Human Rights

Joanna Shenk 11-05-2014

Vincent Harding and the struggle to build a more democratic America. 

“The gesture in itself is to be condemned,” said Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula. Creative Commons image by @Doug88888/RNS.

The Vatican’s top ethicist condemned Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life, saying there was no dignity in her physician-assisted death.

Maynard, 29, took a lethal prescription provided by a doctor under Oregon’s death-with-dignity law. She died in her bed Nov. 1 after leaving family and friends a final farewell message. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given only months to live.

“We don’t judge people, but the gesture in itself is to be condemned,” said Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which is responsible for ethical issues in the Catholic Church.

“Assisted suicide is an absurdity,” Carrasco de Paula told the Italian news agency ANSA. “Dignity is something different than putting an end to your own life.”

Maynard became a media sensation as a video she posted on YouTube was viewed 9.8 million times. Her death made her an appealing young face for the right-to-die movement.

Alcatraz cells on March 1, 2014. Photo via RNS.

Pope Francis said Oct. 23 that keeping inmates isolated in maximum security prisons is “a form of torture,” and called life sentences “a hidden death penalty” that should be abolished along with capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of good will are called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope told delegates from the International Association of Penal Law.

“And this I connect with life imprisonment,” he continued. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code, though that move was largely symbolic.

In the wide-ranging address, Francis denounced practices that are widespread in many regions of the world, such as extrajudicial executions and detentions without trial, which he said account for more than half of all detentions in some countries.

Francis also denounced corruption in penal systems, calling it “an evil greater than sin.”

10-22-2014
It's been my observation, I told her, that many white individuals feel duty bound to defend whiteness.
Ryan Stewart 10-14-2014
The flag of Guam. Image via Jiri Flogel/shutterstock.com

The flag of Guam. Image via Jiri Flogel/shutterstock.com

In ‘Island of Warriors,’ the second episode of the new PBS series America by the Numbers, Maria Hinojosa, executive producer and anchor of NPR’s Latino USA, examines the challenges faced by American veterans in Guam. While Guamanian residents serve in the military at three times the rate of the rest of the United States and territories, they receive the lowest per capita medical spending from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This discrepancy in resources translates to only two full-time psychiatrists for an island of as many as 16,000 veterans — 3,000 of whom are actively requesting VA medical support for psychological disorders like PTSD.

How could this be possible?

Like Puerto Rico, Guam is a U.S. territory. While residents of these territories can, and do, enlist in the American military, they cannot vote for the president who sends them into battle. Similarly, they are represented on the floor of the House of Representatives only by delegates, who have no voting power.  Eddie Calvo, the Republican governor of Guam, spoke truthfully when he ventured to call Guam a “colony” of the United States.

This disenfranchised status means that residents of U.S. territories like Guam have no real standing in American democracy.  They must rely on others to advocate for them. When every state could use more resources to take care of the nearly 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq with PTSD, who’s going to stand up for Guam?

As far as geopolitical power, Guam truly is the “least of these” in American democracy. While many Americans deplore Puerto Rico’s secondary status in American political discourse, Hinojosa recalled one Guamanian saying, “We just wish we were Puerto Rico. At least then people would know where we are.”

Think about it: Do you know where Guam is? I didn’t.

10-10-2014
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian magazine Sojourners and a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama, will be one of the key speakers at an interfaith event related to Ferguson Sunday (Oct. 12) at St. Louis University.
10-10-2014
A march to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office today will kick off days of marches, rallies and civil disobedience planned by organizers who demand action on behalf of Brown and others they say struggle against racial profiling and police violence.
10-10-2014
People from across the country will converge on Ferguson for a Weekend of Resistance, October 10-13, to demand justice for Michael Brown.
09-24-2014
It is now time to harness this historic goodwill and action of faith-based communities, a group of 5.8 billion people across the globe, to enact significant change for the 58 million children who are out of school.
09-22-2014
President Obama nominated Rabbi David Saperstein this morning to be the next—and first non-Christian—United States ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
09-18-2014
For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.
Tech. Sgt. LaMarcus Molden recites the oath of enlistment at Al Asad Air Base in

Tech. Sgt. LaMarcus Molden recites the oath of enlistment at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. Photo courtesy DVIDSHUB/Flickr.

The American Humanist Association said Sept. 4 that an airman at Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base who crossed out “so help me God” in the oath the Air Force requires servicemen and women to sign was told in August he must sign it as is or leave the Air Force.

The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Air Force  on the airman’s behalf demanding he be allowed to sign a secular version of the oath. The U.S. Constitution allows freedom of religious beliefs and prohibits religious tests for holding public office or public trust, the letter states.

The airman’s name is being withheld by AHA.

“The Supreme Court has held on a number of occasions that it is unconstitutional to force anyone to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” said Monica Miller, an attorney for AHA and author of the letter. “Numerous federal courts have specifically held that forcing an atheist to swear to God violates the Free Exercise Clause as well as the Establishment Clause.”

Richard Wolf 09-05-2014
A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Image courtesy Adell

A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Image courtesy Adelle Banks/RNS.

The legal winning streak for same-sex marriage is over.

