Sunday, August 03, 2014

The 3 - August 3, 2014

This week here in "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I highlight a court decision on the pro-life law in Mississippi that would have closed the state's only abortion clinic because it could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Also, a physician working with a Christian relief organization, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating those suffering with it in Liberia, has reached the U.S., and a hygienist also working on the mission field will be heading to America soon.  And, the top story:  President Obama has appointed a new religious freedom ambassador and the State Department has released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.

3 - Appeals court strikes down Mississippi pro-life law

Mississippi's only abortion clinic will continue to operate, based on a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the state's abortion law requiring those doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital placed an undue burden on women.

According to, the appellate court upheld a lower court injunction suspending the law, though it narrowed the scope of the stay to apply only to the parties in the case — namely the lone Mississippi abortion facility, Jackson Women's Health Organization.   That facility could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and would have been forced to close out of noncompliance with the law.

The appeals court said the fact that women would have to travel out of state for an abortion was an "undue burden," so the law can’t stand.

Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

The three-member panel that heard arguments had indicated that closing Mississippi’s last abortion clinic might be difficult due to concerns that crossing state lines for abortions might create a different set of legal issues.

Paul Eldridge Barnes, who argued for the State of Mississippi, noted that already thousands of Mississippi women cross state lines every year for abortions in neighboring states.

In fact, last April, a different three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit found that a nearly similar provision in Texas’ HB2 abortion law created no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and allowed the state to enforce it. That has resulted in the closure of numerous Texas abortion clinics.

2 - 2 missions workers contract and fight deadly Ebola virus

Over the weekend, a plane carrying Dr. Kent Brantly, a physician working with international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, landed outside of Atlanta.   Dr. Brantly had contracted the deadly Ebola virus while working with patients in the African nation of Liberia.  According to the Samaritan's Purse website, after landing in the U.S., he was then transported to Emory University Hospital.   Emory has an isolation unit set up in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases.  He had been working with the Samaritan's Purse medical team responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

American Nancy Writebol, a hygienist working with the missions organization SIM, who also contracted Ebola in Liberia, is expected to arrive in Atlanta within the next few days.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted as saying, “We thank God that they are alive and now have access to the best care in the world...We are extremely thankful for the help we have received from the State Department, the CDC, the National Institute of Health, WHO and, of course, Emory Hospital.”

This past week, Samaritan’s Purse was currently working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home countries. Samaritan’s Purse is taking precautions that exceed the standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

According to Graham, “An experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol...However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”

1 - State Department issues new religious freedom report, new ambassador appointed

There were some developments concerning U.S. government efforts to address religious freedom issues this week.  Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by the new nominee for the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, announced the release of the State Department's annual report on religious freedom.  There are now 9 "Countries of Particular Concern" with regard to the area of religious freedom. Turkmenistan has been added to the State Department’s list of worst religious freedom offenders, according to a report on the Religion News Service website.

The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list had remained static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs.

Justifying the addition of Turkmenistan, Kerry cited reports of people detained, beaten and tortured for their beliefs, prohibited from wearing religious attire and fined for distributing religious materials.

Kerry called the report “a clear-eyed objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world,” adding “it does directly shine a light in a way that makes some countries – even some of our friends – uncomfortable.” He called for the CPC designations to be grounded in real action that can help change reality on the ground.

The report says, "In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory...In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”

In a report on the Saperstein nomination, Religion News Service reported that:
The choice of Saperstein will appeal to many who advocate for religious freedom for his staunch work in the area, and for his lifelong commitment to social justice. 
RNS points out:
...his generally liberal views may concern some from the more conservative side of the political spectrum. Though he helped pass RFRA, the law considered by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case decided last month, Saperstein decried the court’s decision, arguing that the justices had overstepped when they ruled that the craft store chain could cite religious objections in not providing contraception coverage in its insurance plan.
Concerning Saperstein, Baptist Press relates that, "He has advocated positions opposite those of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life and religious liberty organizations."  It reports that Saperstein backs abortion rights and that, "He stood at Obama's side as the president signed an executive order July 21 to extend workplace protections among federal contractors to homosexual, bisexual and transgender status."

In a statement, ERLC President Russell D. Moore said, "While we strongly disagree with Rabbi Saperstein on many issues regarding domestic policy such as the recent Hobby Lobby ruling and issues related to the sanctity of unborn life, we are hoping that he will articulate a robust view of religious freedom around the world as he answers these questions in his Senate confirmation hearings."

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