorship in Khartoum. Sudanese turned to the U.S. for a better life not only for themselves but in order to support their family and friends back home, and to advocate for help in stopping genocide, mass atrocities, and human rights abuses committed by an oppressive regime. Many Sudanese captured our hearts not only because of their fight for freedom and their bravery in enduring terrible suffering, but because of their resolve to access the educational and employment opportunities available in the U.S. to prepare themselves to return and help rebuild a country destroyed by decades of state-sponsored violence.

BREAKING: Morsi Is Out as Egyptian President

Egyptian protestors on June 30, Mohamed Elsayyed / Shutterstock.com
Egyptian protestors on June 30, Mohamed Elsayyed / Shutterstock.com

Egypt's military forcefully seized power from President Morsi on Wednesday. An emergency meeting of top civialian and religious leaders has convened to create an interim government and plan for  new elections. The whereabouts of Mr. Morsi remain unknown. The New York Times reports:

The developments followed the lapse of a 48-hour deadline imposed by the military generals on the increasingly isolated president to meet the demands of millions of Egyptians disaffected with the one-year-old governance of Mr. Morsi, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt.

Read more here.

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Yeshiva University’s Norman Lamm Resigns Amid Sex Abuse Scandal

Photo courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.
Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. Photo courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.

The chancellor and head of the seminary at Yeshiva University, the flagship U.S. school for Orthodox Judaism, resigned his posts on Monday and acknowledged that he had mishandled sex abuse allegations against staff members in the 1980s.

In a letter sent to students, faculty, alumni, and donors, Rabbi Norman Lamm, 85, said that in failing to report the abuse complaints to police, he was acting “in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived.”

“I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up,” wrote Lamm, for decades a leading figure in Orthodox Judaism.

From the Archives: August 1983

ON MARCH 1, 1954, at 6:45 a.m., the U.S. government detonated a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atoll. Within a few hours, the ash-like radioactive fallout from the “Bravo” test explosion began to descend on the nearby inhabited atolls of Rongelap and Rongerik. An Air Force witness said the fallout resembled “a snowstorm in the middle of the Pacific.”

A two-inch-deep layer of radioactive dust accumulated on Rongelap, contaminating its food supply and drinking water. Children playing in the powder experienced skin eruptions on their arms and faces. By the end of the day, the residents of Rongelap had begun to exhibit the symptoms of acute radiation exposure: burns, severe vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss.

The islanders were not evacuated from Rongelap until two days after the blast. They and other Marshallese people have suffered the insidious long-term effects of radiation exposure because of the contamination of their land and the cumulative effects of radiation on their bodies. For example, the rate of stillbirths and miscarriages among Rongelap women who were exposed to the fallout rose to more than twice the rate in unexposed Marshallese women for the four years following the Bravo detonation. ...

More than 2,000 Marshallese people were contaminated with radiation, becoming unwilling laboratory specimens for the U.S. government’s gruesome nuclear experiments. 

Liane Rozzell was a Sojourners editorial assistant when this article appeared.

Image: Nuclear mushroom rising over the land, Dariush M / Shutterstock.com

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Untying the Hands of Justice

THE UNITED STATES has more than 2.3 million prisoners, a higher number than any other country. How did we become the world’s leading jailer? One of the main culprits: Mandatory sentences.

Visiting those in prison and giving Christmas gifts to children of incarcerated parents are only two steps toward fulfilling Jesus’ command to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25). It’s time for the church to get serious about criminal sentencing reform—particularly, the reform of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which lock up so many people for so long with so little benefit to society.

The explosion in state and federal prison populations and costs began in the 1980s with the so-called war on drugs. Lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences passed by lawmakers are the primary weapon in that “war.” Judges have no choice but to apply these automatic, non-negotiable sentences of five, 10, or 20 years or even life in prison without parole. Whether the punishment actually fits the crime or the offender, protects the public, or leads to rehabilitation is irrelevant.

The results are unsurprising: irrational sentences, $80 billion annually in prison costs, and horrifically overcrowded prisons. States as varied as Georgia, New York, Delaware, South Carolina, California, and Michigan have confronted the reality of unsustainable prison budgets by repealing mandatory minimum sentences or creating “safety valve” exceptions that let judges go below the mandated punishment if the facts and circumstances warrant it. During this wave of reforms, crime has dropped to historic lows.

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Mr. Obama, Close Down This Jail!

PUBLIC PRESSURE IS finally building on President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the Guantanamo prison, which still houses 166 miserable leftovers from the Bush-Cheney “war on terror.” That pressure is well-placed. Gitmo has been a disaster from the beginning. Christians and other people of faith must join in calling for its closure.

Detainees were originally shipped to Gitmo in the vain hope of avoiding the reach of the U.S. judiciary. In this sense Gitmo was conceived in Constitution-evading sin. The Supreme Court rejected the evasion in 2006, but the damage was already done.

Some of the detainees brought to Gitmo were tortured. This has been confirmed by numerous sources, including a leaked 2006 Red Cross report and the 577-page report of a bipartisan blue-ribbon detainee panel organized by The Constitution Project, on which I served.

More than half of the remaining detainees have been cleared for release, but for domestic and geopolitical reasons they continue to be held. More than 100 of them are currently on a hunger strike, with dozens being force-fed, a practice that violates both American Medical Association and World Medical Association standards and which our Detainee Task Force condemned unequivocally.

Some detainees cannot be tried because the evidence against them was obtained by brutal or torturous means and is tainted or would be embarrassing to the U.S. Others are slated for trials in novel military commissions whose legal problems are so severe that they have not proceeded. Civilian trials on U.S. soil were blocked in 2009 by a fearful, recalcitrant Congress. So 166 men are held in limbo indefinitely, without trial and without foreseeable prospect of release. This is unconstitutional and a violation of the most basic legal and human rights.

There are many lessons to be learned from this debacle, especially if one searches deeply into its origins.

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The Real Fights Over Gay Marriage are Just Starting

Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.
Sandy Stier and Kris Perry at the Supreme Court following DOMA and Prop. 8 decisions. Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

The Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, while historic, didn’t settle the issue. In fact, they fuel it.

For President Obama, the repercussions of Wednesday’s ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act will mean review and revisions in hundreds of federal laws. In everything from Social Security checks to Pentagon benefits, gay married couples now must be treated the same way as heterosexual couples.

For gay rights advocates, the twin decision that opens the door to resume same-sex marriages in California bolstered determination to expand the right to wed for gay men and lesbians. The Human Rights Campaign set a goal to achieve that in all 50 states within the next five years.

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