In the News 9/15/21

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Statue of St. Junipero Serra defaced and knocked down

As I wrote yesterday, there’s a great deal of news out there, so much so that it’s hard to keep up. Here are some more stories that caught my eye about the faith life of the nation.

Smearing St. Junipero Serra. A bill to remove the statue of St. Junipero Serra from the state capitol grounds has passed the California legislature and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Assembly Bill 338 would replace the statue of Serra with one honoring the indigenous peoples of California. The statue of Serra was knocked down by protesters last year and has been in storage since. Unfortunately, in their desire to honor indigenous peoples, the state lawmakers have written into their bill a smear against Serra, accusing him of crimes the archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco insist he never committed. The bill includes the following language: “One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra.” The bill goes on: “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra.” In an op ed in the Wall Street Journal, archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco write, “While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people.” The archbishops record that Serra “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” When he was older and ill, Serra traveled to Mexico City, a trip of 2000 miles, to challenge the Spanish authorities to adopt a bill of rights for the indigenous peoples that he had written. The archbishops point out that the “war of extermination” against the native people of California began under Peter Burnett, the first governor of California, sixty years after Serra’s death and after the missions had been taken over by the government. It seems that St. Junipero Serra has become the scapegoat, the whipping boy, of the woke in California. Desiring to blame someone for the suffering the indigenous peoples of California endured centuries ago, suffering that still has consequences today, they identify the convenient target of a Spanish priest they know nothing about, except that he was European and he was a priest. They conclude, then, that he must have been a horrible exploiter of the natives. Of course, blaming Serra for atrocities committed by others centuries ago means that moderns don’t have to take responsibility for their own actions that impact people today. They can simply point to the virtue they’ve signaled and that makes it all okay. Virtue signaling covers a multitude of sins. I think that’s in the Bible somewhere. If you’re interested in reading a history of St. Junipero Serra, you can find one here, available on the website for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Judge rules against Catholic Diocese in firing substitute teacher. U. S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled that the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and Charlotte Catholic High School illegally discriminated against Lonnie Billard, a substitute teacher, when they fired Billard in October 2014 after he posted on social media his plans to enter into a same-sex marriage. Billard had formerly worked at the school full-time, teaching drama and English, but became a substitute teacher after retiring in 2012. In 2014, he posted on Facebook his plans to marry his same-sex partner. It was that public announcement contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church that led to his being informed in December 2014 that he would no longer be hired as a substitute teacher. Billard sued in 2017 and is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The lawsuit sought back pay and benefits, payment for damages and emotional distress, and a court order blocking the school and diocese from similarly discriminating in the future. The lawsuit claimed Billard was wrongly fired because of his plan to enter a same-sex marriage and “because he does not conform to sex-based stereotypes associated with men in our society.” Cogburn ruled that the diocese and high school discriminated against Billard on the basis of sex, pointing to the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court decision that “held it is impossible to discriminate against someone for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against them on the basis of sex.” Since Billard did not teach religion, Cogburn reasoned, than exemptions to Title VII, which allow for religious discrimination but not sex discrimination, did not apply. In 2015, then-communications director of the Charlotte diocese, David Hains, said that Billard was fired, “for going on Facebook, entering in a same-sex relationship and saying in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Hains claimed that continuing Billard’s employment would send a message of agreement with same-sex marriage and that, “He’s not being picked on because he’s gay. He lost his job as a substitute teacher because he broke a promise because he chose to oppose church teaching, something he promised he would not do.” Judge Cogburn’s decision is worrying. It requires that Catholic schools keep on their staff employees who publicly dispute the Church’s teaching and mission, even after those employees promise not to do so. Is any other company or organization required to keep on their employee roles those who publicly subvert the purpose of the company or organization? That the lawsuit would claim Billard was fired “because he does not conform to sex-based stereotypes associated with men in our society” strikes me as prejudicial. Is the Catholic Church now required to adjust her teachings to conform to the LGBTQ vision of sexual relations, or risk being accused of discrimination against those who don’t “conform to sex-based stereotypes”? The article from Catholic News Service linked above says, “In recent years the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and several federal court cases have advanced the claim that ‘sex stereotypes’ like the belief that that men should not marry men or that women should not date women constitutes illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.” So, Catholic teaching on marriage as God ordered it is, by definition, discriminatory and illegal. That’s troubling. The only way the Catholic Church (and, by the way, many other Christian traditions, as well as orthodox Judaism and Islam) can conform with discrimination laws is to toss their centuries-old teachings on the purpose of sex and marriage. That’s not likely. More likely, the Diocese of Charlotte will appeal this ruling, but other cases like it will continue to crowd the courts and burden the Church for years to come.

California school curriculum includes prayers to Aztec gods. A lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Thomas More Society accuses the California Department of Education of passing an ethnic studies curriculum that includes having students offer prayers to Aztec gods. The lawsuit demands that the prayers be removed from the curriculum. Frank Xu, President of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, on whose behalf the Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit, said, “The curriculum’s unequivocal promotion of five Aztec gods or deities through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice. This public endorsement of the Aztec religion fundamentally erodes equal education rights and irresponsibly glorifies anthropomorphic, male deities whose religious rituals involved gruesome human sacrifice and human dismemberment.” Defenders of the curriculum insist that the gods are not invoked as gods, but as principles or affirmations. Opponents insist this is a distinction without a difference. According to the Thomas More Society website (linked above), one of the “affirmations” called the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” “addresses the deities both by name and by their traditional titles, recognizes them as sources of power and knowledge, invokes their assistance, and gives thanks to them. In short, states the complaint, it is a prayer.” Hmmm … calls these Aztec gods by name and title, recognizes them as sources of power and knowledge, asks for their assistance, then thanks them for such. Yep. That’s a prayer. The curriculum calls for teachers to lead students in chanting these “affirmations” and also has students recite the Ashe Prayer from the Yoruba religion, an ancient philosophy in which many pagan traditions are rooted, including santeria and voodoo. Attorneys from the Thomas More Society sent a letter to Tony Thurmond, the California Department of Education’s State Superintendent, asking that the prayers be removed from the curriculum. When they received no response, they filed the lawsuit. I have no expectation that public schools will teach Christianity. I don’t even want them to, given the lack of knowledge of Christian doctrine and history most public school teachers prolly have. I wish they would teach a bit more about the importance of religion in the formation of the country, and not touch on religion only when teaching about the Salem witch trials or the Scopes trial. Religion has had an immense impact on the development of this country, and that should be included in our history classes. But, it sounds to me like the geniuses in California are making a disingenuous attempt to discredit Western religious traditions by familiarizing their students with non-Western religious traditions and favoring those traditions as part of an agenda to favor non-Western peoples and cultures. Too cynical? Sounds too much like a conspiracy theory? I don’t know. It seems to me that teachers could teach the positive and negative of ancient cultures without pushing students to participate in chants and prayers. That’s just weird. Save the prayers for home and church.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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