War and violence in Syria and the Middle East have displaced millions from their homes. As countries around the world are looking at ways to assist refugees, there has also been a growing concern about meeting security concerns in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Pope Francis, while recognizing the difficulties the crisis poses to governments and other nations, has spoken about the importance of seeing the human face in the refugee crisis and finding ways to be welcoming to those in need. The Catholic Church has long been an important partner with the federal government to handle refugee resettlement, providing services like picking refugees up from the airport, finding them safe and affordable housing, providing English as a second language classes, and offering financial literacy and employment services. Michigan Catholic Conference’s latest The Word from Lansing column highlights the importance of dialogue about refugee resettlement in the United States and the role the Catholic Church will continue to play in these efforts.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column written by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) staff for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by Michigan Catholic Conference’s Catholic Advocacy Network.
In October, a bipartisan package of bills to reform the juvenile justice system was introduced in the Michigan Legislature. These reforms seek alternative ways of considering juvenile crime and rehabilitation, as too often the current system treats juveniles as adults in regards to sentencing. MCC’s monthly The Word from Lansing column for Catholic newspapers draws attention to the issue of juvenile justice, with emphasis on the differences between children and adults, the impact of evidence-based programming on recidivism rates, and Pope Francis’s words on rehabilitation while visiting a correctional facility in Philadelphia. More information on the topic may also be found in Reforming Juvenile Justice in Michigan, Michigan Catholic Conference’s most recent FOCUS publication.
Throughout October, Catholic churches across the country are celebrating Respect Life Month to draw attention to the worth of every human person. The theme this year is “Every Life is a Gift,” reminding all that their inherent worth cannot simply be reduced to their skills or level of productivity (Cardinal Sean O’Malley). During his visit to the United States last month, Pope Francis spoke about the dignity of all persons, especially those on the margins or considered disposable. The Word from Lansing column this month delves further into the idea of finding life as a gift, even in the midst of profound struggles. In addition, Michigan Catholic Conference offers a few ideas of how to promote and care for human life.
Individuals and institutions of faith have played a prominent role in public life throughout the nation’s history, making contributions to the development of debate and culture as they seek to advance the common good. Faith-based individuals and organizations have also offered valuable services to the community and have worked to address issues such as human trafficking, adoption and foster care, and poverty assistance, among others. In an upcoming visit to the United States, Pope Francis is expected to draw attention to these valuable contributions that enrich public life. The Word from Lansing column for September highlights the value of religious tolerance and the inclusion of religious organizations and individuals in the public realm.
During the months of August and September, Michigan students are once against starting school in a variety of different environments: public and private, charter and cyber, and in homeschool instruction. As education plays a large role in providing a pathway out of poverty, it is critical to ensure that all these children have quality educational options that will help them develop as individuals. This month, The Word from Lansing column highlights the value of greater educational choice, especially through innovative programs such as Nevada’s education savings accounts that provide parents with the tools to help their children succeed. A survey released in June found that sixty-two percent of Americans support the creation of these types of accounts, even though constitutional language in Michigan prevents this type of aid from being awarded to students.
Since 2006, Michigan has offered a refundable credit on state income tax called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Working in combination with its federal counterpart, the state EITC has been a critical and effective policy for working, low-income families since its inception. During the 2013 tax year, approximately 780,000 Michiganders benefited from the credit, which is often spent on items in the local community such as groceries, car repairs, school clothing, rent, or other bills. During the recent months, State House and Senate members have discussed cuts to the state EITC to provide further revenue for road and transportation infrastructure repairs. The Word from Lansing column for July outlines the importance of the state EITC and explains why it should preserved, not eliminated, in the State of Michigan.
In May, Governor Rick Snyder presented his special message on criminal justice, calling for improvements to address the issue of crime throughout the state. MCC was pleased to see attention drawn to several aspects, including the treatment of juvenile offenders, the importance of prisoner reintegration, and support for victims. The Catholic Church teaches that the justice system must address the needs of all impacted by crime, including rehabilitating offenders, restoring victims, and keeping the public safe. The Word from Lansing column this month discusses the importance of a criminal justice system that truly meets the needs of those impacted by crime and highlights the role the faith community can play in the process.
Throughout the month of May, Michigan celebrates all the individuals, families, and institutions that work to provide support and care to its 13,000 foster children. Whether these children will one day be reunited with their biological families or put in an alternative placement, each have faced trauma, abuse, and neglect that has separated them from their families. Foster Care Awareness Month also draws attention to the continued needs of these children. Individuals and families can make a difference for the state’s foster children in a number of ways: by becoming a foster parent, providing temporary respite care, serving as a volunteer mentor, recruiting other potential foster families, or donating supplies to local agencies that work with foster children.
Whether looking to be reunited with their biological family or looking to be placed with an adoptive family, Michigan’s 13,000 children in the foster care system require care and support during their time of need. Faith-based agencies, including those that are Catholic, have been a critical partner to the State of Michigan in this work, providing adoption and foster care services, recruiting quality families, and ensuring that the best interests of the child are being met. Unfortunately, in other states, Catholic agencies have been forced out of adoption and foster care services because they would not agree to abandon their religious beliefs. MCC’s latest The Word from Lansing column highlights the importance of legislation that would preserve the right of faith-based agencies to operate in accordance with their religious mission.
Already during the 2015–2016 legislative session, several of Michigan Catholic Conference’s education initiatives at the state and federal level are receiving attention from lawmakers. These measures include the Tuition Grant and Tuition Incentive programs, dual enrollment opportunities, and the federal Student Success Act, a reauthorization of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The Word from Lansing column for March takes a closer look at these policies and their impact on students. It critical that policies continue to be supported and pursued that benefit all children, regardless of their geographic location or family income level.