Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Mennonite Stories in 2009.

The top 10 stories of 2009 at The Mennonite, including:

2. MC USA pastors get The Corinthian Plan
The Corinthian Plan will become a reality Jan. 1, 2010. The health-care access plan of
Mennonite Church USA reached its revised goal in October. Project director Keith Harder expects that nearly 70 percent of the denomination’s eligible, credentialed pastors will be on the new plan. While the original participation goal of 80 percent of Mennonite Church USA congregations will not be met, The Corinthian Plan project team, including MMA staff and actuaries, agreed that there is sufficient participation to have a plan that will have a solid financial foundation.

3. Resolution emerges from Convention 2009

Over 7,000 people gathered June 30-July 5 in Columbus, Ohio, for the Mennonite Church USA Convention 2009. The church’s responses to leaders and congregations not in compliance with the denomination’s teaching position on human sexuality generated several unscheduled sidebar actions. During the convention, a group of activists launched their
"Pink Menno campaign," drawing reporters from Fox News and Associated Press. In response, the Delegate Assembly overwhelmingly passed "A Resolution on Following Christ and Growing Together as Communities Even in Conflict."

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Archdiocese of Brooklyn and Political Endorsements.

A suit may be on its way to the courts to decide whether the Catholic Church violated separation of church and state laws during the November election by calling households and endorsing a candidate. From AM New York:

An atheist group plans to sue the Archdiocese of Brooklyn over robo-calls made by the bishop before the November election praising the borough’s Democratic boss.

Though Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) was not on the ballot this year, he did back a city council candidate against an incumbent and is a high-profile figure in the city’s political circles.

“This is a major separation of church and state issue,” said Kenneth Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists. “We don’t want religions to endorse candidates.”

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, an archdiocese spokesman, said the calls, recorded by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio, were merely meant to thank Lopez for his opposition to a bill that would have eased restrictions on suing the church over sex abuse by clergy members. The bill did not pass.

Besides, Harrington noted, Lopez was a year away from his next election.

“We don’t endorse any candidates,” he said.

Bronstein’s group said it plans to file suit Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. In addition to the church-state argument, the group is asking that the church’s tax-exempt status be revoked.

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Proposition 8, The Mormon Church, and the Constitution.

From First Amendment Coalition, this story over the legal battle to prove that the campaign to vote yes on 8 was discriminatory. Call me cynical but it seems that the law should be declared discriminatory, not just the campaign.

The proof of discrimination seems obvious (Uh, funded by the Mormon church to the tune of millions of dollars so that gays can't, you know, have the right to marriage), but not to the federal appeals court in SF which is asked, on First Amendment grounds, to decide whether documents by proponents of the law can be viewed or not. It seems a strange route to declaring a law unconstitutional. But it might set precedent on how churches (now allowed to lobby without registering as lobbyists) engage in politics. I'd love to see their tax-exempt status go away. Bring on the IRS!

I've been talking about discrimination and religion a lot this week with regard to patients' rights, looking at how clauses like Coats, Wheldon, Church and others are allowed to stand when the backers of them are clearly religiously motivated, when what the laws impose is clearly religiously motivated.

The problem, as I understand it, is that access to abortion under Roe v. Wade was determined on the grounds of patient privacy, not religious discrimination, as have been subsequent challenges to restrictions on sterilizations, contraception, emergency contraception, etc. The court has since repeatedly shied away from looking at access-reducing clauses (such as the provider refusal (conscience clause) the Bush Administration thrust on us last December (now suspended by the Obama Administration, to be reconsidered or, hopefully rescinded, god knows when) in light of religious discrimination.

I can see the courts being unwilling to ascribe a legal definition to when life begins. What I can't see is ignoring the clearly religious discrimination forced on women every time a new avenue of reproductive services access is denied. Free speech or privacy have had to carry the water in these suits. Few justices at any level wants to touch them.

The case on Proposition 8 is the same, only the reason for opposition to gay marriage - discrimination - is being skirted in a suit for documents which the court considers a violation of the First Amendment. How obtuse?!

While it may not be politically popular to address the encroachment of religion on patients' rights (or gay, elder, disability or others' rights) it will have to be done. And soon. I'm hoping for a big fat loud challenge to the new Ethical and Religious Directive established by the Catholic Church at all of their 600 hospitals that patients can neither deny nor request removal from artificial nutrition and hydration. I want some tough old lady to stand up and say - do not force feed me bishops!

Already courts are addressing separation of church and state issues at schools where strong anti-discriminatory policies are preventing student groups from demanding certain beliefs of members. How about a little equality!?