A federal judge in Louisiana upheld that state’s prohibition on gay marriage on Sept. 3, and belittled a string of 20-plus federal court decisions striking down state bans as “a pageant of empathy.”

It was the first time since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013 that a federal court refused to throw out a state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriages.

A promised appeal, like Texas’ appeal of a district judge’s ruling in favor of gay marriage there, now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.

The ruling came from District Judge Martin Feldman, 80, who was named to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago. Feldman echoed the two judges — both in their 70s and appointed by President George H.W. Bush — who dissented from recent rulings against Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia gay marriage bans in the 10th and 4th Circuits.

Lilly Fowler 09-03-2014
Flowers and crucifix in the hand of holy women. Image via GOLFX/shutterstock.com

Flowers and crucifix in the hand of holy women. Image via GOLFX/shutterstock.com

The termination of two lesbian faculty members at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, has prompted an outcry from alumnae who have vowed to withhold donations to the school.

In the last several weeks, alumnae have created a private Facebook group with more than 2,000 members in support of the couple, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro, urging supporters to call and write to Cor Jesu leaders and voice their concerns.

Cor Jesu is in the midst of its “One Heart, One Spirit, One Vision” capital campaign for a new chapel, gym, student commons and additional parking.

Reichert said she and Gambaro were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The couple had married in New York over the summer and the school said they had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment.

The firing comes as news that a chemistry teacher at a Catholic, all-girls high school in Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, said she was fired before the semester started because of her “non-traditional” pregnancy. The teacher, Barbara Webb, 33, is a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman. She worked at Marian High School for nine years, the Detroit Free Press reported.

A statement from St. Louis’ Cor Jesu said the school “does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”

Many there are concerned not only about Gambaro and Reichert, but how the decision to fire gay faculty will affect current and future Cor Jesu students.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets a firefighter at the annual St. Patrick’s Day p

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets a firefighter at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Image courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz./RNS.

After years of strong resistance, organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on September 3 said that gays and lesbians will be allowed to march under their own banner for the first time, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan—the parade’s grand marshal next March—has welcomed the move.

The decision is another sign of how quickly changing public attitudes toward gay people have pushed changes in state laws, government policies, and the practices of private entities.

Dolan’s positive response may also point to a shifting dynamic within the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians since the election of Pope Francis last year. Francis has made it clear he wants church leaders to highlight Catholicism’s outreach to the poor and vulnerable rather than always fighting culture war issues on gay marriage and the like.

The church’s teachings on gays lesbians have not changed, as was evident this week when two teachers at a Catholic high school in St. Louis were fired when administrators learned the women were married, and a teacher at a Catholic high school in suburban Detroit who is a lesbian said she was fired when she became pregnant.

But the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which is not run by the church, allows for some wiggle room. Dolan said Wednesday that the parade committee that operates the annual event “continues to have my confidence and support.”

“Neither my predecessors as Archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade … but have always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage,” he continued.

Dolan concluded by praying “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

QR Blog Editor 08-11-2014

In response to the death of Michael Brown, many people are using the hastag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown on Twitter to consider the role that images used by the media have on the public's perception of vicitms.

 

 

Here's more according to the Washington Post:

The concern is how media will portray a dead child’s life after he’s slain by police officers. This is the stuff of#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a Twitter hashtag that trended Sunday as part of the conversation surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Brown, 18, was an unarmed black teenager slain in Ferguson, Mo. He’d recently graduated high school. Black users shared pictures of themselves at their best — in uniforms or caps and gowns — juxtaposed with images that would garner less sympathy and perhaps paint more tawdry pictures of their lives.

Protesters in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy Barb Dorris, via SNAP.

When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.

But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.

And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.

SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.

Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.

Children playing at sunset in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India. Image: Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr

This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.

The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.

“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.

Gay Clark Jennings 07-11-2014

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy Mort Tucker Photograpy

This summer, many Americans are watching in helpless horror as more than 52,000 children fleeing violence stream over our southern border. Many of them are making a dangerous journey by themselves to escape murder rates and gang violence in Central America, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, that are unparalleled except in countries at war.

People of goodwill at the border have offered food, water, shelter, and compassionate care to these refugee children. But protesters have screamed epithets at them and blocked buses carrying them to processing centers, despite the fact that it is not illegal for people to cross the U.S. border and ask for protection under U.S. law.

As politicians focus on midterm elections rather than on children in crisis, it’s worth remembering: Christians worship a child who fled from violence in his home country.

The Gospel of Matthew recounts the story of King Herod of Judea, who slaughtered all the babies and toddlers around Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to prevent the reign of Jesus — the child he had been told would become a king.

Filmmaker Linda Midgett, right, interviews Meghan Blanton Smith for documentary film “The Stranger.” RNS photo: Brandon Falls

The Evangelical Immigration Table commissioned the documentary “The Stranger” to foster evangelical support for immigration reform. Linda Midgett, a graduate of evangelical Wheaton College who produced the 40-minute film, told Religion News Service she hopes ongoing screenings across the country will build a groundswell of support for legislation. On Wednesday, President Obama urged Congress to quickly approve increased funding to deal with the crisis of immigrant children flooding across the border.

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