Lansing Update: November 15, 2013
Posted November 15, 2013
- MCC Files New Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate
- Senate and House Consider Human Trafficking “Safe Harbor” Legislation
- The Word from Lansing: Catholics Lead Fight Against Evil of Human Trafficking
- Abortion-Opt Out Petition Signatures Reviewed by Board of State Canvassers
- New USCCB President and Vice President Elected at U.S. Bishops’ General Assembly
- Senate Committee Approves Religious Censorship Bill
On Thursday, Michigan Catholic Conference filed a new legal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan challenging the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) objectionable services mandate. Under the final rule of the mandate, issued in late June, some religious employers are still forced to facilitate coverage of morally objectionable services, such as abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization. While MCC meets the government’s definition of “religious employer” and is exempt from the mandate, dozens of Catholic employers that participate in the MCC group health benefit plan, do not. Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo, one of the non-exempt entities in the group health plan, is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit. In May of 2012, Michigan Catholic Conference filed a similar lawsuit against the federal government, but since the final HHS rule had not been issued at the time, the case was dismissed in March 2013. The Conference believes the mandate has been a burden and an unnecessary distraction and will continue to fight for religious liberty rights through the legal system.
This week, both the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives considered testimony on legislation addressing human trafficking, specifically related to the enactment of “safe harbor” bills, among other aspects. The idea of creating a “safe harbor” is to recognize that individuals who have been trafficked are victims, not criminals, and to protect minors from being charged with prostitution if they were a victim of sex trafficking. Michigan Catholic Conference staff testified in both the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee and the House Criminal Justice Committee concerning the importance of measures that treat victims as victims and help them to receive the services they need. The Attorney General and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, have taken leadership on the issue of human trafficking, and Michigan Catholic Conference is looking forward to continued work as the bills move through the process.
On Wednesday, a candlelight vigil was held at the State Capitol in Lansing to raise awareness about human trafficking. Thank you to all who spread the word about this event, and thank you to all who braved the cold in order to recognize the suffering that victims and their families face as a result of this crime against human dignity. Michigan Catholic Conference extends its appreciation to Fr. John Byers, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lansing, for leading prayer at the vigil.
Michigan Catholic Conference’s November edition of The Word from Lansing discusses the Catholic Conference’s perspective on human trafficking issues and provides further updates on what is happening in Lansing related to the topic. To read the column and learn more about this crime, click here.
The Board of State Canvassers has concluded its review of the citizen petitions submitted by the No Taxes for Abortion Insurance Committee and has found a sufficient number of the petitions to be valid. Opponents have been given until November 25 to challenge the Board’s findings, although it is not expected that a challenge will be issued. The initiated legislation to allow abortion coverage as an optional rider rather than a covered health benefit may be before the House and Senate in the coming weeks. More information will be provided through Lansing Update as it is available.
During their General Assembly this week, the U.S. bishops elected Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville as the new president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who previously served as the vice president under Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was chosen as the Conference’s new vice president. Michigan Catholic Conference is thankful for the leadership of Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz over the past three years and looks forward to the work of the upcoming leadership.
- For a list of other committee and board positions that were filled at the meeting, click here.
- To read the farewell presidential address from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, click here.
- To view a press conference from the new president of the USCCB, click here.
At the end of the General Assembly, the U.S. bishops released a message on the HHS Mandate, calling for continued work to protect the religious freedom of institutions and individuals who do not want to violate their religious beliefs. To read this message, click here.
Back in June, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony, including remarks from the Michigan Catholic Conference, about Senate Bill 120, which prohibits school boards and officials from censoring religious references in original source documents, such as speeches or writings, during the teaching of American or Michigan history in public schools. This week, the Senate Education Committee approved the measure, which now awaits consideration from the full Senate.
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