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Orthodox leader discusses religious freedom, climate change with Biden

null / Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I discussed religious freedom and climate change with U.S. leaders on Monday in Washington, D.C., and announced an interfaith initiative to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.

After the Orthodox patriarch met with President Joe Biden on Monday, Oct. 25, the White House stated that the two leaders “discussed efforts to confront climate change, steps to end the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of religious freedom as a human right.” 

Bartholomew also met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday. A State Department spokesperson said afterward that the two “discussed the U.S. commitment to supporting religious freedom around the world.” Their discussion also included the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed that the reopening of the Halki Seminary remains a continued priority for the Biden Administration,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. 

Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople since Oct. 22, 1991, is viewed as “first among equals” of the various Eastern Orthodox churches. On Monday, President Biden congratulated him on his 30th anniversary as patriarch, and Pope Francis in an Oct. 22 letter expressed gratitude for his “profound personal bond” with Bartholomew. 

The 81-year-old Orthodox leader was hospitalized on Sunday as a precaution, after suffering from exhaustion upon arriving in the United States, but he was released on Monday. Bartholomew is scheduled to be in the United States until Nov. 3, and on Oct. 28 he will be receiving an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame.

The Orthodox patriarch also announced a new interfaith initiative to encourage COVID-19 vaccination on Monday.

After meeting with Biden, Bartholomew told the press that Biden is “a man of faith and vision" who “will offer to this wonderful country and to the world the best leadership and direction within his considerable power.” 

Bartholomew said that he would be working alongside Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Muslim and Jewish leaders to encourage vaccination against COVID-19. 

“We shall make an appeal to the whole world to facilitate the vaccination of everybody,” he said, emphasizing the need to vaccinate the world’s poorest, “so that everybody may be safe.” 

"The president accepted our common initiative with great satisfaction,” he said. 

Speaking with Secretary Blinken, the patriarch said that he was “grateful to the American administration, the administration of the United States, for the continuous support for the Ecumenical Throne and its ideas and values which we try to protect, struggling at the same time to survive in our historic seat in Istanbul.”

Bartholomew met with Biden ahead of Friday, Oct. 29, when Biden and his wife Jill will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Head of Christian advocacy group resigns over ties to illegal campaign donations

Toufic Baaklini at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, 2016 / In Defense of Christians

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

The president of an advocacy group for Middle Eastern Christians has resigned from the organization over his connection to illegal contributions to the campaign of a now-indicted congressman.

On Sunday, Oct. 24, the Washington, D.C.-based group In Defense of Christians announced that it had accepted the resignation of president and board chairman Toufic Baaklini. The organization noted “allegations of wrongdoing recently reported in the media in connection with campaign contributions.”

Earlier this year, Baaklini admitted to serving as a willing conduit for illegal donations by the billionaire Gilbert Chagoury to the re-election campaign of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). Both Fortenberry and Chagoury have ties to In Defense of Christians, and Fortenberry last week was indicted on charges of lying to federal prosecutors about the illegal contributions.  

In Defense of Christians stated on Sunday that “Any contributions made by, or through Mr. Baaklini to Members of Congress or candidates were in his personal capacity.”

The group did not respond to CNA’s request for comment on Monday. On Oct. 26, the group announced that vice president Tonia Khouri would assume the role of president, effective immediately. 

In Defense of Christians was founded in 2014 and has advocated for policies to protect Middle Eastern Christian minorities, such as congressional resolutions recognizing ISIS genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria, and emergency relief for Christian genocide victims. The group has also advocated for policies to support stability in Lebanon and resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Nearly seven months prior to the announcement of Baaklini’s resignation from the group, he signed a March 31 deferred prosecution agreement with federal officials stating that he had knowingly helped Chagoury, a Nigerian-born billionaire of Lebanese descent, illegally contribute money to a federal campaign that was later reported to be Fortenberry’s re-election campaign.

Currently serving his ninth term in Congress, Fortenberry, a Catholic, was twice questioned by federal investigators about the illegal contributions in March and July of 2019. Last week, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on two charges of making false statements to the investigators and one charge of concealing information.

In a federal court in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, Fortenberry pleaded not guilty to all the charges. A pretrial conference has been set for Dec. 7, with a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 14. Fortenberry was ordered to post a $50,000 bond, according to news reports.

Chagoury and Fortenberry both have ties to In Defense of Christians. Fortenberry has been recognized by the group for his work in 2015 and 2016 to help pass a congressional resolution recognizing the genocide of Iraqi Christians at the hands of ISIS. He also served as a co-chair of the group’s 2020 virtual summit.

Around the time the illegal contributions were made to his campaign, Fortenberry appeared at a California chapter event of In Defense of Christians on Feb. 20, 2016, according to the group’s March 2016 newsletter. On Feb. 21, he was inducted into the Vatican Order of St. Gregory - an order which Chagoury is also a member of - according to the newsletter 

Chagoury was previously a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, and his philanthropic causes include education and health care in Lebanon. In 2014, he helped organize and finance the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians in Washington, D.C., according to his website.

Chagoury has served as Ambassador to the Vatican for the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, and according to his website, he has received a number of honors from the Vatican. He was made Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and was given the order’s Grand Cross by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Pope Francis made him Knight Commander with Star in the Order of Pope Pius IX, in December 2016.

He has drawn controversy in the past for his connection to former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, and was reportedly denied a visa by the State Department in 2015 because of his alleged support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party designated by the United States as a terror organization. According to the website OpenSecrets, he denied support for the group, but had reportedly funded a Lebanese politician who then funneled the money to Hezbollah.

Baaklini, according to court records, knew that Chagoury, a foreign national, was ineligible to contribute directly or indirectly to U.S. federal candidates. He nonetheless received $50,000 from Chagoury in January 2016, understanding that part of it would be used for federal campaign donations.

