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Religious conscience, Catholicism and Kavanaugh

Expect faith to play large role in how he interprets the law

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(Photo courtesy of St. Viviana’s Cathedral)

President Trump’s pick of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court is not surprising. Though he is less extreme than some others on the short list, Kavanaugh appears intent on rolling back abortion rights. We know this from past opinions and law review articles he has written.

But we know less how he might rule in regards to LGBTQ rights or immigration – two issues that will inevitably soon be addressed by the Court. Masterpiece Cakeshop did not clarify the appropriate balance between the free exercise of religion and equal protection. It was written so narrowly to address the specifics of the case that a broader legal principle cannot be found. Likewise, immigration issues are winding their way through the federal court system. On July 9, a Los Angeles Federal Judge, Dolly Gee, issued a strongly worded opinion condemning the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance family separation policy. Two months prior, another Justice for the Northern District of California rebuked the Federal Government’s violation of federalism in its attacks on sanctuary cities. Each of these cases will be seeking certiorari before the Supreme Court in the near future.

And, just as he has done with past abortion cases, we can expect Kavanaugh’s faith to play a large role in how he interprets the law.

During his acceptance speech in the White House, Kavanaugh spoke passionately about his work with Catholic Charities and how his conservative Catholicism has informed his career. It was moving. And Kavanaugh is correct in pointing out the role Catholic Charities has played in nurturing the oppressed throughout American history. But one Catholic charity he might have had in mind is Priests For Life, a group that sued for a contraceptive exemption from the Affordable Care Act. Kavanaugh wrote the appeals court decision in Priests for Life v. Burwell in support of exemptions for nonprofits and businesses based on personal conscience saying:

“When the Government forces someone to take an action contrary to his or her sincere religious belief . . . the Government has substantially burdened the individual’s exercise of religion.”

Though Kavanaugh was speaking specifically about contraception, it is easy to see how similar reasoning could be used in a case involving denial of goods and services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The framing is key. Here, Kavanaugh provides insight into his thinking by casting the denier of service as a victim of government overreach. Based on his deeply held religious convictions, Kavanaugh views those who want to discriminate more sympathetically than those who are discriminated against.

However, as some older Catholics might remember, John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy supported civil rights for African Americans because of the discrimination they faced as Irish Catholics, especially in the political arena.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, six of the nine justices will be Catholic. But not all Catholics apply their faith in the same way. Any shrewd litigator will need to consider Catholic theology and tradition in pleadings before the Court. When it comes to LGBTQ rights and immigration, applying Catholicism may seem like a cumbersome abstraction, but both liberty of conscience and the care of immigrants have strong roots in Catholicism.

If a Justice Kavanaugh needs a specifically Catholic justification for the protection of sanctuary cities, for instance, he can find it in the history of Los Angeles. During the Reagan Administration, another period of heightened hostility toward Hispanic immigration, a priest named Father Luis Olivares essentially began the modern sanctuary city movement. Building on the Catholic Church’s history of using Cathedrals and parishes as sanctuaries for the oppressed and refugees, the outcast and diseased, Father Olivares envisioned Los Angeles as a city that could shield the vulnerable from a heartless ruling class, much like the role the Church had played throughout medieval Europe. Unbeknownst to many, those being persecuted could run into a Cathedral or parish, shout out the word “asylum,” and the priest or monk would immediately shut the door to protect them.

It was Father Olivares’ faith that inspired his empathy toward those seeking a better life – and there is potential to apply that faith to today’s mothers fleeing violent abuse and drug wars only to have their children forcibly detained.

Similar thinking informs catholic or universal attitudes toward liberty of conscience. Much of the tenets of modern democracy derive from religious struggles in European history. Long before democratic revolutions swept through Europe demanding political equality, the indiscriminate extermination of the Bubonic Plague challenged deeply held cultural assumptions about natural inequality and God-ordained hierarchy. As peasants fled outbreaks of the plague, they, too, sought refuge in the houses of their lords and The Lord only to find the Plague ravaged prince and pauper, priest and prostitute alike. Among the sight and stench of the disease, it became harder to believe the strict class structure of feudalism and birthright of kings was God’s will and the theological underpinnings of an unfair economic system quickly crumbled.

The invention of the printed press enabled the ideas of the Reformation of the Church and words of the Bible to spread throughout Europe. Before these new interpretations of holy scripture, the Catholic Church held a cultural and political monopoly.

Protestantism’s challenge to Catholic political hegemony produced centuries of bloody civil wars across Europe. The most violent – the Thirty Years War among Lutherans, Protestants, and Catholics – produced the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This treaty was monumental in the creation of the modern nation-state because it was the first governing document to recognize some form of religious freedom. Each denomination had fought for the political dominance of their version of Christianity — but accomplished only mass casualties.

