Texas abortion providers filed a second lawsuit this week against the state's pro-life regulations passed in July 2013. The lawsuit was filed just one week after a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld another provision of the state's omnibus abortion law already in effect.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several abortion providers in the state challenges the new abortion provision, set to take effect Sept. 1, that requires abortion clinics to meet the same surgical standards as ambulatory care centers. The lawsuit states that this provision would require all but "fewer than 10 clinics" in the state to close because the upgrades are so costly.
"There is no question that the politicians who passed this law intended this as the final blow in their assault on women's constitutional right and ability to safely and legally end a pregnancy in Texas," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement, according to The Texas Tribune. more >>
On Thursday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed S.B. 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law, bringing the state into line with federal law on the issue of religious freedom. To their credit, Mississippi's elected officials read the bill's text and did not yield to egregious misrepresentations of what is a fair and reasonable religious liberty measure. Why anyone thinks this bill is a bad thing is tough to know. Why this should be so controversial is even more perplexing.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. The aim of the Free Exercise Clause is relatively clear from its text – to protect individuals wishing to freely exercise their faith from being restricting in doing so by the government. Historically, its interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court has been less clear.
In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), and Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Supreme Court explained that before the government could infringe on and burden religious exercise, it had to show that its burdensome regulations were advancing a compelling government interest, and were the least restrictive means to advance this interest. This requirement is known as "strict scrutiny," which is the toughest standard for the government to meet when it seeks to infringe on constitutional rights. Yet in its 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court significantly restricted free exercise rights, holding that laws infringing on religious exercise did not violate the First Amendment as long as they were neutral and generally applicable. more >>
Hispanic evangelical leaders are speaking out after a federal appeals court ruled that New York City has a constitutional right to bar religious groups from using public schools for worship services after hours.
The National Latino Evangelical Coalition, a group of over 3,000 Hispanic evangelical churches, immediately expressed its disagreement with the ruling Thursday.
"This decision is absolutely unnecessary and whimsical. How is allowing for certain worship practices but not worship services consistent with the First Amendment?," Gabriel Salguero, president of NaLEC, said in a statement. "Worship in empty school buildings in no way undermines the non-establishment clause." more >>
Judges, like most of us, prefer to resolve matters on the basis of simple issues rather than complex ones. Part of that is due to the need for judicial economy. But it may also be due to an application of "Ockham's razor," the concept minted in the 14th century by theorist William of Ockham. He postulated that, between two explanations – one complicated and one simple – the latter is most likely to be the better one.
As I reviewed the arguments made before the Supreme Court last week in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, I counted no less than 11 important legal issues that haunt this case. Einstein restated Ockham's theory this way: "Everything should be made as simple as possible …." In an effort to satisfy both of these geniuses, I have come up with three "simple" reasons why the religious rights of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, both of them closely-held, family-owned, for-profit, faith-based companies, ought to prevail over the federal HHS mandate that would force them to provide their employees with insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs.
First, the federal law protecting those companies, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was passed by Congress with the clear understanding that it would protect religious persons from having to provide, or support, objectionable services intended to terminate pregnancies. As we pointed out in our brief to the Supreme Court, even Nadine Strossen, the past President of the ACLU, testified in Congress in support of RFRA, and predicted confidently that the law "will enhance the rights of those who conscientiously and religiously are opposed to abortion …." While much has been made of the fact that both companies are for-profit corporations, there is nothing in the text of RFRA that would exclude them from its protections. Further, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who seemed otherwise hostile to the claims of the two companies, had to admit in open court that they nevertheless make "great plaintiffs," which I take to mean that they present an attractive illustration why some for-profit, faith-based employers might be entitled to the same religious rights that churches and private citizens enjoy. more >>
The pastor of a woman accused of murdering her 3-year-old son and the attempted murder of her 6-year-old son is speaking out about his views of the family and asking people not to judge but to pray.
Laurel Michelle Schlemmer of McCandless, Pennsylvania faces charges of homicide and attempted homicide after trying to drown her sons in the bathtub. This comes after she tried to back up over them with her van, causing one of the boys to have numerous broken bones and the other to suffer from internal injuries. Both boys were hospitalized after the incident, which was labeled an accident. There were no charges brought against Schlemmer, and the boys were left in her custody.
"Um, my two sons," Laurel said in the 911 call released by the Post-Gazette. "I think that they've, they've drowned in our bathtub. I, uh, let my 6- and 3-year old sons play in the bathtub a little bit before their bath this morning. And, uh, I was, and then I went to, to the restroom and, um, took longer than I should have or planned and then I came back. They're unconscious." more >>
An appeals court in New York City on Thursday ruled that the Board of Education was abiding by the law in prohibiting the Bronx Household of Faith from using public school facilities for worship services during off-hours.
The 2-1 vote, a reversal of a 2012 injunction against the city, comes amid a decades-long battle between church leaders and city officials. The plaintiff's attorneys say they are considering appealing, once more, to the Supreme Court.