Christmas is almost here. These weeks of Advent have encouraged people of faith to reflect and embody the values of hope, peace, joy and love. They have called for patience as believers wait for the coming of Jesus Christ. And Advent has prepared their hearts to live more fully in the world as Catholics.
In addition to celebrating this beautiful holiday, many Catholics across Michigan are also reflecting upon the last year and the work they have completed. Have they brought hope, peace, joy, and love to their work? Have they been patient and prepared in their faith, ready to live their values in the public realm?
For the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), these questions are worth asking as the Michigan Legislature finished out its two-year legislative session. As the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state, advocacy is a primary tactic by which staff “[promotes] a social order that respects the dignity of the human person and the serves the common good,” as the MCC mission states. In January 2017, the MCC issued its guiding principles for advocacy, including nine specific categories: human life and dignity, preferential option for the poor and regulatory policies, religious liberty, education, children and families, health care, restorative justice, and immigration and refugees. The advocacy blueprint describes a clear directive: to advocate “for policies that assist the marginalized and forgotten, and those that uphold the dignity of human life wherever it may be compromised.”
Staff reviewed more than 700 bills this legislative session to determine which required the MCC’s advocacy. The MCC met with lawmakers, suggested bill language, testified in public committees, and represented the Church’s positions to elected officials and the media. Just as in Advent, knowledge of our faith, reflection, patience and preparation are critical components to the conference’s work. Lawmakers approved many MCC-supported measures, including those that:
- Provide funding for a variety of good policies: school safety (in public and nonpublic schools), services that affirm and support pregnant women and their children, assistance for low-income children to purchase clothes, and expanded educational opportunities, including dual enrollment and robotics.
- Ensure greater anonymity for parents that legally surrender their newborns to emergency service providers, in order to protect children.
- Reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system by providing greater programming and evidence-based supervision practices.
- Allow prior acts of sex crimes as evidence in court, boost criminal penalties for child pornography, and allow more people to give victim impact statements in court.
- Create state penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM), revoke the medical license of a doctor who conducts the harmful practice, and encourage education about its negative impacts.
- Reform Michigan’s unemployment compensation system.
In addition to these measures, staff participated in public discussions and drew attention to issues regarding opioid abuse, marriage and welfare policy, and juvenile justice reform. In the end, the work of creating good public policy moves slow, and the MCC and the Michigan Legislature have much more to do. But as the U.S. bishops say in their document on political action, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “we take up the task of serving the common good with joy and hope, confident that God…walks with us and strengthens us.” We look forward to 2019 and to continuing opportunities to live our faith, for the common good of all.
Paul A. Long is president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.
**At the time of this writing, the 2017-2018 legislative session was still ongoing. Visit www.micatholic.org for the latest updates. A full session advocacy report will be available online in the early months of 2019.