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Archive for the ‘Jeff Caruso’ Category

By: Jeff Caruso

Parental choice in education is a fundamental right which the Catholic Church has long recognized, and for which the Virginia Catholic Conference has consistently advocated in the Virginia General Assembly.
This issue will be a hotly debated topic in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session, which begins in mid-January. At that time, the Conference will renew its advocacy for the Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit bill, which would provide tax credits to businesses that make donations toward scholarships that enable economically disadvantaged children to attend nonpublic K-12 schools.
The Conference has unveiled a new video in an effort to win passage of the bill, which will provide greater educational opportunities for more Virginia students. For the last two years this legislation has fallen just two votes short of passage. Grassroots support is essential if it is to pass in 2012.


The Conference collaborated with the Catholic Schools Offices in Richmond and Arlington, the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium and the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Communications on the short video to generate greater interest in advocacy for the scholarship tax credit bill. “The Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit: Taking Action for a Brighter Tomorrow” (produced by Triune Production Studios LLC) is designed to increase understanding and involvement in legislative advocacy among parents, Catholic school educators, parishioners, and the public.
The bill’s benefits for local communities and Catholic schools are three-fold. The bill would:

  • Provide critical support for low-income students desiring a Catholic education.
  • Support long-term viability of Catholic schools through sustained enrollment.
  • Save all Virginia taxpayers money.

Please watch the video and send it on to your friends, and urge them to join the Conference’s email advocacy network. We are working to build momentum so that, with your help this upcoming session, the Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit will become a reality!

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Conscience Rights in Danger

By: Jeff Caruso
In implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued guidelines requiring almost all private health plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization as “preventive services” for women. On August 3, HHS published an interim final rule that references these guidelines, and allows HRSA to implement a very narrow and inadequate religious exemption. This action poses an unprecedented threat to the religious freedom of individuals and institutions. Until now, no federal law has required private health plans to cover these services.
  • HRSA’s statement that these services “do not include abortifacient drugs” is misleading. The FDA-approved “emergency contraception” (EC) drugs covered by this mandate can work by interfering with implantation. Also, the drug the FDA most recently approved for EC, “Ella,” a close analogue to the abortion drug RU-486, has been shown in animal tests to cause abortion. Thus, the mandate includes drugs that may cause an abortion both before and after implantation.
  • The religious exemption allowed by the interim final rule is not only extremely narrow but unprecedented in federal law. It covers only a “religious employer” that has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets, and is a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code. Plans offered by a great many religious organizations, including Catholic colleges and universities as well as hospitals and charitable institutions that serve the general public, would be ineligible under these terms. Individuals and health insurance companies do not qualify at all for this exemption.

Please click here to send a comment to HHS. Personal comments can be added to the suggested message.

The public comment period on this interim final rule ends September 30.

As is the practice, all comments and information submitted to HHS are made available online. Only your name (first and last) and your message will be forwarded to HHS.

Thanks for everything you do in support of life!

After you send your comments to HHS, you will also have an opportunity to send a message to your elected representatives in Congress, urging them to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1467) to ensure that such federal mandates do not violate Americans’ moral and religious convictions.

 

 

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Regulations concerning adoption in Virginia have been under much debate. Below is a joint statement from the Virginia Catholic Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington concerning their participation in comments given to the State Board of Social Services.

On April 20, the State Board of Social Services voted 7-2 in favor of adoption regulations supported by the Virginia Catholic Conference – regulations that had been amended by the Virginia Department of Social Services after a public comment period (ending April 1) that featured written submissions by the Conference, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, other faith-based organizations, and individuals.  Representatives of six faith-based organizations, including the Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, also appeared personally at the April 20 board meeting to offer public remarks in support of the amended regulations. The groups also reiterated their objections to the prior version.  At the conclusion of the meeting, the board approved the amended regulations.

Commenting on the outcome shortly after the vote occurred, Conference director Jeff Caruso observed, “Today, religious freedom was affirmed; freedom of conscience was affirmed; the freedom of all agencies, including faith-based agencies, to continue doing the great work they are doing was affirmed.”

Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, agreed:

“Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington has been providing adoption services consistent with the principles and moral teaching of the Catholic Faith for the citizens of the Commonwealth for nearly 65 years. We are relieved that the Board for the Department of Social Services will uphold religious freedom and thus allow Catholic Charities to continue providing adoption services that integrate our Catholic Faith.”

The full text of the Conference’s April 20 testimony to the board follows.

