Religious groups feel the pinch of government shutdown
The government shutdown also threatens to reduce or shutter charitable services operated by faith-based groups that use federal funds.
As Catholic News Service reports, the Diocese of Wichita (Kansas) is covering the costs of programs for homeless families and battered women run by the local branch of Catholic Charities. In Washington, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it would be able to continue assisting immigrants through its Migration and Refugee Services for a couple of months if necessary.
But officials also made it clear that these are only stopgap measures that still leave the poor and vulnerable at greater risk.
"It is hypocritical and shameful for those who tout their commitment to family values to show such callous indifference," said an Oct. 2 statement released by Faith in Public Life and signed by a range of Catholic and other Christian leaders.
Contraception mandate lawsuits
Justice Department lawyers are asking for more time in a case challenging the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which has drawn strong opposition from a number of religious groups and institutions, including a suit filed by Geneva College in western Pennsylvania.
During the shutdown, government attorneys "are prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ‘emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,’" federal attorneys told a federal court in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The shutdown caused some initial confusion about whether military chaplains would be able to perform religious services. The House passed a resolution Oct. 5 urging the secretary of defense to not allow the government shutdown to reduce religious services on military bases. The Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
Military chaplains continue to work during the shutdown, but the resolution was aimed at contract chaplains involved in performing religious services or conducting religious activities, according to Military Times. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would reinstate almost all of the 350,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department, which was expected to allow contract priests to say Mass.
Still, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services says the shutdown is threatening Catholic service members’ religious rights. "Priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work — not even to volunteer. During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so," warned John Schlageter, general counsel for the military archdiocese.
Fun for furloughed federal employees
A short walk from the Capitol sits Sixth & I, a restored synagogue that is now part synagogue and part cultural center and that has proven especially popular with younger Jewish adults. During the shutdown, Sixth & I sponsors "Shutdown Central" under the motto "A shutdown shouldn’t mean putting your mind to rest. Let’s make something out of this nothing."
On any given day, that means a roster of programming that can include improv classes with local comedians, a class on government transparency and a knitting circle. But every day there’s "Political Ping Pong," board games and the constant streaming of "The West Wing."
In Vernal, Utah, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church offered free lunch to furloughed employees on Sunday: "We recognize that those who are employed by the Federal Government are an integral part of what makes our community work and that their loss of wages is through no fault of their own."