According to his signed statement, Baaklini provided $30,000 in cash to “Individual H” in Los Angeles, who then hosted a February 2016 fundraiser for a federal campaign, and recruited other donors to contribute to the campaign. The group did so knowing they would be reimbursed with Chagoury’s money. 

The campaign in question was later reported to be Fortenberry’s, and Fortenberry’s indictment matches the details of the illegal transactions with those listed in court records for Chagoury and Baaklini.

In a conversation with Baaklini in late February 2016 after the fundraiser, Fortenberry appeared to notice the suspicious nature of the transactions, according to Baaklini’s signed statement. He allegedly asked Baaklini if he thought anything was wrong with the fundraiser. When Baaklini replied that nothing was wrong, but asked Fortenberry the reason for his question, Fortenberry allegedly said “something to the effect of, ‘because it all came from the same family,’” according to court records.

According to his indictment, Fortenberry lied to investigators in 2019 by claiming he was not aware of illegal contributions to his campaign by a foreign national, and that he was not aware of Baaklini’s involvement in the illegal contributions. 

According to federal prosecutors, he was informed by “Individual H,” the host of the 2016 fundraiser, of Baaklini’s involvement in the contributions in 2018. Furthermore, the fundraiser host allegedly told Fortenberry of having received $30,000 from Baaklini and distributing it to other individuals to donate to Fortenberry’s campaign, and that the money “probably” came from Chagoury.

By that time, “Individual H” had already acted as an FBI and IRS informant on the illegal contributions, having done so by September 2016, according to court documents.

According to the indictment, the individual said that Chagoury “probably” provided the money for the contributions “because he was so grateful for your support [for] the cause.”

However, Fortenberry allegedly did not file an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission after having been informed of the illegal contributions, according to his indictment. He did not try to return the illegal contributions until July 2019 when his campaign disgorged them - after his interviews with FBI investigators - his indictment notes.

Furthermore, Fortenberry allegedly continued to ask the individual to host another fundraiser, the indictment stated.

In a video posted to YouTube on Oct. 18 before the indictment was announced, Fortenberry said he let the FBI investigators into his house at the 2019 meetings and spoke with them to cooperate with them.

“We thought we were trying to help,” he said.

Chagoury illegally contributed a total of $180,000 to four federal campaigns, including Fortenberry’s, during the 2012, 2014, and 2016 election cycles. He reached a settlement with federal prosecutors for his actions in March 2021, agreeing to pay $1.8 million.

According to an analysis of court records by the website OpenSecrets, the illegal contributions listed in Chagoury’s deferred prosecution agreement match those listed in Federal Election Commission records for the joint fundraising committee for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, as well as to the re-election campaigns of House candidates Lee Terry and Darrell Issa in 2014, and Jeff Fortenberry in 2016. 

Chagoury’s signed statement lists eight contributions to Fortenberry’s campaign dated March 12, 2016, which were reimbursed with his money.

Court records reveal that Chagoury in 2014 expressed an interest in contributing to politicians with whom he shared a “common cause.”

According to his signed statement, he was told by “Individual H” – who served as a conduit for his 2012 contributions to Romney’s re-election – that, by donating to candidates from “less populous states,” his contributions “would be more noticeable” and would thereby result in “increased donor access to the politician.” Chagoury then set about sending the individual money and directing him to donate to two 2014 congressional campaigns. 

According to his signed statement, Chagoury directed “Individual H” to donate $20,000 to a federal campaign in 2014, and the individual then found several other people to donate to the campaign. 

Chagoury and “Individual H” met again “at a conference in Washington, D.C. in September 2014,” where Chagoury suggested that the individual that host a fundraiser for “Candidate C” and contribute $30,000 to the candidate’s fund, which Chagoury would then reimburse for. It is unclear if the conference named in the documents was the In Defense of Christians summit, held from Sept. 9-11 in Washington, D.C. that year.

Chagoury’s statement notes that “Individual H” contributed $30,000 to the “Candidate C Fund” on Sept. 28, 2014.

Abortion is failing women: An interview with Angela Wu Howard

Angela Wu Howard, a legal scholar with Becket, a nonprofit organization that focuses on religious liberty issues. / Courtesy Angela Wu Howard

Denver Newsroom, Oct 25, 2021 / 15:50 pm (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

On Dec. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Many legal experts say the case presents the most momentous test yet of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. At issue is the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 2018 law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

As with any high-profile Supreme Court case, dozens of amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs have been filed both in support of and in opposition to the Mississippi law.

Angela Wu Howard, a legal scholar who has practiced law in the U.S. and internationally, is one of the signers of an amicus brief supporting Mississippi’s pro-life law. The brief argues that women’s “social, economic, and political opportunities” were already increasing before Roe, and that abortion is not necessary for women’s socioeconomic success. 

The following is a transcript of CNA’s interview with Howard. It has been edited for length and clarity.

CNA: What is your personal and faith background? 

My parents immigrated here [to the U.S.] from Taiwan, and I grew up in Queens, New York, and in the suburbs of New Jersey. I’m a Catholic convert. I became a Christian as an adult and was baptized in the Church of England in Brussels during a year abroad, and then became Catholic about 12 years later.

CNA: How did you come to the place where you are professionally?

I studied modern intellectual history during undergrad and was always interested in the way people think. Eventually, I went to law school, and then I studied European law after getting my J.D. I had a career in international religious freedom law, and then went back to school to get my doctorate in legal philosophy.

CNA: What brought you to the place of signing the amicus brief with the 239 other women?