Comments on 22 VAC 40-131-170B

State Board of Social Services Meeting (April 20, 2011)

“On behalf of the Virginia Catholic Conference, I wish to convey support for the agency’s changes to 22 VAC 40-131-170B, which is part of the proposed Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Placing Agencies.  The Conference is the public-policy agency of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.   My comments reflect the shared perspective of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and of Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia within the Diocese of Richmond.

The newly proposed 22 VAC 40-131-170B states: “The licensee shall prohibit acts of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin to: (1) Delay or deny a child’s placement; or (2) Deny an individual the opportunity to become a foster or adoptive parent.”

This new version brings the provision squarely into line with federal law and eliminates inconsistencies with state law that were inherent in the prior version.  The new version is also responsive to comments submitted by the Conference on March 31 that objected to the inclusion of items such as sexual orientation, family status, religion, and age.

Including “sexual orientation” and “family status” would have posed conflicts with the missions, beliefs, and practices of organizations, such as ours, that profess certain deeply held convictions and religious beliefs regarding the institution of marriage, the family unit, and human sexuality.  Indeed, including these items could have forced some agencies into a choice of whether to follow their own missions or to adhere to the law.  Forcing this choice would have been an unacceptable violation of the freedom of conscience upon which our pluralistic society is based, and even of the religious freedom upon which our Commonwealth and our country were built.

It is also important to note that some agencies may currently have requirements for prospective adoptive parents regarding age, and may consider religion when making certain placements.  Birthparents may also consider such factors and should, along with agencies, be free to continue doing so.

In conclusion, faith-based agencies play a vital role in the fabric of our Commonwealth, and their right to carry out their mission in the services they provide must be respected and preserved.  The agency is right to affirm the current federal and state law and the paramount principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience as the correct paths to follow. These paths empower all agencies, included those that are faith-based, to continue the great work they are doing.

Thank you for your consideration of the perspective of Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses and their agencies in this matter.”

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Shortly before 10 last night, Virginia joined the growing number of states that have adopted restrictions against abortion coverage within its state health exchange (to be created pursuant to the new federal health-care law).  Via a 61-36 vote in the House and a 20-20 vote in the Senate (with the tie broken favorably by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling), the Commonwealth joined Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Idaho in making use of a provision in the federal law that provides, “[A] state may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an Exchange in such State if such State enacts a law to provide for such a prohibition.”

By banning coverage (within Virginia’s exchange) of abortions that have long been ineligible for federal funding in major health programs such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (that is, all abortions except for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother), Governor McDonnell’s successfully adopted amendment now ensures that, as discussions on establishing a state exchange proceed, health plans seeking to be part of the exchange will be prohibited from covering abortion on demand.

Prohibiting abortion coverage within health exchanges (through which federal taxpayer money will be routed) has been a top priority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, beginning during the debate on federal health care restructuring over a year ago and continuing after its passage in March of 2010.  The Virginia Catholic Conference is encouraged by the Commonwealth’s important contribution yesterday to the ongoing national effort to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that people will not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions. With the addition of Virginia, at least 10 states now restrict abortion coverage in health insurance policies generally and/or in policies traded on exchanges.

Also last night, the General Assembly added funding to the state budget for abstinence programs.  Governor McDonnell’s proposal to provide this money was the Conference’s other top priority (again in alliance with other groups) during yesterday’s one-day session and was approved by the House, 69-29, and by the Senate, 20-20 (with Bolling again casting the deciding vote to break the tie favorably).

The two 20-20 votes provide another example of how essential constituent input is.  Large numbers of people throughout Virginia contacted their legislators in support of these pro-life, pro-family amendments and made a very considerable difference in the outcomes.

To join the Conference’s email alert network, please visit www.vacatholic.org

 

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By: Jeff Caruso

Between 2004 and 2010, five new state research programs have been created. Each of the five includes a provision making it clear that no company can benefit from the program if it performs research on embryonic stem cells or aborted fetuses within Virginia’s borders.

However, the biotech industry has recently been engaged in an aggressive two-fold push: (1) for more lucrative state financial incentives, and (2) against restrictions supported by pro-life advocates on incentive-seeking companies that conduct life-destroying research. Given this activity, a state policy is needed more than ever to push back on behalf of Virginia taxpayers, so that we are not forced to finance entities that conduct unethical, immoral, and destructive research.

Please click here, scroll down, and then click “Send Message” to weigh in on this critical issue. Ask the Governor to propose policies to ensure that, across all state programs, Virginia consistently tells companies they are not welcome if they bring research that requires human lives to be destroyed to our Commonwealth.

