San Francisco, Calif., Feb 27, 2015 / 05:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sam Singer’s public relations firm spun a Chevron oil refinery disaster in California and fought back a legal ruling in Ecuador that could have awarded billions of dollars to indigenous people for the company’s alleged pollution damage to the Amazon.

Now he’s been hired to attack San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. He even wants Pope Francis to do his work.

“Everyone is praying that the Pope will remove the San Francisco Archbishop and these priests,” Singer said in a Google+ post on Feb. 18, Ash Wednesday.

“A revolution is brewing in S.F. Catholic Church against Archbishop Cordileone morality clauses,” he said in a Feb. 13 tweet referring to the controversy over standards for Catholic high school teachers.

The San Francisco-based Singer Associates, Inc., in its biography of Singer, said that the firm’s founder has been described as “one of the most powerful people in the San Francisco Bay Area” for “his ability to impact the news for his clients.”

Singer told the newspaper SF Weekly that “concerned parents” are paying for his services in their dispute with Archbishop Cordileone.

The beginning of this public relations war was bland enough.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco on Feb. 3 announced that explanations of Catholic teaching would be added to the faculty and staff handbooks for its four high schools. It also proposed new morals clauses for teacher contracts that would define teachers as having a ministerial role. The archdiocese said the changes to the handbook and teacher contract did not contain anything new but were intended to “clarify existing expectations that Catholic teachers in their professional and public lives uphold Catholic teaching.”

Archbishop Cordileone said the changes focused on sexual morality and religious practice because confusion is prevalent about the Church’s stance on these issues.

Protests and opposition greeted the action.

About 100 people, including some Catholic high school teachers, students, and students’ parents, gathered outside San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on Ash Wednesday to protest.

Several activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign, Faithful America and the Equally Blessed Coalition have attacked Archbishop Cordileone as well.

But the SF Weekly claimed that the Ash Wednesday protest “bore the signature slickness of a Singer campaign.” The newspaper noted the widespread news coverage it received.

Singer said he hopes the archbishop sees that the standards he is asking of teachers are something that doesn’t “keep with Catholic values.” Singer characterized the standards as “a loyalty oath.”

Nonetheless, Archbishop Cordileone has withstood the media controversy and threats from state and city legislators. He suggested replacing proposed contractual description of teachers as ministers with wording about the teaching ministry.

Since mid-February, Singer’s social media accounts have sent out many news stories highly critical of the archdiocese. His tweets build a narrative that appears to focus on publicizing both opposition to the archbishop and the admitted mistakes of some local Catholic leaders.

Singer’s Feb. 18 Google+ post, which claimed that everyone was praying for Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone, linked to a story about priests at Star of the Sea Church who handed out pamphlets about examination of conscience to elementary school students ahead of confession.

February press coverage of the pamphlets focused on passages pertaining to adult sexual sins. Father Joseph Illo, the parish’s pastoral administrator, apologized for the incidents as an “oversight” and said the pamphlets should have been given to the parents instead of the children.

Singer also sought to capitalize on controversy from Father Illo’s decision to have male-only altar servers at his church, claiming that the “fight continues” for altar girls. He tweeted a quote from Father Illo defending the practice of male-only servers—and included a picture of the Monty Python sketch on the Spanish Inquisition.

Singer’s Twitter account repeated a San Francisco Chronicle columnist’s attack, saying:  “Don’t let S.F. Archbishop's charm fool you: his message of exclusion and hate.” Another tweet claimed the archbishop will “purge gay, lesbian, pro-choice teachers from Catholic schools.”

On Feb. 24 Archbishop Cordileone rejected similar characterizations, telling the New York Times “we’re not on a witch hunt; we’re not looking to terminate teachers.”

Singer Associates clients include the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle. Both newspapers have been highly critical of the San Francisco archdiocese’s Catholic schools.

The PR firm’s employees include former reporters, former political staffers as well as former political and legal strategists.

The SF Weekly profiled Singer’s abilities in August 2014, with a focus on his firm’s three-decade relationship with oil giant Chevron.

Singer Associates led the public relations response to a major fire at a Richmond, Calif. oil refinery after its third catastrophic failure since 1989. The 2012 pipeline explosion produced a massive cloud of thick smoke.

At the time of the fire, local authorities gave a shelter-in-place order for Richmond and two other cities. In the following weeks, an estimated 15,000 people in nearby communities sought medical treatment for breathing problems, chest pain, shortness of breath, sore throat and headaches, with 20 people being hospitalized, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s 2015 report on the incident said.

The City of Richmond’s 39-page legal complaint against Chevron accused the company of “willful and conscious disregard of public safety” as well as “years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.”  

In response to the disaster, Singer’s firm engaged in a major public relations campaign. It created a newspaper to produce pro-Chevron messages alongside community news and to shape the political and legal reaction. Chevron paid only $2 million in penalties for the incident.

Singer’s firm is also credited with helping to fight back a threatened multi-billion dollar legal judgment against Chevron that could have benefited indigenous Ecuadorans and farmers in the Amazon region who said the oil giant was responsible for massive pollution there. Singer’s firm said the lawsuit was fraudulent.
 

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2015 / 06:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The State Department’s new LGBT special envoy will promote human rights abroad but could also pose a serious threat to religious freedom, said several experts in the field.