I work for Becket, which is a nonprofit public interest law firm that defends the religious freedom of people of all faiths. Our clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Becket filed an amicus in this case focused solely on the religious freedom implications, making the argument that the constitutional structure of Roe and Casey [the landmark 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed a right to abortion] escalated religious freedom conflicts where there did not need to be any, and urging the Court to replace the Roe framework so that religious freedom needn’t be such a proxy for abortion. 

Separately, I know one of the authors of [women scholars and professionals] brief, Erika Bachiochi. She asked me to sign this brief filed on behalf of women scholars and professionals with terminal degrees. I read it, and I agreed with it, so I signed it in my personal capacity. I don’t think our nation’s laws should be based on a lie, and this brief corrects the record.

CNA: The amicus lays out an argument that, contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion has not facilitated women’s advancement, and in reality has hurt women. Can you explain why you agree with this argument?

Roe and Casey were premised on certain ideas about women in society, and about the necessity of abortion for women's advancement. This brief attacks the faulty premise that women have what the Court in previous cases called a “reliance interest” on the availability of abortion, that abortion supposedly ensured women's capacity to participate equally in the economic and social life of a nation.   

The brief points out that the political scientist whose work is at the heart of this premise — she did not herself claim any causal link between abortion and women's improved economic and social status. In fact, contrary to the way the Court used her work, she specifically said that abortion was actually a result of the changing economic and social status of women, and not the cause. The brief spends quite a lot of time deconstructing that argument and looking at the [48] years since Roe and what has actually happened to women in society and in the workplace. 

Although women in the workforce rose [as abortion increased] in the few years after Roe, in subsequent years, women's status in society and access to economic and social opportunity also continued to rise when abortion levels dipped precipitously. So, there wasn't even a correlation, much less causation. 

The brief also outlines how wide access to abortion, and the assumption that abortion is not only available, but seen as necessary, has actually done damage to women. It severed sex from any idea of a joint future between the man and the woman who have sex, an act that often naturally leads to parenthood, and to children. It also enabled this idea that single parenthood is a woman's choice, and solely the woman's choice, and that it's solely the woman's burden, because she could get an abortion, but she elected not to. It really ties into the feminization of poverty. 

[The brief] very succinctly outlines how abortion has enabled corporate actors, and public, private, and social actors to basically avoid accommodation for women with children, and avoid accommodation needed for the flourishing of the family. The brief points out that the U.S. lags behind almost every other developed country in providing basic workplace accommodations for family, for parenthood, and for paid parental leave.

CNA: What do you think is missing from the mainstream conversation around this topic with regards to what you just shared?

I was not always pro-life, even as a Christian. There was a moment in time when I realized that my position was untenable. I volunteered as a rape crisis counselor and at an overnight homeless shelter, I worked in domestic violence, and I helped to pass the Violence Against Women Act as an intern. My views on abortion have been deeply colored by that work, and, even when I thought that abortion should be legal and was uncertain about what kind of limits should be placed on it, I knew that our society was failing women. 

Now, I have the view that abortion is one of the signs of how badly we are failing women. The vast majority of women who choose abortion choose it for reasons that are entirely within our grasp to address and to ameliorate, and we, as a society, choose not to. The vast majority of women choosing abortion — sometimes multiple times — are doing it for social and economic reasons. Those reasons do not justify the taking of a life, and it's on us to fix them.

When you look at the vast majority of women choosing abortion, what they want is not to have to sacrifice their children. What they want is to have their children and have the emotional, social, and economic means to support and love their children. We’re failing, we are telling them that the only option for advancement is to take the life of their own child. Then, we’re taking a further step to diminish what is actually happening by characterizing the child as a clump of cells, and it’s a scientific lie. 

CNA: We hear a lot about the pro-life position being “anti-science.” How do you respond to that argument and what would you want women to know?

This is a major problem that we're coming up against as a society, that when we talk about anything remotely complex, we immediately go to these tropes and these ad hominem attacks. We're not looking at the facts as they really are. We’re not looking at what women really want. 

Women deserve to know what abortion actually does, the mechanics — many women have no idea how abortion is actually performed. Women deserve to understand the stages of fetal development, that a child can have a heartbeat within weeks, and arms and hands that touch the face within 10 weeks. And they deserve to know that there are alternatives to taking that life, that there are many stable, loving couples that would love to welcome their children in adoption, and that they, themselves, have access to material, psychological, emotional, and social support if they decide to keep the baby. 

That's not what's happening. When they go to Planned Parenthood, they’re not told any of this. They’re only given one option.

And there’s an enormous misunderstanding of what abortion actually is, what constitutes abortion. Doctors have always had a duty to save both lives, to save the lives of both mother and child, and when a child is lost in that process, that’s what moral theologians call double effect — a grievous harm that results from pursuing a good end. It’s not abortion; it’s not the intentional taking of an innocent human life.  

So, I think that this idea that pro-lifers are unscientific and don’t understand the science is frankly, really ironic, because it is often people who are for unfettered abortion that seem not to understand the stages of fetal development or what abortion actually is. 

CNA: You mentioned that you were not always pro-life. How did your perspective change?

I had always thought that abortion would be, for any woman, an incredibly difficult choice, and I still believe that. In an age where women are “shouting their abortion,” I still hope that it is a difficult decision. But, underlying that idea was something that I didn't want to think about, which is why

Because of the background I had had working with women in very painful circumstances, I always thought it just doesn't seem right to force a woman to carry a child to term. It seemed like such a physical burden. So, I thought I was just going to remain pro-choice while doing everything I could to support women in other ways, by making it possible for her not to have to choose abortion. 

