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Amanda Casanova

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

An atheist group has filed an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit against a Georgia college that disciplined a Christian student for preaching on campus.

According to The Christian Post, the American Humanist Association filed the brief this week in the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski.

In the case, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of student Chike Uzuegbunam against George Gwinnett College.

Uzuegbunam was disciplined for distributing Christian literature outside the limits of a free speech zone on the college campus.

According to school policy, which has since changed, students were only allowed to preach or distribute literature at two “free speech zones” on campus.

AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said in a statement released Tuesday that he believes people must “be given every chance to preserve their First Amendment rights.

“While the AHA and ADF may approach the Constitution from different angles, at the very least we agree that First Amendment litigation and the associated rights are essential to our democracy,” he said.

In the amicus brief, the American Humanist Association said, “religious freedom” is the “cornerstone of our democracy.”

“On the chopping block is a time-honored remedy essential to vindicating the most important rights in our country. Religious freedom—the cornerstone of our democracy—could become an empty promise without nominal damages,” read the summary of the AHA brief.

“Religion Clause violations rarely produce actual damages and often stem from easily-mootable laws. Taking away from citizens the only remedy available in many such cases jeopardizes the rule of law itself.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the suit on behalf of Uzuegbunam and another student, Joseph Bradford, but in 2017, the college changed the campus policy and said the complaint against the school was no longer applicable.

A district court agreed and ruled in favor of the college. In an appeal, a Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the original ruling.

ADF then appealed the decision and the Supreme Court is next expected to hear oral arguments in the case.

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Responding to reports that the Vatican sent a delegation to Beijing to renew negotiations on the appointment of Catholic bishops, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stern reminder during an impromptu visit here on Wednesday (Sept. 30) that faith leaders need to “exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers.”

His comments, first published in an article and then repeated at the U.S. Embassy event, were met with pushback from church officials.

“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault as much as it is in China today,” Pompeo said at the symposium on “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy,” organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

“As with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority. The increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale,” he said.

Pompeo quoted the pontiff’s call, in his 2013 exhortation “Evangelii gaudium,” for the church to be “permanently in a state of mission.”

“To be a church ‘permanently in a state of mission’ has many meanings,” said the American secretary of state. “Surely one of them is to be a church permanently in defense of basic human rights. A church permanently in opposition to tyranny. A church permanently engaged in the support of those who wish to take ‘the risk of freedom,’” echoing in this last phrase St. John Paul II. 

Pompeo is visiting Rome and the Vatican through Thursday and will meet with Italian and church officials, including the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is Pompeo’s counterpart in the Vatican system.

As is customary when the United States is approaching national elections, Pope Francis will not hold a private audience with Pompeo.

Under Francis, the Vatican has sought dialogue with China, in part to ensure the well-being and safety of the almost 6 million Catholics in the country.

In September 2018, Vatican and Chinese authorities signed a provisional agreement aimed at reconciling the state-recognized Catholic community in China with the underground church. At the heart of the deal, which has been kept secret, is the appointment of bishops who will be recognized by both Beijing and the Vatican.

The agreement, which is up for renewal in the coming weeks, has been controversial among Catholics, with some hoping it will open a door to broader rights for Catholics and others saying it hinders the church’s moral authority to call out human rights violations in China.

Pompeo made his position clear in a Sept. 18 opinion essay in the conservative American journal First Things, in which he urged the Vatican to not renew the deal with China at the risk of compromising its “moral witness.” He renewed his appeal on Wednesday, asking the Vatican to not trade its moral integrity for realpolitik.

“Ultimately our efforts are constrained by the realities of world politics,” Pompeo said, but he added that “the church is in a different position. Earthly considerations should not discourage principled stances based on eternal truths.”

Italian media reports suggest that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State was less than pleased with Pompeo’s last-minute decision to visit Rome, which was viewed as unwarranted “interference.” At the symposium, Gallagher said: “It should come as no surprise that the protection and promotion of religious liberty is one of the main political priorities of the Holy See. In its bilateral relations the question of protecting religious freedom so as to allow the local Catholic Church to exercise its mission remains an indispensable part of the scope and activity of the Holy See.”

After the conference, Gallagher told reporters that Pompeo’s First Things article “was received critically” at the Vatican.

According to Gallagher, the Holy See uses diplomacy to provide “a sort of moral compass” to the international community in the promotion of human rights and especially religious freedom.

“Pope Francis has continuously stressed the importance of mutual understanding among peoples and societies, among those with different religious convictions and those without, to work together toward peaceful coexistence and reciprocal respect,” Gallagher said.

This message, he added, is at the heart of the Document on Human Fraternity signed with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, in February 2019. It will also “likely be an important theme” in Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” which will be signed on Sunday.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©RNS/AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has approved a law in the state for transgender criminals and another law that provides grants to hospitals for hormone therapy for transgender persons.

According to CBN News, under Senate Bill 132, prison inmates who identify as transgender, non-binary or intersex will be able to choose their gender identity when they are admitted to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The bill is known as the Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act and was introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener in hopes of reducing the possibility of violence against transgender inmates.

“SB.132 protects transgender people in prison, by allowing them to be housed where they're safest, instead of automatically being placed in the facility corresponding to their birth-assigned gender,” Wiener tweeted about the bill in early September. “Trans women are frequently brutalized in men's prisons."

Under the law, the state can refuse a request if there are “management or security concerns.”

In a second approval, Newson approved the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund, which uses taxpayer dollars for treatments and medical procedures for transgender children.

The law earmarks grants for hospitals and clinics for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries.

Assembly member Miguel Santiago says the law provides "critical medical and direct supportive services for transgender, gender non-conforming and/or intersex people, otherwise known as TGI."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council, said treatments such as that could have permanent side effects.

"AB 2218 would essentially allow minor children to obtain not just counseling, but also puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and potentially even life-altering surgeries amputations, mutilations, that could leave them permanently sterile all before they turn 18," he said.

Dr. James Dobson, president of the James Dobson Family Institute, said the bill “supports gender mutilation and sterilization.”

"No rational society or compassionate individual could possibly celebrate the mutilation of adolescents or adults. And yet this bill would fund procedures including double mastectomies on adolescent girls and genital amputations and reconstructive procedures for individuals older than 18. This isn't the fulfillment of personal autonomy—this is the celebration of acts of cruelty," Dobson said. "Experimenting on vulnerable children and adults is not just unethical; it is morally repugnant.”

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Justin Sullivan/Staff

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.