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has reversed a judge’s order that backers of Proposition 8, the state initiative that banned same-sex marriage, give their campaign strategy documents to opponents trying to overturn the measure.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals tossed out the order that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued in October against backers of Prop. 8, which state voters approved in November 2008.

Walker had said lawyers for two same-sex couples and a gay-rights group were entitled to see internal memos and e-mails between Yes on 8 strategists to look for evidence that the campaign had exploited prejudice against gays and lesbians.

The plaintiffs are trying to show that the measure was discriminatory and thus unconstitutional.

Prop. 8 sponsors argued that their discussions were constitutionally protected and that Walker’s order would discourage candid communications in political campaigns. The three-judge appeals court panel unanimously agreed.

“The freedom to associate with others for the common advancement of political beliefs and ideas lies at the heart of the First Amendment,” Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court. Prop. 8 proponents, he said, had shown that turning over the documents “would likely have a chilling effect on political association and the formulation of political expression.”

The court had suspended Walker’s order last week and signaled that it intended to reverse it.

The trial over the lawsuit is still scheduled to begin Jan. 11 in San Francisco.

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This American Life Assisted Suicide Segment.

Give it a listen. It's thoughtful and interesting and only the son's statement toward the end about who usually chooses aid in dying is a detraction (and erroneous statement) from the piece. Actually, those who choose to hasten their own deaths are, indeed, very much like his mother.

What he finds most difficult is that, because of laws, his mother had to die alone; and that she had to do it with a bag over her head.

Another point worth mentioning is that studies show that those who suffer the death of a loved one via aid in dying experience grief in very much the same way (or to a lesser degree) than those who die what some call "a natural death."

The clip begins at about 40:30 (but listen to the first one about grief if you've got the time!)

xo to Graciella for sending it to me!


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Medicare Strike Force Taking It Back.

One of the greatest holes we throw our money into is Medicare - and not because we don't have a population of elders in need and not because we don't have a great program that can serve them, but because it is so very easy for hospitals and other medical entities to take advantage of elders when so little oversight has been built into an excessive medical industry.

It's great to see money that should be used for our elders being brought back to the system from preying felons! I'm just waiting for some dimwit to scream, "rationing!"

Thirty people have been charged in three cities for their alleged roles in schemes to submit more than $61 million in false Medicare claims as part of the continuing operation of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division announced today. Also today, the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and HHS announced the expansion of Strike Force operations to Brooklyn, Tampa and Baton Rouge in the fifth, sixth and seventh phases of a targeted criminal, civil and administrative effort against individuals and health care companies that fraudulently bill the Medicare program.

Five indictments were unsealed today in Miami, Detroit and Brooklyn, following the arrests of 25 individuals in Miami, four individuals in Detroit and one in Brooklyn. In addition, Strike Force agents executed four search warrants at businesses and homes in Coconut Creek, Fla.; Miami and Brooklyn.

The joint DOJ-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing. Strike Force teams are operating in seven cities in the United States: Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Tampa and Baton Rouge.

“When President Obama took office, he promised a new commitment to cracking down on the criminals who steal billions of dollars from Medicare each year through fraudulent claims,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today, HHS and DOJ are following through on that commitment with the announcement of three new Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams in Baton Rouge, Tampa, and in Brooklyn. Along with teams already operating in Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and Detroit, these Strike Force operations will allow us to concentrate our agents and resources on the criminal hubs where we know a significant share of fraud occurs. Medicare is a sacred promise to America’s seniors and we will do everything we can to protect it. The announcement we’re making today is a significant step towards securing Medicare for seniors today and generations to come.”

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US Gov Disability Compendium.

Got a thing for stats? Check out the spanking new US Government report - to be an annual event - on disability. Lots of goodies. Help me digest them!



Faith-Based Under Fire.

From Tampa Bay Online, a success story on the court's striking down "faith-based" programs that are given government funding for necessary social services. I don't mind social services; I do mind providing them in exchange for prayer. Calling yourself a ministry (as the Catholic Church calls their massive health care network) is a giant sign that the funded group is working for a higher power.

That's not all bad, but it often works as coercion of desperate, needy people. I hope we hear more stories like this in the future. The "food for prayer" faith-based program, instituted by Bush and maintained as the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives by Obama (who's on my shit list today after giving so much away to the GOP on health care) is a direct violation of separation of church and state. Using religious organizations to aid our needy members of society is crossing a line that should never be crossed.

An appeals court has found that Florida's use of "faith-based" substance abuse programs for inmates released from prison violates the state Constitution.