I found myself doing all of this work, but I remember sitting in the office of a particular Dominican priest before I became Catholic and this topic came up. I remember stating my position, and he kind of sussed out that I did think a human life was at stake, and that I didn't, at that point, believe that it was just a clump of cells. I believed, both from a faith perspective and what I had learned in biology — things like that the baby's DNA is completely there from the beginning, that it was a human life at stake.

But I felt I could not impose that burden on another woman. It is very common that a lot of women say, ‘Well, I would never choose the abortion, but how can I make somebody else not choose it?’ 

The priest said to me, “What if there was a particular class of persons, of human persons, and you never saw them or heard from them, and perhaps they pose some sort of a burden on others, and you found out that they were systematically being eliminated. Is there any other class of human beings where you would think this could be justified?” 

I couldn't say “Yes” to that. It was a very defining moment where I thought, “I can't defend this anymore.” 

CNA: Was there anything else that convicted you to be pro-life moving forward?

When I had my first child. Pregnancy is really beautiful, and it can be quite difficult. You are carrying a child, and your body is in full participation in creating this other life. I remember thinking when I was pregnant that I had so much more sympathy for women who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant, for women who were afraid. 

Angela Wu Howard with her family in Alexandria, Virginia. The legal scholar cites her experience having her first child as a major turning point in her becoming strongly pro-life. Photo by Erin Donner.
Angela Wu Howard with her family in Alexandria, Virginia. The legal scholar cites her experience having her first child as a major turning point in her becoming strongly pro-life. Photo by Erin Donner.

I also became so much more passionate about defending the unborn because I knew that this was a life, I knew this was a vulnerable human being that I had a sacred duty to protect, even though it required sacrifice on my part. I grew in my empathy for women who find themselves in difficult or painful situations, and also in my empathy for unborn children, for the life that they carry and how much we, as a society, not just women alone, owe to them. 

CNA: What are your hopes for the future of the pro-life movement?

Whether or not Dobbs succeeds, and regardless of what happens at the legislative level, if that's where abortion law goes, I think the pro-life movement has a duty to women, to children, to fathers, and to families to create a pro-life culture, a whole life culture. That means providing the circumstances where families can flourish, and where human dignity is respected in all aspects of life. I think the movement as a whole can do a great deal better in actively presenting women with alternatives to abortion, and we can do that regardless of whether or not abortion is illegal. 

In every city we lived in, we have, in our small way, supported or volunteered with pro-life ministries that help pregnant women and mothers, long after birth. There are always so many women who need help — they want to keep their babies — and these crisis pregnancy centers and homes are amazing, but they are always underfunded. 

This emphasis on material and spiritual support does not diminish the legal case for limiting or banning abortion, because there is something really critical at stake there, and that is the inherent value of every human life, an accurate understanding of the science of life, and our willingness as a society to sacrifice for the vulnerable. But the principles that you see at stake in Dobbs and in all of these abortion cases bleed over into many areas of life that people who are not particularly concerned about abortion should be and are concerned about. I would think that even if you are not pro-life, you would want to help women keep their babies.

Religious actors, in particular, should do all the more to present women with viable alternatives. There should be publicly and privately funded alternatives for women in every city in America.

There’s another aspect to our witness, too, which we talked about earlier — creating a society that welcomes and supports families. Seamus Hasson, the founder of Becket, is deeply Catholic and has seven children. He set out to create a workplace where families could flourish, where he wouldn’t lose lawyers as soon as they had families to support. We have great maternity and paternity leave. Part-time and remote work has always been common for at least a season. 

I am consistently impressed by what a non-issue parenthood and being a mother is in the quality of work produced. The firm searches for excellence, and has largely eliminated lifestyle barriers such that parents, and mothers in particular, can continue to be within the field of consideration.

The pro-life movement needs to be the leader in supporting people who come with relationships, families, obligations. Your job is not just supporting you and your ambitions, it’s supporting you as a whole human being. It can be a real witness in the pro-life movement to say, You do not have to leave your children behind to be successful here.

CNA: If somebody was considering an abortion and was talking with you about it today, what would you say to them?

I would ask for her story. I would want her to feel seen and heard. I would hope that she knows how deeply loved and valued she is as a human being, and I would want her to know that she is strong enough to choose life. 

There are people waiting to be there for her, whether she chooses adoption or chooses to rear the baby on her own. There are people who want to help. She doesn’t have to sacrifice her children in order to flourish in life.

US bishops warn against ‘extreme’ abortion provisions in budget bills

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the USCCB religious liberty committee / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Oct 25, 2021 / 15:02 pm (CNA).

Spending bills introduced last week in the U.S. Senate would force employers and insurers to cover and pay for abortion, and do not include longtime protections for conscience rights, the U.S. bishops’ conference warned on Friday.  

"The bills released by the Senate Appropriations chairman this week represent a radical departure from the will of the American people and the principle of justice for all,” said a statement released Friday, Oct. 22 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas. 

Dolan leads the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, while Nauman is the chairman of the conference’s pro-life committee. 

“By proposing to eliminate the Hyde and Weldon Amendments, among other longstanding, bipartisan pro-life provisions, the Senate is staking out an extreme position of forcing taxpayers to pray for the taking of innocent unborn human life and forcing health care providers to participate in this injustice,” they said. 

The Hyde amendment prohibits the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. The Weldon amendment bars federal agencies, programs, state governments, and local governments from receiving federal money if they discriminate against health care entities that do not provide, pay for, cover, or refer for abortions. 

Each of these amendments is typically included each year in the appropriations bills that apportion funding for the Department of Health and Human Services. Neither policy is included in this year’s appropriations bill, the text of which was released on Tuesday, Oct. 19. 

While the bills contain “many life-affirming provisions that help vulnerable people, including pregnant moms, refugees, low-income families, and the elderly,” Dolan and Naumann said that this level of concern “must also extend to our vulnerable brothers and sisters in the womb.” 

