Catholic Hospitals Not Exempt From Contraception Rules, Hungary Severely Redefines 'Church,' & More News
Conscience clause omits Catholic hospitals
A proposed conscience exemption to federal health-care rules may require Catholic hospitals to include contraception in health-care plans for employees. The bill requires full coverage of women's contraception, including Plan B and ella (both opposed by pro-life groups); the exemption applies to nonprofit religious employers that exist to instill religious values and employ and serve people of the same religion. Catholic hospitals are nonprofit but meet none of the other requirements.
Hundreds of churches lose approval
HUNGARY A law that takes effect January 1 recognizes 14 faith groups and requires almost 350 others to re-register for state approval in order to receive tax breaks and to use the title "church." The Church of God, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists are among the excluded. In order to re-register, faith groups must prove they have 1,000 followers and have existed for more than 20 years; then parliament must approve them by a two-thirds majority. The dominant Hungarian Reformed Church welcomed the restrictions on new groups.
School can force Christian groups open
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that San Diego State University can refuse to recognize student religious groups that limit membership to fellow believers. However, the court said the school may have unfairly singled out a Christian fraternity and sorority while allowing other groups to use race or religion as membership criteria. The policy is more common than a broader one at Hastings School of Law, where the Christian Legal Society (CLS) lost a high-profile Supreme Court appeal last year. In a related case, the CLS dropped a lawsuit against the University of Montana School of Law after reaching a settlement that sets neutral criteria for funding groups.
UN clamps down on blasphemy laws
The United Nations Human Rights Committee updated its freedom of expression definitions for the first time in nearly three decades. Comment No. 34 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that member countries cannot legislate speech in favor of or against specific religious groups (as do blasphemy laws). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called for UN member states to implement a spring Human Rights Council decision emphasizing freedom of religion over religious defamation laws.
Future of Catholic foster care uncertain
The State of Illinois can decline to renew foster-care contracts with Catholic Charities, a Sangamon County circuit court ruled. The future of Catholic foster-care services was under review after Illinois legalized civil unions in June. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services refused to renew funding contracts with Catholic dioceses for the 2012 fiscal year because they will not place children with gay couples. Catholic Charities currently refers such couples to other organizations. More than 2,000 Illinois foster children will be transferred out of Catholic Charities' care.
Religion law clamps down on freedom
ARMENIA Proposed revisions to religious laws would prohibit preaching to children under the age of 14 and would ban "soul-hunting," defined as "improper proselytism." Pastors and democracy advocates in Armenia criticized the new draft as repressive. Meanwhile, churches in Armenia and neighboring Georgia are debating which country owns churches and monasteries near the border.
Court: Discrimination suit can continue
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) cannot claim a ministerial exception to deflect a lawsuit, a North Carolina federal court ruled. Kimberly McCallum was formerly the only African American in the BGEA executive office. She sued the BGEA, claiming she was the only employee laid off in a downsizing shortly after she complained that black congregations were not asked to participate in a summer program. The court ruled McCallum's job description was administrative, not ministerial, so the BGEA cannot claim a ministerial exception to discriminate in hiring people who perform religious functions.