FaithWorld

Pope Francis tells President Obama of his concern for religious freedom in U.S.

(Pope Francis (R) talks with U.S. President Barack Obama as they exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican City March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Gabriel Bouys/Pool)

Pope Francis and Vatican officials on Thursday told U.S. President Barack Obama they were concerned about “religious freedom” in the United States, an apparent reference to the contraception mandate in Obama’s health care plan.

Obama held nearly an hour of private talks with the pope and then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry held separate talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and other diplomats.

The talks included “discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church” in the United States, including “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,” a Vatican statement said.

Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, widely opposed by Republicans, includes a provision that requires employers to cover the cost of contraception in their health insurance plans.

from The Great Debate:

Tackling inequality: Where a president meets a pope

There has been much speculation about President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. One Catholic church authority asserted, “it is not the task of the pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality.” The pope got that message -- he wrote it himself in his first official “Papal Exhortation” last year.

Yet Francis has also asserted that his papacy has a “grave responsibility” to  “exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” -- particularly to know the face of the poor and outcast.

For the pope, this scrutiny must take in the fierce public debate about government cuts that now overshadows U.S. politics. The left and the right are battling over sharp reductions in foods stamps and unemployment benefits, denial of healthcare to those least able to afford it and cuts in many programs designed to help the poor and needy.

from The Great Debate:

Why corporations don’t deserve religious freedom

On March 25 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, whose outcomes will decide whether corporations can exempt themselves from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), based on religious beliefs. The cases challenge a provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided insurance plans to include contraception coverage.

The rulings’ importance extends beyond the ACA, however. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its companion case, are also about Citizens United -- which established that corporate personhood includes freedom of speech, exercised, in part, by giving money to political causes. Now the court will decide whether corporations have freedom of religion as well, and whether on the basis of those rights, corporations can deprive services to others.

The court should reject this dangerous assertion. Corporations exist as separate legal entities precisely to distinguish their activities from those of their owners. It is that separation that Hobby Lobby threatens to erase.

Crown of Thorns relic paraded from Notre Dame to Sainte Chapelle in Paris

(French Archbishop Patrick Chauvet holds the Crown of Thorns relic during a procession outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

A relic venerated by Christians as the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus was paraded on Friday in Paris from Notre Dame Cathedral to the dazzling Gothic chapel built to house it in the 13th century.  The relic rarely leaves the cathedral and its return to the Sainte Chapelle, a medieval gem known for its soaring stained glass windows, and the Mass said to celebrate it were the first such events there since the 1789 French Revolution.

(The Crown of Thorns relic displayed during a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer )

Israeli diplomats’ strike looms over Pope Francis’s May visit to Holy Land

(A view of  Jerusalem, December 8, 2009.  REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A strike by Israeli Foreign Ministry staff has caused diplomats to cancel trips to the Jewish state and could endanger a visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis in May, union officials said.

Foreign Ministry staff called the strike on March 5 in a pay dispute and said they will not handle visits by foreign dignitaries, prompting Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende and other delegations to cancel trips to Israel this month.

Pope Francis is due to travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories at the end of May. “We aren’t handling that visit at all,” said trade union chief Yair Frommer.

U.S. company religion case on Obamacare may shake shareholder faith

(News microphones wait to capture reactions from U.S. Supreme Court rulings outside the court building in Washington, June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst )

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By Reynolds Holding

The U.S. Supreme Court may be getting ready to shake the faith of shareholders. Company boards have a legal duty to put business interests first. Yet a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that corporate healthcare insurance cover contraception could give biblical doctrine priority. Some laws designed to protect investors could suffer collateral damage.

French parents alone against Syrian jihadists recruiting their sons

(Dominique Bons, mother of 30-year-old Nicolas, a young convert to Islam who has died fighting in Syria, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Toulouse, southwestern France, March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

When Dominique Bons’ timid son stopped smoking overnight and started praying frequently at his home in the southern French city of Toulouse, she alerted the authorities.

They did nothing because Nicolas was not suspected of any crime. One day last year he disappeared. Then Bons was sent a text message saying the 30-year-old had been “martyred” on December 22 driving a truck bomb in the Syrian city of Homs.

from The Human Impact:

Burmese journalist beseeches brethren: Stop with the Muslim hate speech

The slight, soft-spoken woman onstage called on the media and the rest of the country to let go of narrow-minded nationalism.

“This is a time to fight for democratisation. We have to respect each and every ethnic (group) as a human being,” beseeched Mon Mon Myat, whose meek bearing veils her ferocity as a powerful freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.

It was refreshing to hear these words in a public forum in Myanmar because - let’s face it - such sentiments have been sorely lacking.

Salvation Army in New York settles long-running religious discrimination suit

Salvation Army members sing and dance at Rockefeller Center during Black Friday Sales in New York November 29, 2013. Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day holiday, has traditionally been the busiest shopping day in the United States. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The Salvation Army has settled a lawsuit brought a decade ago by now-former employees who accused the U.S. charity of pressuring them to follow its religious mission while they worked on government-funded social service projects.

The organization’s greater New York division agreed to provide employees of its government-funded services including daycare centers and homeless shelters a document saying it will not ask about their religious beliefs or require them to profess adherence to its religious policies, said the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the plaintiffs.

Pakistani Islam students set Hindu temple ablaze over blasphemy rumour

A Hindu temple burns after it was attacked in Larkana, southern Pakistan’s Sindh province, March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Faheem Soormro

Hundreds of angry Pakistanis attacked a Hindu temple and set it on fire in southern Pakistan overnight following a rumour that a member of the Hindu community had desecrated the Koran, police and community leaders said on Sunday.

The incident took place just before midnight on Saturday after locals in Larkana district alleged that Sangeet Kumar, 42, had torn out pages of Islam’s holy book and tossed them down on the street from the roof of his home.