“We reiterate the fact that funding the destruction of innocent unborn human lives, and forcing people to participate, are grave abuses of human rights,” they said. “We call on the Senate to prevent this injustice by passing appropriations bills that fully support and protect human dignity and the most vulnerable among us.” 

The House in July passed appropriations bills without the Hyde and Weldon amendments included. If the final version of the appropriations bill excludes the Hyde amendment, it would mark the first time in decades that the federal budget allowed funding of abortion in Medicaid.

Human rights begin in the womb, Cardinal Dolan says

Cardinal Timothy Dolan. / Stephen Driscoll/CNA

New York City, N.Y., Oct 23, 2021 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

The first step to ending all forms of violence in society— whether related to crime, racism, or poverty— is ending the violence of abortion, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote in an Oct. 20 column. 

“I propose [violence] will not end until we stop the presumed untouchable radical abortion license that seems to have captivated a segment of our society,” Dolan wrote in his Catholic New York column.

“As Mother Teresa wrote, ‘We must not be surprised when we hear of murder, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left for us but to kill each other?’”

In a politically and culturally divided society, the one thing that seems to unite all sides, Dolan wrote, “is the worry that our world has lost a basic respect for life.”

Dolan cited several compelling examples of lamentable treatment of human life, including the plight of millions of destitute refugees and migrants; the recent horrific scenes during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan; disregard by some for vulnerable lives during the coronavirus pandemic; violent crime, including the murder of George Floyd; the rise in suicides, especially among the young; and the frequent spectre, in so many places, of mass shootings. 

These examples, he wrote, show how “human life is now treated as useless, worthless, disposable.” He cited Pope Francis’ words on the subject, that such things are part of a “throwaway-culture.”

Dolan argued that laws allowing for the killing and dismemberment of innocent babies in the womb send a powerful anti-life message that threatens everyone. 

“Think about it: if the fragile life of an innocent baby in the womb of her/his mother— which nature protects as the safest place anywhere—can be terminated, who is secure?” Dolan wrote.

“If conveniences, ‘choices,’ or ‘my rights’ can trump the life of the baby in the womb, what human life is unthreatened?...When the law allows vulnerable life to be destroyed, forces health care workers to do it against their consciences, and demands that our tax money subsidize it, what message are we giving about the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of life?”

Dolan noted Robert F. Kennedy’s observation that “the health and moral fiber of society is gauged by the way we protect the most helpless and vulnerable.” 

“Who is more fragile and unable to defend herself/himself than the tiny infant in the womb?” he asked. 

“To suck that baby out of the womb, dismember it, or poison it is, as Pope Francis describes, like hiring a ‘hitman’ to assassinate a victim.”

Dolan urged all men and women, with faith or without, to speak up for the “defenseless” unborn babies and to denounce the “right” to abortion as “inhumane, violent, and contrary to human rights.”

Oklahoma City archbishop issues call to prayer for end to abortion, death penalty

Archbishop Paul Coakley. Courtesy photo. / null

Oklahoma City, Okla., Oct 23, 2021 / 12:11 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has issued a call to prayer for the abolition of the death penalty and for the end to abortion in Oklahoma. 

“We must pray for a renewed focus on the precious gift of life - all life from conception until natural death,” said Coakley in a statement published on the archdiocesan website Oct. 20. “We need urgent prayers for our leaders that they have wisdom and courage to create laws and policies that respect the dignity of human life.”

Oklahoma is scheduled to execute seven individuals between Oct. 28 and March 10. The state’s last execution was on Jan. 15, 2015. 

“I ask that we offer special prayers now through the beginning of Advent for greater respect for life, and to pray on the day of the execution for victims of these horrendous crimes and their families, and for the souls of the condemned,” said Coakley.  “As Saint John Paul II said in his encyclical, ‘The Gospel of Life,’ may God grant that all who believe in Jesus proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time.”

October is regarded by the USCCB as “Respect Life Month” and the “Month of the Rosary.” 

Coakley encouraged those looking to respond to his call to prayer to pray the rosary, spend time in adoration, pray every day explicitly for an end to abortion and capital punishment, and to pray for the respect of all life.

Oklahoma had previously paused the use of the death penalty following the botched execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett. Medical professionals repeatedly failed to insert an IV into Lockett’s veins, and the execution was halted after 33 minutes. 

Lockett eventually died 10 minutes after the execution was paused due to a massive heart attack.

Indigenous prayers, dancing in San Bernardino Synod Mass spark backlash

Michael Madrigal, a lay minister in the Diocese of San Bernardino, recites the “Native American Prayer to the Four Directions” at the beginning of the diocese’s opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality, Oct. 17, 2021 at Holy Angels Church in Riverside, California. / Screen grab photo of YouTube video.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 23, 2021 / 11:33 am (CNA).

The Diocese of San Bernardino says its opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality Oct. 17 sought to celebrate the California diocese’s rich cultural diversity and welcome those on the “periphery” of the Church.

But the liturgy’s unusual pageantry, featuring liturgical dancers, a Native American prayer to the “four directions,” and the appearance at the end of Mass of a colorfully costumed figure that resembled traditional representations of an Aztec demon, has raised eyebrows and sparked criticism on social media.

“Paganism in full bloom,” read one comment on YouTube. “This is an absolute disgrace to God and His Holy Church,” stated another.

The Synod on Synodality is a global consultative process that Pope Francis initiated earlier this month to gather input from Catholics and others around the world about important issues confronting the Church. Many U.S. dioceses held Masses last weekend to inaugurate a yearlong period of listening sessions and other means of soliciting feedback.

