Obama Signs Violence Against Women Act; Omits Conscience Protections

President Barack Obama Thursday signed a re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The law expands the previous version to include Native Americans, lesbians and immigrants.

At the Thursday signing ceremony, Obama said he was signing the bill "because this is a country where everybody should be able to pursue their own measure of happiness and live their lives free from fear, no matter who you are, no matter who you love. That's got to be our priority. That's what today is about."

The new version of the VAWA will allow tribal courts to prosecute domestic abusers who are not Native Americans but live on tribal lands or are married to Native Americans. Some Republicans voted against the bill, arguing that it was unconstitutional to give tribal courts jurisdiction over non-tribal U.S. citizens.

Obama was introduced by Diane Millich, who was a victim of domestic violence. Her non-Indian husband routinely beat her, but he was not prosecuted because they lived on tribal land.

Vice President Joe Biden, a co-author of the original VAWA when he was a senator in 1994, also spoke at the ceremony. Quoting his father, Biden said, "the greatest sin that could be committed, the cardinal sin of all sins was the abuse of power, and the ultimate abuse of power is for someone physically stronger and bigger to raise their hand and strike and beat someone else. In most cases that tends to be a man striking a woman, or a man or woman striking a child."

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, criticized VAWA for cutting funding for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Persons, decriminalizing prostitution for minors, and for not including conscience protections for religious groups that aid the victims of human trafficking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Wednesday statement saying they also do not support the legislation.

Noting that "violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified," the bishops condemned the legislation for including references to "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

"These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union," they wrote.

Like Nance, the bishops also criticized the bill for not including conscience protections.

"Conscience protections are needed in this legislation to ensure that these service providers are not required to violate their bona fide religious beliefs as a condition for serving the needy. Failure to have conscience protection for such service providers undermines a long-held value in our democracy – religious liberty," they wrote.

The USCCB used to receive a government grant to provide referral services for the victims of human trafficking. The Department of Health and Human Services discontinued that grant because USCCB would not make referrals for abortion services.