In the end, nobody won. But the Catholic Church lost its political exclusivity, forcing it to reconsider its use of government to force compliance with its theology. The Treaty of Westphalia marked a nascent version of our cherished freedom of religion. This first codification of state neutrality toward a preferred faith ultimately became the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

The first ten words of the Bill of Rights is called the Establishment Clause. It reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an established religion.

An established religion is the official religion of a country. The official religion of the UK is the Anglican Church. The official religion of Italy is Catholicism and of Denmark is Lutheran Protestantism. The official religion of the United States is nothing because our founders were trying to do something different and reflect the lessons of history.

But the framers of the Constitution did not merely say America would lack an established religion. Rather, they

prohibited government from respecting an establishment of religion. This means we cannot have an official faith or even pretend that we do. The removal of nativity scenes and monuments of the Ten Commandments in public spaces is not some contemporary suppression of religious expression. Our founders recognized that a democracy cannot function if one demographic is awarded privileged status so institutions of the state must remain nonsectarian.

The Establishment Clause is immediately followed by the Free Exercise Clause. It reads:

Or prohibit the free exercise thereof.

Herein lies the balance. The government may neither respect an official religion nor prohibit anyone from practicing religion in any way. The first is a limit on state action, the second is an expression of maximum

individual freedom. That individual liberty is not limited to formal religion. It includes a liberty of conscience for each citizen to develop their own understanding of transcendent truth and follow the right path for them even if faith is not part of the picture.

The free exercise of one’s conscience, guaranteed by the First Amendment, enshrines the negative right to reject the religious dictates of one’s community. This means conservative Christians can govern their lives and believe sincerely that homosexuality is an egregious sin — but other citizens are not coerced into obeying the proscriptions of others’ faiths.

These core tenets of democracy have been reiterated throughout American history, so much so that we have taken for granted that justices on the Supreme Court will continue

to apply them to new conflicts. But we also know, some legal thinkers like the Federalist Society apply these historical principles differently. Once Kavanaugh becomes the sixth Catholic on the Court – and it is likely he will be – advocates of benevolence toward immigrants and fairness toward sexual minorities will benefit from grounding their arguments in catholic tradition rather than opposition to Catholicism.

With all three branches of the Federal Government firmly in the hands of a party devoid of empathy toward the downtrodden, a little Catholic charity may be our saving grace.

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California

Following Newsom’s vaccination measures, California employers follow suit

We will work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting economic recovery

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

SACRAMENTO – Throughout the past week, some of California’s largest employers – both private businesses and local governments – have followed Governor Newsom’s lead in implementing vaccine and testing measures for employees. After California implemented new vaccine verification and testing requirements for state and health care workers on Monday, and with President Biden following suit this past Thursday, employers have implemented similar measures for thousands of employees throughout the state.

  • City of Los Angeles: “Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced today that they would push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for City employees, beginning with a requirement that workers either submit proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test.”
  • City of San Francisco: “City officials said that the requirement would promote safety in municipal workplaces and among the general public, given that police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city workers come into regular contact with members of the community. ‘With those two things in mind — the safety of our employees and the safety of the public we serve — we made this decision,’ said Carol Isen, San Francisco’s director of human resources. ‘We believe this step is a simple one to take. It’s safe, it’s very effective, and it’s going to guarantee the safety of all.’”
  • San Diego County: “The County will begin requiring its employees to verify COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing. Details being worked out but implementation expected by mid-August. Vaccination is the key to fully and safely reopening the economy.”
  • City of Long Beach: “We are announcing today that all @LongBeachCity employees will need a mandatory vaccination or be required to show a weekly negative COVID-19 test. Thank you to the 72% of employees who are already vaccinated. It’s important that public institutions model responsible leadership. I strongly support Governor @GavinNewsom’s action to do the same for state employees. The standard for those who serve the public must follow the best science available. I hope that cities and counties across the state will take similar actions. It’s time we beat this pandemic.”
  • Google: “‘Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,’ Mr. Pichai wrote. He added that the vaccine mandate would apply to U.S. office locations ‘in the coming weeks’ and to other regions ‘in the coming months.’”
  • Facebook: “‘As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,’ VP of People Lori Goler said in a statement. ‘How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations.’”
  • Netflix: “Netflix has become the first major studio to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its U.S. productions. The move comes after studios and Hollywood unions last week finalized an agreement that allows producers to require vaccines for the people who are potentially at highest risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 on set: actors and the crew who work most closely with them. Netflix was particularly quick to implement the policy. More major studios are expected to follow in the coming weeks as they work out the challenging logistics of overhauling their approaches to pandemic safety on set.”
  • Lyft: “As of August 2, all employees working in Lyft’s offices are required to be vaccinated, according to an email Lyft (LYFT) CEO Logan Green sent to staffers that was viewed by CNN Business.”
  • Uber: “Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) is pushing back its back-to-office date to late October globally, and all employees in the United States will have to be fully vaccinated before returning to office, a spokesperson said on Thursday.”
  • California Business Roundtable: “The governor’s approach will allow economic recovery to continue while redoubling efforts to encourage vaccinations. From the beginning of the pandemic, the business community has been a partner with the governor and public health officials by implementing mitigation protocols and testing, hosting vaccination clinics, communicating the need to get vaccinated, promoting the vaccine through its own PSA, and offering incentives to employees and customers. We will continue to look to work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting employment opportunities or our economic recovery at this critical stage, while paying special attention to continued outreach to Black and Latino communities, of which 51 percent and 49 percent remain unvaccinated, respectively.”
    • The coalition includes:
      • California Business Properties Association
      • California Hotel and Lodging Association
      • California Manufacturers and Technology Association
      • California Retailers Association
      • California Restaurant Association
      • Orange County Business Council
      • Los Angeles County BizFed
      • Central Valley BizFed
      • Inland Empire Economic Partnership