Bishop Alberto Rojas was the main celebrant of the San Bernardino diocese’s approximately two-hour-long opening Mass, held Sunday evening at Queen of Angels Church in Riverside, California. San Bernardino Bishop Emeritus Gerald R. Barnes concelebrated the Mass.

The live streamed, multi-lingual liturgy began in dramatic fashion. A lay minister who works at a nearby Indian reservation led the procession into the sanctuary, waving a large bird feather with one hand while carrying a basket in the other, to the accompaniment of beating drums.

After circling the altar and arriving at the lectern, Michael Madrigal, who the diocese identified as a lay minister at St. Joseph Mission Catholic Church on the Soboba Indian Reservation, removed a wooden rattle from the basket and shook it while chanting in a Native American language. Then, in English, he recited the “Native American Prayer of the Four Directions.”

“We begin to the North,” Madrigal began. “It is the direction of the cool winter snows and ice. It is the direction of our healing medicines from where we receive prayer and ceremony and blessings from our creator. In this direction, we pray for all of our spiritual leaders. We pray for strength and blessings for Pope Francis, as he has called us together for this year of Synod. We pray for all of our bishops, priests, religious, and community leaders. We ask you to give them wisdom, strength for the journey.” Similar prayers directed to the East, South, and West invoked the Trinity and asked God for guidance, healing, and protection.

You can watch the full Synod Mass in the YouTube video below. The Mass begins at the 7:53 mark. The entrance procession begins at the 11:15 mark. Matachines dancers appear at the 2:03:13 mark.

Contacted by CNA, a spokesperson for the diocese explained in an email that the prayer’s significance is two-fold. First, the prayer is meant to “reflect the multicultural character of the Diocese and to give voice to Catholic expressions that could be considered on the periphery.”

Second, “this prayer, by its nature, helps the faithful reflect on the entire web of life that God has created — a central idea in Pope Francis’s [encyclical] Laudato Si.”

There is a danger, however, that cultural expressions during the Mass can distract from the proper focus on the Eucharist, said Fr. Daniel Cardó, Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.

“There are many occasions in the life of a diocese or a parish for cultural and self-expression, but the Mass is not the place for these,” Cardó wrote in an email to CNA. 

“True and lasting ecclesial unity comes from the Eucharist, not from our well-

intentioned human experiments,” he stated. “Celebrating the sacraments according to the rubrics and their spirit is the ordinary and simple path for genuine participation in the graces God offers through them.”

Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino during the diocese’s opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality, Oct. 17, 2021 at Queen of Angels Church in Riverside, California. Screen grab photo of YouTube video.
Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino during the diocese’s opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality, Oct. 17, 2021 at Queen of Angels Church in Riverside, California. Screen grab photo of YouTube video.

In his homily, Rojas described the synodal path as an invitation to listen to and welcome “all the people in the margins of society.”

“Guided by the Holy Spirit, we come together from different cultures and languages around the world, but united in Christ as one family of families to pray and to listen to each other,” he continued. “We want all the people in the margins of society to know that they are welcome in our communities because they are all children of God created in the same image and likeness of God our Father.”

Near the end of the Mass, Rojas took a moment to explain the symbolism of the entrance procession.

“If you noticed, when we entered the Church, the entrance procession, it was a little different than what we have done in the past,” the bishop said. “Normally, the priest or the presider or the bishops come in the very back, at the end of the process. You noticed this time we were in the middle, symbolizing walking together.”

Moments later, traditional Mexican Indian dancers, called matachines, wearing bells on their clothing and tall, feathered headdresses, filed in front of the altar. After a final blessing, interspersed with loud drum beats, they processed out of the church, dancing.

One of the two drummers positioned at the foot of the steps leading to the altar appeared to be wearing a jaguar costume, which some viewers associated with the Aztec jaguar-demon Texcatilpoca. The diocese did not respond to a followup email from CNA seeking an explanation.

While some social media commentators said they were deeply offended by some of the cultural aspects of the Mass, the Church generally has provided wide discretion in the liturgical use of cultural traditions.

Inculturation of the liturgy has a long history, but has come to particular prominence since the Second Vatican Council's constitution on the sacred liturgy included norms for adapting the liturgy to the culture and traditions of peoples. 

Echoing Sacrosanctum Concilium and recent documents of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates that “the pursuit of inculturation does not have as its purpose in any way the creation of new families of rites, but aims rather at meeting the needs of a particular culture, though in such a way that adaptations introduced either into the Missal or coordinated with other liturgical books are not at variance with the proper character of the Roman Rite.”

Cardó, however, said there is a proper time and place for celebrating cultural traditions and diversity.

“Thankfully, there are plenty of occasions for other kinds of human and cultural exchanges,” he stated. “But the Mass is the supreme act of adoration, thanksgiving, expiation, and petition, and this is truly experienced through a beautiful and reverent celebration of the Eucharist.”

Here’s how to take a local Catholic pilgrimage in the U.S.

The Sanctuary of Chimayo / Modern Catholic Pilgrim Facebook

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 23, 2021 / 06:41 am (CNA).

The most popular pilgrimages for Catholics range from the Holy Land to the Camino de Santiago. But, pilgrims should know, these faith-filled trips can also be as simple as walking to a local church.

“Choose a place to go, [it] can be as short as a block away,” Will Peterson, the founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, told EWTN News Nightly on Oct. 15. “I invite people to not make it too complicated.”

The mission of Peterson’s group is to deepen faith and build community in the U.S. through the longstanding Catholic tradition of making pilgrimages on foot. While many people think of traveling overseas for pilgrimages, they should also consider staying local, he said. 

“There are places worthy of pilgrimage here,” he stressed. For Holy Week, he pointed to New Mexico as a pilgrimage destination.