“I believe this administration's long-term objective is more revolutionary,” said Dr. Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Through the new position, the U.S. could use its LGBT advocacy to “pressure” charitable groups and businesses to “abandon their core beliefs about the immorality of homosexual acts and same-sex ‘marriage’,” he explained, adding that the administration is “already trying to achieve” this in the U.S.

Anyone opposing same-sex marriage or the LGBT lifestyle could be “driven from the public life” through legal means or social ostracism, especially by the media, he told CNA, and this would be a consequence of U.S. policy.

The State Department announced Monday that Randy Berry, the U.S. Consul General to the Netherlands, would serve as the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

Secretary of State John Kerry explained that Berry, in his official capacity, would “work to overturn” criminal laws against same-sex conduct, fight anti-LGBT violence, and work for the human rights of LGBT persons overseas.

“At the same time, and often with our help, governments and other institutions, including those representing all religions, are taking steps to reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Kerry stated.

Protecting human rights is important, but is not the same thing as promoting the LGBT lifestyle – something the new ambassador will probably do, argued Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., academic dean of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. and an instructor of moral theology and pastoral studies.

“No innocent person should be a victim of violence,” he affirmed, adding that he did not believe private behavior between consenting adults should be criminalized.

However, there’s “quite a difference” between that and recognizing specific “rights” for LGBT persons that go beyond what are traditionally recognized as “human rights,” he said. This could be the “slippery slope” that the new position creates.

“Just because I accept a person’s dignity as a human being, as a child of God, doesn’t mean that I therefore am obligated to accept every decision and choice, every lifestyle, every activity that the person engages in,” he said.

Dr. Farr, who from 1999-2003 headed the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, said that current administration’s record on religious freedom fails to inspire hope for this new position.

This administration has failed to promote religious freedom abroad despite a 16 year-old statutory requirement to do so, in part because it thinks that religious freedom would “empower religious communities” to stand by their convictions on sexual ethics, he said.

“The Obama State Department has from the beginning of its tenure in 2008 invested far more diplomatic resources and energy in promoting international LGBT rights than it has international religious freedom.”

As an example, he pointed out that the position of international religious freedom ambassador has been vacant for half of Obama’s presidency.

The appointment could have implications at home as well, particularly for faith-based charities and social organizations that morally object to the LGBT lifestyle, Farr suggested.  

Some Catholic institutions, he said, “have already decided that core Catholic teachings on sexuality must be set aside.”

“Even those who support same-sex ‘marriage’ should see how, when old and venerable institutions such as these abandon their fundamental religious beliefs, American pluralism has been damaged. That is not good for any of us.”

Fr. Petri noted that this scenario of citizens being legal pressured to accept changes in beliefs about marriage presents a massive problem for moral theologians to consider.

“Is it legitimate to give in to these legal demands? Or ought we to really force the issue and be forced, essentially, to go out of business, to be pushed out of the square, and to become a minority ourselves, a minority voice, rather than to somehow consent to a legal program that is in fact pushing a morality that we find not only to be unfaithful to God but is unnatural?”

 

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2015 / 03:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When an employer’s hiring standards conflict with a prospective employee’s religious practice, when would the employer be guilty of discrimination for not hiring?

That is the question currently before the Supreme Court, which held oral arguments yesterday in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores. Abercrombie chose not to hire Samantha Elauf, a Muslim teenager who applied for a retail job with the chain retailer, claiming that her use of a headscarf violated the company’s policy of no headdress for employees.

“I learned that I was not hired by Abercrombie because I wear a headscarf, which is a symbol of modesty in my Muslim faith. This was shocking to me,” Elauf stated after the hearings.  

“I am not only standing up for myself, but for all people who wish to adhere to their faith while at work. Observance of my faith should not prevent me from getting a job.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up Elauf’s case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which states that it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire someone based on their religion, along with other qualifications including race and sex.

Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons and says Abercrombie knew this when they refused to hire her. Abercrombie’s lawyer noted that companies can run into legal problems if they directly inquire about an applicant’s religious belief, and said the firm wanted to avoid stereotyping individuals based on appearance and guessing whether their actions are being done for religious reasons.

The Court peppered both sides with questions, focusing particularly on a company’s responsibility to make its standards clear to a job applicant without making an illegal inquiry into an applicant’s religious belief.

Justice Samuel Alito posed a compromise of sorts when he asked if a company could explain its hiring standards to an applicant and then ask, “Do you have any problem with that?”

“I think the point is [for the employer] to initiate the dialogue,” answered Ian Gershengorn of the Department of Justice, arguing on Elauf’s behalf. “I think had that happened here, then – then we would be talking about a different point in the process about whether there was a reasonable accommodation that could be done and whether it could be done without undue hardship.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief on Elauf’s behalf. Senior counsel Eric Baxter told CNA that the case is important in safeguarding the religious freedom of job applicants.

“A lot of job applicants don’t know going into a job what kind of work requirements there might be,” he said, giving the example of a requirement that employees work Saturdays.

“It’s important for the Court to hold employers responsible,” he said, stating that if employers know someone has a religious requirement, they should clarify whether the person can fulfill the job.”

Rev. Robert Shenck of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital also defended Elauf’s religious freedom in the case.

“There is no Constitutional right to fashion preferences. There is a Constitutional right to religious practice,” he stated after the hearing. “There is a higher level of scrutiny for that right than for someone’s fashion preference.”

A decision in the case is expected from the Supreme Court this summer.