Please share this with others who may have the same concerns. Also, please consider signing up for the Virginia Catholic Conference’s email network so that you can receive alerts like this directly in the future.

Thank you for advocating for the sanctity of human life.

 

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UPDATE: The Bill was passed and new regulations were put in place. Read more here.

Critical vote expected on Senate floor on Wednesday, February 23!

By: Jeff Caruso

Abortion is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Though legislation proposed at the state level cannot put an end to legal abortion, it can considerably reduce the number of abortions and prevent policies that favor the abortion industry.

Such is the case with SB 924, which requires the Board of Health to promulgate regulations containing health and safety standards for certain medical facilities. On Monday, February 21, the House amended this bill to include abortion clinics among those facilities. The bill now heads directly to the Senate floor, and if a majority of Senators approve the House amendment, the amended bill, with the requirement to regulate abortion clinics, will proceed to the Governor’s desk! This historic Senate vote is expected to occur the afternoon of Wednesday, February 23.

It is vitally important that you contact your Senator today by clicking here, scrolling down, and sending him or her the pre-drafted message or one like it.

Please forward or share this post with as many people as possible today, so that they too can insist that the state’s abortion industry not be exempt from commonsense safety standards.

You also are invited to join the Conference’s advocacy network, which would enable you to receive regular alerts and updates from the Conference directly by email on respect-life, social-justice, and education issues. If interested, please click here and complete the very short electronic form that is provided.

 

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By: Jeff Caruso, Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference

Since before the Virginia General Assembly went into session on Jan. 12, the Virginia Catholic Conference has been busy working to ensure that proposed policies benefit the common good as understood in Catholic moral and social teaching, including respect for life from conception to natural death; preferential concern for the poor and “the least among us;’’ economic and social justice; support for the family and marriage; and parental choice in education.

Virginia Capitol, Richmond

Guided by the bishops and in a spirit of prayer, we’ve researched issues and held face-to-face meetings with legislators, government officials and other advocacy organizations.

Our recently developed agenda details the focus of our efforts during this 46-day session. High priority items include:

  • Protecting gains we made last year in restricting state abortion funding,
  • Ensuring that abortion clinics are subject to state regulation,
  • Preventing new biotech programs from funding embryonic stem cell research,
  • Stopping death penalty expansions,
  • Providing tax credits for corporate donations to scholarship programs for low-income K-12 students,
  • Providing immigrants with access to healthcare, and protecting them from harmful policies.

Especially now that the session has begun, the Virginia Catholic Conference is asking Catholics throughout the Commonwealth to join its efforts on behalf of life, dignity and the common good.

There are three key ways to become involved:

1) Act. Become a Conference’s e-mail advocacy network member and respond to its alerts.

  • Throughout the session (and beyond) members receive regular e-mail alerts pertaining to legislation being debated in the Virginia General Assembly (and, periodically, issues being considered in the U.S. Congress.) The Conference highlights the moral and social teaching involved, and urges its members to contact their legislator to advocate the Virginia Bishops’ stance. (This can be done with a few clicks of the mouse.) Also, members are encouraged to forward alerts to interested friends.
  • We know that our members’ legislative involvement has had a significant impact on legislation. During the 2010 session, for instance, legislation that significantly reduced abortion funding for Medicaid was attributed to constituent interest in the issue. We ask members to act on as many alerts as possible.

2) Advocate. Join the Virginia Catholic Conference at Catholic Advocacy Day in Richmond on Thursday, Jan. 27.

  • It’s a great chance to learn the issues, pray and take part in grassroots advocacy. Catholic Advocacy Day begins at St. Peter’s Church with prayer and a word from our bishops. Conference staff give updates on legislative items under consideration in this year’s General Assembly, then participants caucus with other Catholics from their state senatorial district to decide who and how they will discuss the issues with their state senator and delegate.
  • Register online at www.vacatholic.org.

3) Pray.

  • Prayer is the essential tool. We ask for prayers of wisdom and persistence for our state and federal lawmakers, executives and other government officials, and for our Bishops, Conference staff, our e-mail advocacy network members—all of whom are essential to this work on behalf of the Common Good.

We hope you will join us!

Take action at www.vacatholic.org:

  • Join the Virginia Catholic Conference network and receive alerts
  • Spread that link to friends
  • Join us for Catholic Advocacy Day

“In the Catholic moral tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process is a moral obligation.  This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and bear Christian witness in all we do.” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2007)

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