“Chimayo is a great spiritual place in northern New Mexico where on Good Friday every year there's like 30,000 people who make walked pilgrimage,” he said.

Another, called Wisconsin Way, begins outside Green Bay at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the only approved Marian apparition site in the country. Founded in 2013 by a local priest, Fr. Andrew Kurz, the trip is approximately 137 miles.

Pilgrimages, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are an important part of the Catholic faith and “evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal and prayer.”

Catholics can begin their pilgrimages as soon as today. For the month of October, leading up to the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1, Modern Catholic Pilgrim encourages Catholics to walk with the saints by praying for the intercession of a local parish patron saint as they walk to the church named after him or her.

“Then the next time you're there for Mass on Sunday, it’s going to kind of change your experience because you’ve journeyed there as a holy space,” Peterson urged.  

Peterson draws his inspiration from a trip to Rome eight years ago. That experience set him on fire spiritually, he said. Now, he hopes that his group will infuse an appreciation of pilgrimages in the U.S.

Making a pilgrimage on foot is a “very ancient tradition for Christians, but feels kind of contemporary and new [for the U.S.] because we don’t really have a culture of it,” he said. “So we’re excited to be part of that development of the culture.”

Will Roe be overturned? Here are 6 notable Supreme Court decisions that have been struck down

Young people hold signs opposing abortion during the March for Life in Washington, D.C. / Addie Mena/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 22, 2021 / 18:22 pm (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

Since its 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, the U.S. Supreme Court has exercised judicial review, deciding whether laws violate the country's constitution. These decisions are then used as the precedents for further decisions, creating a stable legal landscape.

Exceptions can occur, however, when the court subsequently decides it erred grievously, or when the U.S. Constitution has been amended following court decisions.

Interest in these cases is heightened as the court will hear oral arguments Dec. 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The case is a test of the precedent set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Among the most notable cases that have been overturned or superseded in the past are Dred Scott v. Sandford, Pace v. Alabama, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. United States, Apodaca v. Oregon, and Bowers v. Hardwick. An overview of each case and its subsequent history is presented below.

Dred Scott v. Sandford

This 1857 decision issued 7-2 held that citizenship rights were not held by African Americans, regardless of whether they were free or enslaved. Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken into areas where slavery was illegal, and he argued that he was thus no longer enslaved. In finding that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens, the majority opinion said that Scott lacked standing to bring his case. Nevertheless, the court ruled on the merits of the case, finding the Missouri Compromise, a congressional limitation on slave-holding in new federal territories, to be unconstitutional.

Justices Benjamin Robbins Curtis and John McLean both authored dissents in the case. Curtis noted that African-American men were able to vote in several of the states at the time of the Constitution's ratification, and that they were therefore U.S. citizens in fact.

The Dred Scott decision was nullified by the Reconstruction-era Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, and granted citizenship to all those born in the country and ensured the rights of due process and equal protection.

This case has been widely cited as an example of Supreme Court decisions that were made wrongly, and is frequently pointed to by pro-life activists urging that Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa wrote in a July letter that as abortion is intrinsically evil, “there is never a circumstance that could justify it. The laws that protect it are unjust and, therefore, no law at all. Roe was wrongly decided and must be corrected. It offends God and the principles of our founding, just as Dred Scott and its defense of slavery once did. We corrected that error, and now we must correct this one.”

In July 2020 Democrats for Life cautioned the Democratic National Committee that “denying personhood to the pre-born child has disturbing parallels to Dred Scott vs. Sandford.”

Pace v. Alabama

In this 1883 case the court unanimously upheld an Alabama anti-miscegenation law prohibiting interracial marriage. It held that the law did not violate the equal protection clause because it punished equally whites and non-whites: “Whatever discrimination is made in the punishment prescribed in the two sections is directed against the offence designated and not against the person of any particular color or race. The punishment of each offending person, whether white or black, is the same.”

This was overturned by two cases in the 1960s. The 1964 decision McLaughlin v. Florida found unconstitutional a Florida law that barred unmarried persons of the opposite sex and when one is white and the other black from habitual cohabitation. And 1967’s Loving v. Virginia struck down a state law prohibiting interracial marriage as violating the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plessy v. Ferguson

This 1896 decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine that permitted racial segregation laws provided that provisions for the races were of equal quality. 

In the 7-1 decision the court said that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause didn’t require that “all distinctions based upon color” be eliminated, upholding a Louisiana law that required separate but equal train cars for whites and blacks. The decision held that state legislatures have broad powers to write laws they deem reasonable, so long as they are not intended to oppress a particular class, and that enforced racial segregation does not mark one group with “a badge of inferiority.”

Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented, writing that Louisiana’s Separate Car Act was plainly intended “to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons,” compelling blacks “to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.” He added that the constitution “is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”

Plessy was effectively overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education. That unanimous decision found that racially separate schools “are inherently unequal,” violating the equal protection clause.

Korematsu v. United States

In this 1944 case the court upheld by 6-3 an order that excluded persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast during World War II. This exclusion order led to the internment of some 120,000 Japanese Americans.

A 1942 executive order had permitted the War Department to designate military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded, in the interest of preventing espionage and sabotage during the state of war. The U.S. Army then created a military area on the West Coast from which persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded. 

Fred Korematsu was a California native who refused to leave his home, and challenged the exclusion order under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.

The court’s majority opinion held that the exclusion order was not made out of hostility to Japanese-American individuals or their race, but because the military had deemed it necessary for security during the war. In a concurring opinion, Justice Felix Frankfurter held that the war powers clause gives Congress the ability to enforce military orders deemed appropriate for conducting war. 

The three dissenting justices each wrote opinions, all of them holding that the exclusion order was racially discriminatory. Justice Owen Roberts wrote that “it is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States.”

