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Insights: Sentencing Progress, Mercy Conference, Religious Rights

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March 4, 2016

Common Sense Sentencing Reshaping California Prisons

In 2014 California voters strongly passed Proposition 47. Its goal is to reduce the huge number of people incarcerated in California for relatively small crimes, a number that had been growing far faster than population growth.

Proposition 47 authorizes the release of persons convicted and jailed for two types of crime: petty property crimes where the value of the goods was below $950 (typically theft, forgery, etc.), and personal use of illegal drugs. Violent crimes are excluded.

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Sentencing Reforms, Other Bills Ready for Hearings

A coalition of interfaith and community organizing groups, including the California Catholic Conference (CCC), is sponsoring AB 2590 (Weber, D-San Diego) which will bring restorative justice principles into California’s sentencing approach. 

This is only one of hundreds of bills the CCC staff will be working on during the year.  The Legislative Analyst’s Office is steadily releasing details on bills which are gradually being added to the Conference’s Legislation Page after they are reviewed by staff.  In our next issue, we will have a summary of the trends the CCC staff is seeing in 2016 legislation.  You can also watch, day-by-day, as bills are added to the report.


California’s Violation of Federal Civil Rights Laws

For a year-and-half, the state of California has been openly discriminating against religious employers in blatant violation of federal civil rights laws.  And the federal agency charged with upholding those laws has declined to do so, despite receiving multiple complaints from adversely affected California employers and numerous entreaties from members of Congress.

In August 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care, suddenly and without prior notice, issued a mandate to private market healthcare plans in California requiring them to cover all abortions as a “basic health care service” – including late-term and gender selective abortions.  (Prior to this mandate, California limited coverage to medically necessary abortions.)  The new mandate violates a longstanding federal civil rights law – the Weldon Amendment.  Congress first enacted Weldon in 2002 to protect healthcare providers and insurers from governmental discrimination on the basis that they choose not to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

The victims of this type of governmental discrimination have only one recourse: file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  This has proven entirely futile.  Numerous faith-based groups in California filed complaints with the OCR a year-and-a-half ago, but have yet to obtain information on the status or timing of the agency’s investigation.

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Radiating the Joy of the Gospel in the Heart of the City

How is your parish celebrating the Year of Mercy?  Tell us your story with an email to

Parishes around the world are celebrating the Year of Mercy by examining the meaning of mercy and finding new ways to demonstrate mercy in the world.  St. Dominic’s, San Francisco, recently held a Jubilee Conference in response to this call.

The parishioners devised a plan to celebrate a milestone anniversary and use the occasion to create “intentional preachers” for anyone who has ever wondered how he or she can spread the Gospel in a society that is becoming more and more secular.

“At a staff retreat early last year, the conversation began as to how the parish would celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican order,” recalls Michael Smith, Director of Religious Education for St. Dominic’s.  “We saw this as a way to learn more about the Dominican spirit and involve each ministry of the Church.   Prayer, service, education, community and fellowship were all envisioned to be integral parts of the event.”

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North American Bishops: “Make Mercy Practical”

Fourteen bishops representing the Catholic Church in Canada, Latin America and the United States concluded three days of prayer and dialogue at the 38th Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, February 25. Gathering together after the two visits of Pope Francis to the region, the bishops spoke of a strong sense of fraternity and solidarity as they shared their pastoral experiences of being one Church in America.

Participating in the meeting were the elected officers of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

"Looking across the table, I saw brothers in Christ," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the USCCB. "My prayer is for all the people of God to see their neighbor, north to south, as their sister and brother in Christ."

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Our Catholic Schools in California

Celebrating the past and preparing for the future, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops last month released a major statement on Catholic education.  The statement contains questions and reflections for parishes around the state to help them examine their thought and plans for Catholic education.  From the summary:

“Today, we, the bishops of California, are proud that our Catholic schools continue to educate all students, including the newly arrived immigrant and the often neglected student on the margins of society. We know that, with God’s grace and our concerted, collaborative effort, California’s Catholic schools have a robust future. The children we educate today will become tomorrow’s leaders for both our Church and for society, for our schools are both a ministry of the Church, and serve the common good, and ultimately benefit the individual student, the whole Church, California, and our nation.”

Read the entire statement:  English   Spanish

March 4, 2016
Vol. 9, No. 7

En Español