Here’s what health, labor, and other local leaders have also said about Governor Newsom’s vaccine and testing measures:

  • California Hospital Association President & CEO Carmela Coyle: “The new public health order announced today by Gov. Newsom will help ensure that California remains ahead of the curve in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 is again on the rise nationally, and in California, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. It is imperative that we all do everything possible to protect patients and our communities from COVID-19 illnesses and death. Everyone should get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective — and they are free. The evidence is clear — vaccination against COVID-19 has prevented people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. To date, 75% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose, with minimal side effects. Requiring health care settings, including hospitals, to verify the vaccination status of all health care workers — and to expect those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and be tested regularly — are important and necessary steps that must be taken in this extraordinary situation. The Governor’s announcement is essential to keeping patients and those who care for them safe.”
  • California Primary Care Association Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Witte: “The California Primary Care Association supports twice weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated healthcare workers. The science is clear: the vaccines work, and they are safe. Over 97% of people seriously sick or dying from COVID-19 viral infections are unvaccinated. This trend is completely preventable with increased vaccination, to the point of herd immunity of our population, when we can begin to look at the pandemic ending. Twice weekly PCR testing for all unvaccinated healthcare workers fits the model for good prevention: accessible, accurate, inexpensive and easy to administer. This is an important addition to prevention of COVID-19 infections. CPCA is in full support.”
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President/CEO Jodi Hicks: “Once again, the state of California is leading by example, using data, and following best scientific practices to protect millions of people from COVID-19. We commend Governor Newsom for today’s announcement: implementing a vaccination verification system for employees in high-risk environments – a critical step in helping curb the recent uptick in spread across the state and get us back on track. Planned Parenthood continues to work closely with providers and government officials across the state to ensure access remains equitable and the communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to correct information about the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and Planned Parenthood will continue to encourage every Californian who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
  • California Medical Association President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D.: “Throughout this crisis, health care workers have been a source of strength, sacrifice and perseverance. Ensuring all of us are vaccinated against COVID-19 sends a strong message that the safety of our patients and our colleagues is top priority. It is a duty that comes with our responsibility as people who care for others. We can all do more to keep each other safe, and health care workers in particular have a moral and ethical obligation to do all we can to protect our patients. When someone comes into a health care setting, they deserve to know the medical personnel who care for them are doing everything in their power to keep them safe. Ensuring that all health care workers are protected against COVID-19 will help put patients at ease and will help us bring this deadly pandemic to an end. So many physicians, nurses and medical workers have sacrificed so much over this last 18 months. We know what this virus can do. Many of us have witnessed the devastation first-hand. After going through so much, it is heartbreaking to see cases rise once again, especially when we have vaccines that can stop the spread of this deadly disease. We’ve come too far to ease up now in our fight against COVID-19. It makes sense for the health care community to lead the way in requiring vaccines for our employees. We will continue to do all we can to help convince all Californians that vaccines are safe, effective and critical as we come together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
  • SEIU-UHW Executive Committee Member Gabe Montoya, EMT: “California’s frontline workers in health care and frontline jobs serving the public are growing increasingly concerned as the number of COVID-19 cases rises. We support Governor Newsom’s efforts to ensure vaccinations reach more Californians because these life-saving shots not only prevent death and grave illness from the virus but also prevent more dangerous variants from taking hold. Since this pandemic began, belonging to a union has given workers the strength we needed to speak up for our own safety and the communities we serve, from demanding PPE to creating the conditions for students to return to schools safely. For this reason, we will continue to bargain with our employers to ensure that implementation of the policy includes workers’ voices and push for recognition of all essential workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic.”
  • United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, RN: “COVID-19 transmissions are high, we’re in a fourth surge, and we know that unvaccinated people are suffering the most. This is a forward-thinking order from Governor Newsom which will save lives by protecting patients and caregivers both. Our nurses and health care professionals are still reeling from the last year and a half of the pandemic, including staffing shortages. This is a proactive step to protect patients, workers, and the broader community.”
  • California Statewide Law Enforcement Association: “The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents peace officers across the state, responded to the order by sending a message to members reiterating the state requirements and pledging to follow up on outstanding questions. ‘CSLEA is in the process of confirming that testing will be done at no cost to the employee and on State time and how employees will be compensated for self-quarantine if mandated to do so,’ the union said in a statement. … ‘Further, the State is not presently mandating proof of vaccine, though it would likely be legal if it did. Employees can elect to decline to provide proof of vaccination if they are willing to adhere to the masking and testing requirements,’ the union said in a memo to members.”
  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association: “Glen Stailey, the union’s president, said in a statement, Gov. ‘Newsom’s new vaccine policy is a reasonable compromise that we can get behind. It provides for regular testing at work for those who have chosen not to get vaccinated — this will prevent the spread of the virus among correctional officers and incarcerated individuals alike.’”
  • Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg: “I support Gov. @GavinNewsom in requiring #Covid vaccination or regular testing of employees. I believe we should do the same in @TheCityofSac for the sake of our employees and customers.”
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California