Korematsu has been widely reprobated since the 1980s, and it was effectively overturned by a passing remark in the 2018 5-4 decision in Trump v. Hawaii. There, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “The forcible relocation of U.S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority,” and that it “is already obvious … Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and — to be clear — 'has no place in law under the Constitution.'” Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also repudiated Korematsu.

In his dissent from the 5-4 decision Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000, which struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott.”

Apodaca v. Oregon

In this 1972 decision the court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury is not violated by non-unanimous verdict for conviction by state juries in criminal cases. The plurality opinion was held by four justices, with a fifth writing a concurring opinion. Oregon’s constitution allowed a verdict to be reached by 10 members of a 12 person jury.

The plurality of justices held that a unanimous jury was a historical fact, like juries being composed of 12 persons, and was not therefore guaranteed by the right to trial by jury. In his concurring opinion, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. held that the Sixth Amendment did require unanimous verdicts for federal trials, but that this did not apply to state trials. Four justices dissented from the plurality decision.

The decision was overturned by Ramos v. Louisiana in 2020. The 6-3 majority opinion found that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict was incorporated against states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The minority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in whole and by Justice Elena Kagan in part, argued the court should maintain the precedence decided by Apodaca.

Multiple amici curiae briefs filed in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization cite Ramos v. Louisiana as grounds for the court overturning Roe v. Wade and its successors. 

A July amici curiae brief by Mary Ann Glendon and O. Carter Snead said that Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence in Ramos gave three broad considerations to determine whether there is a special justification to overrule an erroneous precedent: that it is “grievously or egregiously wrong”; it has “caused significant negative jurisprudential or real-world consequences”; and whether overruling the decision would “unduly upset” society’s operation.

Jackson Whole Women’s Health Organization similarly cited Justice Kavanaugh’s “egregiously wrong” standard as the issue before the court in its case.

Bowers v. Hardwick

This 1986 decision upheld, by a 5-4 vote, a Georgia law that criminalized sodomy.

The majority opinion rejected the argument that the right to privacy, discovered by the court in its 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, extended to homosexual conduct. Justice Byron White wrote that “There should be great resistance to expand the reach of the Due Process Clauses to cover new fundamental rights. Otherwise, the Judiciary necessarily would take upon itself further authority to govern the country without constitutional authority.”

Bowers was overturned in 2000 by Lawrence v. Texas. The majority opinion, held by five of the justices, held that the right to privacy through the due process clause did extend to consensual sexual conduct. In a concurring opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor held that Bowers should not be overturned, but that the Texas sodomy law was nevertheless unconstitutional, by violating the equal protection clause, because it criminalized homosexual, but not heterosexual, sodomy.

In his dissent in Lawrence, Justice Scalia noted that “Today's opinions in support of reversal do not bother to distinguish — or indeed, even bother to mention the paean to stare decisis coauthored by three Members of today's majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, when stare decisis meant preservation of judicially invented abortion rights, the widespread criticism of Roe was strong reason to reaffirm it … Today, however, the widespread opposition to Bowers, a decision resolving an issue as ‘intensely divisive’ as the issue in Roe, is offered as a reason in favor of overruling it.” 

Scalia added that the majority opinion gave three criteria for overruling erroneous precedent, adding that “Roe itself — which today's majority surely has no disposition to overrule — satisfies these conditions to at least the same degree as Bowers” and that “the Court has chosen today to revise the standards of stare decisis set forth in Casey. It has thereby exposed Casey's extraordinary deference to precedent for the result-oriented expedient that it is.”

Catholics pray after Alabama executes death row inmate

Florida Department of Corrections execution chamber 1. / Florida State Correctional Facility.

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Alabama executed inmate Willie B. Smith III on Thursday evening, Oct. 20, marking the first execution in the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith received a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m. 

Smith, 52, was sentenced to death in 1992 for the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson, a 22-year-old woman from Trussville, Alabama. Smith kidnapped Johnson at an ATM, robbed her, and then shot her to death execution-style at a cemetery in Birmingham. 

Donald Carson, communications director of the Diocese of Birmingham, told CNA Oct. 22 that the diocese "recognizes that the State must protect innocent people from violent criminals. In today’s world, however, we know that there are ways to do so other than to execute even those such as Mr. Smith, convicted of the most heinous of crimes. Society does not teach respect for life, for the dignity of every living human, by taking life. Instead, capital punishment devalues human life and contributes to a climate of violence in our communities."

The organization Catholic Mobilizing Network, which is dedicated to ending the death penalty, stated on Twitter on Thursday that members were praying for Smith ahead of his execution.  

“Dear God, You call us to be a people of justice and mercy. We know this execution is not Your will,” the group said.

Following Smith's execution, the group stated on Twitter, “Dear God in Heaven, we pray for the repose of Willie Smith's soul. Lord, guide us as we work, in Your name, for a world that upholds and honors the sanctity of all human life.”

During Smith’s trial, a recording of him boasting about his crime to one of his friends was played for the court. He said at the time that he had to shoot Johnson after kidnapping her, as her brother was a police officer. 

An accomplice, a 17-year-old girl who lived with Smith at the time of the murder, testified against him at his trial in exchange for a shorter prison sentence.  

Smith’s death sentence has been controversial for years due to multiple factors. In 2013, his attorneys claimed that he had been given antipsychotic drugs during his trial, which left him incapable of showing emotion.

In 2019, they alleged that his IQ was 70, which is considered to be borderline intellectually disabled. It is unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability, but both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this appeal in Smith’s case. 

Initially, Smith was set to be executed on Feb. 11, 2021. That was delayed after he requested his pastor be present with him during his final moments. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the state to deprive him of a spiritual advisor while executing him.