In an opinion filed today, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a circuit court judge's finding that the state's contract with Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries was constitutional. The appeals court found that the contract violates the "no-aid" provision barring the state from spending taxpayer money "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries are nonprofit Christian organizations that contract with the state to provide faith-based drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitative services to inmates released from prison.

Prisoners of Christ is based in Jacksonville and Lamb of God Ministries is located in Okeechobee. Both organizations describe themselves as "ministries," according to the court's analysis.

The Council for Secular Humanism, a New York-based advocacy group that promotes separation of church and state, filed the suit against the state in May 2007 in Leon County. Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled in the state's favor in October 2008.

In their ruling, the appellate court judges wrote that "the inquiry here is whether the programs … are predominantly religious in nature and whether the programs promote the religious mission of the organizations receiving the funds," in violation of the no-aid provision.

The judges found that Cooper erred by not applying their prior ruling in another church-and-state case: Bush v. Holmes. That 2006 case went on to the state Supreme Court and ultimately struck down a school voucher program that spent state dollars on private schools, some of them sectarian.

In that case, the 1st DCA found that the Opportunity Scholarship Program violated the no-aid provision. The Supreme Court ruled against the voucher program on other grounds but did not reverse the 1st DCA's opinion.

In today's ruling, the 1st DCA ruled that "the trial court was erroneously persuaded by appellees that this court's decision in Holmes I was limited explicitly to the school context. The Holmes I decision did not limit its analysis to a 'schools only' context," and therefore applies in this case as well.

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Resomation: Cremation Gets Green.

I'm reading Jessica Mitford's 1996 revision of her 1963 classic, The American Way of Death, a thrilling, sharp, funny, enthusiastic take-down of the funeral industry. It's an engaging book, crisp and loaded with brilliant social observation.

So I was intrigued by last Sunday's New York Times Magazine feature, The 9th Annual Year in Ideas, which included this entry on updates in cremation technology:


The cremation rate has been on a brisk rise in the United States, in part because cremation is cheaper than burial and saves land. But powering a crematorium requires an enormous amount of gas and also sends carbon dioxide and other pollutants skyward. Enter resomation, an alternative to cremation for the eco-conscious cadaver.SANDY SULLIVAN
Resomation is a process that liquefies rather than burns body tissues. It uses about a sixth of the energy of cremation and has a much smaller carbon footprint, according to Sandy Sullivan, the managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a resomation machine. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has been using a similar system since 2006 to dispose of donated bodies, but this year the first commercial Resomator is being installed at a funeral home in Florida, one of three states where the process is legal.

Resomation (a neologism meant to suggest rebirth) was first proposed for use in Europe as a method of disposing of cows infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The corpse is placed in a pressurized chamber. The vessel is then filled with water and potassium hydroxide, creating a highly alkaline solution, and heated to 330 degrees. After about three hours, all that's left are a soft, white calcium phosphate from bone and teeth and a light brown primordial soup of amino acids and peptides. Bodies buried underground decompose in the same way, albeit over many years and aided by microorganisms.

Unlike cremation, resomation doesn't vaporize the toxic mercury of dental fillings and doesn't char joint implants, leaving them clean, shiny and potentially recyclable. The bone and tooth material can be ground into a fine ash, as with traditional cremains. The brown liquid, because it's sterile, can go down the drain. "There's no genetic material in it at all; it's just basic organic materials," Sullivan assures. "You might get some people who say they want the fluid as well, but at the end of the day, it's best to send it to the water treatment plant so it ends up back on the land, as nature intended it to." RUTH DAVIS KONIGSBERG

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Female Soldiers Not Protected by The Constitution They Defend.

The excellent Kathryn Joyce has an article at Religion Dispatches today about military women and abortion. Read the whole thing here. And a clip:

Starting in 1979, Defense Department appropriations bills have been used to restrict or prohibit the use of federal funds—meaning all military health coverage—for abortion services at overseas military hospitals. Although President Clinton reversed the ban shortly after taking office, anti-abortion forces in Congress made the ban permanent in 1995, preventing future presidents from altering the rules by executive order.

What began as a funding ban, compelling women to pay for abortion services themselves, was later extended into a more comprehensive embargo on performing abortions in any military hospital except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), argued that “servicewomen do not receive the protection of the Constitution they defend,” and tried unsuccessfully in 2005 and 2006 to repeal the ban—or at least to bring it in line with current Medicaid standards by allowing abortion funding in rape and incest cases. Opponents like Kansas Republican Jim Ryan postured in response claiming that, “allowing self-funded abortions would simply turn our military hospitals overseas into abortion clinics.”