Employees of statewide LGBTQ+ group Equality California form union

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal have formed unions in recent years.

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Equality California staff volunteer for congressional candidate Christy Smith, March 2020 (Photo Credit: EQ Calif. Facebook)

LOS ANGELES – A supermajority of workers at Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, announced the formation of a union, Equality Unites, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

In a letter sent via email Thursday, the staff urged Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, who is leaving his post at the end of 2021, and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang to voluntarily recognize their union, inclusive of all non-Director level employees.

The union organizers laid out issues that merit the need for the union and what is felt to be critical concerns including addressing employee hiring and retention — particularly among employees of color, trans, gender nonconforming and intersex people — salary, raise, and promotion transparency, guidelines around overtime and fair compensation, a healthy culture of feedback, and any decisions that impact their health, safety and lives.

Organizers also pointed out that the staff at the non-profit organization had exceeded all expectations and kept the organization afloat during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers also want to ensure that all employees have a voice as the organization undergoes a change in and restructuring of leadership, as well as a shift in goals and mission.

“CWA Local 9003 is proud to welcome our newest bargaining unit, Equality Unites,” said CWA Local 9003 President Marisa Remiski. “We are urging management to voluntarily recognize them and CWA Local 9003 as their Union. We look forward to working together!”

Late Thursday afternoon Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang responded in a written statement;

“This morning, Equality California received notice from our employees that they intend to organize a collective bargaining unit and a request that we voluntarily recognize it. As a progressive civil rights organization, Equality California has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with unions in support of workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” the statement read.

“We remain fully committed to these pro-worker values, and we intend to support our employees’ organizational efforts and voluntarily recognize a bargaining unit. We look forward to continuing to provide a supportive and equitable environment for all of our employees and to working collaboratively with them going forward,” Zbur and Hoag added.

Zbur and Hoang’s voluntary recognition of the union is significant. Employers often resist efforts to unionize by forcing employees to vote or engaging in other practices to dissuade workers from organizing.

But the outgoing and incoming executive directors of the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization immediately made clear that they have no intent to do so, and instead will support the employees’ efforts.

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have formed unions in recent years.

Throughout the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, labor unions have played an important role in advocating for LGBTQ+ Americans. In 2007, Pride at Work — an official constituency of the AFL-CIO — signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality in In re marriage cases.

Unions like the Communications Workers of America, California Teachers Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, and more staunchly opposed California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to prohibit marriage equality.

More recently, unions have played a crucial part in advancing protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including the overwhelming 90% of union support for the Equality Act (H.R. 5) and celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision in Bostock, which affirmed that LGBTQ+ workers are protected from discrimination under federal law.

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Los Angeles

BNT: Buck case highlights intersection of race & sexual orientation

Journalist Jasmyne Cannick, said that the case “intersected race.” She joins “Black News Tonight” to discuss the case and its impact.

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Screen shot via Black News Tonight

PHILADELPHIA – Appearing on BNC’s Black News Tonight anchored by journalist Marc Lamont Hill Wednesday, Los Angeles based political strategist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick, who has covered the Ed Buck case, told Hill that the case intersected race and sexual orientation.

“As much as this case is about Ed Buck, it’s also about our housing crisis, and what it makes people feel they have to do — play Russian roulette with their lives just to have a roof over their heads,” Cannick stressed.

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