The Catholic Spirit: Capitol Concerns

Protecting the religious liberty of all Minnesotans.

Reforming payday lending practices that take advantage of the poor and vulnerable.

Restoring voting rights to former felons who have paid their debt to society and are trying to start a new life.

These are among the issues the Minnesota Catholic Conference will advocate for during the 2014 state legislative session, which begins Feb. 25.

The MCC, the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops, also will continue to ramp up its education efforts and mobilization of Minnesota Catholics to help convince legislators of the need for laws that uphold the dignity of human life, protect the poor and advance the common good.

“It’s not sufficient for MCC to have lobbyists who communicate with legislators,” said Jason Adkins, the organization’s executive director. “We need to be supported by the voice of the people in the pews.”

The following are among the MCC’s priorities at the state Capitol this year:

• Religious liberty/conscience protections

With last year’s passage of a law legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, the MCC will advocate for strengthening religious liberty and conscience protection laws for those who object to the solemnization or celebration of such unions.

Without the protections, it’s possible that business owners — including bakers who decline to create wedding cakes for same-sex couples and florists who choose not to provide flowers for same-sex ceremonies — could face significant penalties.

These business owners do not intend to deny basic services to people with same-sex attraction, Adkins said. They object, however, to being forced to contribute specifically toward a same-sex ceremony that violates their deeply held moral beliefs about marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

“The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has plainly said they will punish individuals, businesses and other organizations that refuse to provide goods or services for a same-sex wedding,” Adkins said. “This is something that should be corrected immediately by our state Legislature. This is a terrible injustice.”

• Payday lending reforms

During the difficult economic times of the last several years, the number of payday lenders — businesses that offer short-term loans due on a borrower’s next payday — has expanded, Adkins said.

Payday loans are typically more expensive than other methods of borrowing and, if unpaid, can put borrowers in serious debt trouble. The lenders, however, often make large profits.

“There’s nothing wrong, of course, with profits, per se, but if it’s profits based on taking advantage of people in difficult financial situations and lending money at high rates of interest — what we call in the Catholic tradition ‘usury’ — then there is definitely a problem with that, and we’re concerned about people falling deeper into a debt trap,” Adkins said.

“That has consequences for individuals and families, but also for the broader society,” he said. “Increases in consumer debt, poverty, and bankruptcy filings affect the common good.”

The MCC supports legislation that would, among other things, cap the number of payday loans that a person could take from a payday lending institution, Adkins said.

“Currently, the average payday loan customer takes out about nine loans a year, which is strong evidence that people aren’t simply bridging a financial gap, meeting a temporary financial crisis, or using it to buy something they want to purchase,” he said. “They’re using it to pay off basic utilities and other necessities, such as grocery bills — again, deepening that debt trap.”


Resources include the Catholic Advocacy Network, a Facebook page and Twitter account (@MNCatholicConf), and two blogs: “The Lighthouse” (, which offers commentary on a wide range of public policy issues of interest to Catholics, and “The First Freedom Project,” devoted to issues related to religious liberty.

The MCC recently hired an outreach coordinator, Kathryn Mollen, who will visit Minnesota parishes and work to build a “human advocacy network” to complement what the MCC offers electronically, Adkins said.

Read the full story at The Catholic Spirit.

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