In fact, before Roe v. Wade the situation was reversed: servicewomen were pressured into having abortions due to a military policy of automatically discharging pregnant women. That policy ended with Crawford v. Cushman, a 1976 U.S. Appeals Court case ruling that the discharge rule violated due process.

The result of the ban is that active-duty servicewomen and military dependents are faced with a number of equally unappealing options: venture out to local hospitals while overseas, to medical facilities that may have different standards of care, where medical workers may not speak English, or where there is animosity towards the U.S.; seek a back alley abortion in a country that prohibit abortion; or undertake an arduous process of obtaining permission from commanding officers to fly home or to a neighboring country, find space on a military transport or pay for a commercial flight home—a prohibitive cost for lower-ranking servicewomen—and return to their units aware that their superiors know intimate details about their medical records.

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Nativity and State: Old Time Religion.

Proving that, as I have long suspected, Colorado is one of the odder states in our union: Denver City Hall once gain trots out it's century-old nativity scene - because tradition is harder to break than the law.

"It doesn't affect my life one way or the other," he said.

Denverite Alisha Wetstine, 31, grew up visiting the manger at Christmastime, as did her mother. Her own 2- and 5-year-olds could take it or leave it, she said, "as long as they replaced it with something shiny."

Wetstine, meantime, expressed concern that the baby's looking sick.

"He's skinnier than I remember him," she said. "And sort of funny looking, actually."

"It's beautiful artistically and all," added Willie Hayes, 51, a Denver paralegal. "But I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be here legally. A religious shrine has no business on city land."

U.S. and Colorado Supreme Court rulings actually allow nativity scenes on government property if decorations also include figures such as a Santa Claus, reindeer and toy soldiers.

Those decisions have always mystified me — like telling your kids it's OK to burp really loudly at the dinner table, as long as they fart too.


Where Did the Manhattan Declaration Go?

Paul O'Donnell takes a backwards look at the Manhattan Declaration and asks what impact it's had:

The declaration, it's true, doesn't cover much new ground: It states that the sanctity of marriage and life are still what Christians should fight for. Its third plank, proclaiming freedom of religious conscience, is very of-the-moment. With a ferocity about "resisting tyranny" that flashes more of Glenn Beck's brand of civil disobedience than Gandhi's, the signers promise not to "comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages . . . or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it."

You can read the entire article here.

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Pope Reminds Hospice Patients That Suffering is Good.

From Catholic News Agency, of course:

Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit to the sick and health care workers of the Rome Hospice Foundation Sunday morning at their facility located just minutes from the Vatican. He lauded the hospice for providing free care and invited the sick to use the "light of faith" to bring them closer to God.

The Sacre Cuore (Sacred Heart) Hospice was very pleased to host the Pontiff on-site, where 30 patients suffering from terminal cancer are treated without cost. The hospice also provides home health care for 90 others.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the gathering, saying that in a world that tends to marginalize those that suffer from incurable illness and think of them as a weight on society, "Whoever has a sense of human dignity knows ... that they should be respected and sustained while they face the difficulties and the suffering tied to their health conditions."

In providing their health care, said the Pope, "Along with the indispensable clinical cures, it's necessary to offer the sick concrete gestures of love, of nearness and of Christian solidarity to fulfill their need of comprehension, of comfort and of constant encouragement."

"I've come to offer to each of you a concrete testimony of nearness and affection," the Holy Father told them. "I assure you of my prayer and I invite you to find sustenance and comfort in Jesus, to never lose trust and hope."

"Your illness is a very painful and singular test, but before the mystery of God ... this acquires meaning and becomes a gift and occasion of sanctification."

"When the suffering and discomfort become stronger," counseled the Pontiff, "think that Christ is associating you to the cross because he wants to say through you a word of love to all who have lost their way in life and, closed in their own empty egoism, live in sin and distance from God."

"In fact, your health conditions witness that true life is not here, but close to God, where each of us will find joy and will have humbly placed our steps after those of the most true man: Jesus of Nazareth, Teacher and Lord."

Pope Benedict concluded that in this time of Advent, when we speak of "preparing the way for the Lord," through "the light of faith" sickness and suffering can become a particular Advent experience, "a visit from God that in a mysterious way happens to liberate from solitude and lack of meaning and transform pain into time spent with Him, of hope and salvation.

"The Lord comes, he's here, alongside us!” Benedict XVI exclaimed.

Looking ahead to Christmas, the Pope said it “offers us the possibility to contemplate the Holy Child, the real light that comes to this world to manifest ´the grace of God, that brings salvation to all men.'"

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