3 - Mississippi religious freedom law, Florida and Indiana abortion laws blocked by Federal judges
This past week, Federal courts ruled against laws that had been passed by three states that are consistent with a Christian worldview perspective on religious freedom and life.
Regarding Mississippi, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law that was set to go into effect on Friday, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or H.B. 1523, is unconstitutional and would “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens," according to a report on the WND.com website. The story says that it is a bill "that would have protected the religious freedom of clerks and businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages."
Reeves stated, “HB 1523 does not advance the interest the State says it does,” adding, “Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not rationally related to a legitimate end.”
Governor Phil Bryant responded by saying: “Like I said when I signed House Bill 1523, the law simply provides religious accommodations granted by many other states and federal law,” adding, “I am disappointed Judge Reeves did not recognize that reality. I look forward to an aggressive appeal.”
Also, another Federal judge blocked a Florida law that was due to go into effect on Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, according to the Miami Herald, "ordered the state to restore contracts with abortion clinics and to halt plans to inspect abortion records for half of the more than 70,000 patients a year who have the procedure done in Florida."
The law had mandated that no state money would fund non-abortion care at abortion clinics. The action blocks parts of the law from taking effect, but the judge said he thought that the provisions would be found to be unconstitutional. Other parts of the law did go into effect, including a requirement that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or that abortion clinics have transfer agreements in place.
And, LifeSiteNews.com reports that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt blocked an Indiana law that would protect pre-born babies with conditions such as Down syndrome.
The story points out that while Pratt’s ruling blocked the ban on most abortions based upon disability, as well as gender and race, as well as the requirement to bury the remains of aborted children, certain provisions of the law remain in effect, according to a statement from Indiana Right to Life.
These provisions include a requirement to give the mother information from the Indiana Department of Health about perinatal hospice care if her unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. Also, there is an update to the state's admitting privileges law, mandating that an abortion provider document his or her admitting privileges with the department.
A spokesperson for Governor Mike Pence stated: "While disappointed in today's ruling, Governor Pence remains steadfast in his support for the unborn, especially those with disabilities. The governor will continue to stand for the sanctity of human life in all stages."
2 - Air Force clarifies policies on religious speech in retirement ceremonies after conflict
A video of an Air Force retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base in California has raised concerns about religious freedom for military members and resulted in a clarification from the Air Force. The Christian Examiner tells the story of an incident in April, during which several Air orce personnel forcibly removed retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez Jr. during a flag folding ceremony at the retirement of Master Sgt. Charles Roberson when he began to recite, at Roberson's request, a flag-folding speech that mentioned God. The struggle was caught on video.
Now, while Air Force regulations say that nothing is to be recited in a flag-folding ceremony, unless it is the prescribed Air Force script, in this case, a civilian was the one that was speaking. The Air Force has now clarified its policy, according to the Christian Examiner, saying no regulations were violated. It states: "Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member's views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value on the rights of its personnel in matters of religions and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members..." The Examiner referenced a story from the Air Force Times website.
An investigation has been commissioned, and further clarification has been promised by an Air Force spokesperson. Not surprisingly, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is considering a lawsuit.
1 - Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic restrictions, refuses to hear case involving pharmacist's religious liberty
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, struck down the provisions of a Texas law that required abortion centers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and that required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.
In essence, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote, and the report said:
The ruling from Kennedy and the liberals—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—said abortion was safer than childbirth, long a talking point of abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. Kennedy’s vote meant that the late Justice Antonin Scalia, had he lived through this term, would not have changed the 5-3 outcome.
The story points out that the Texas legislature had passed the measures in response to the conviction of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive and manslaughter in the death of a patient. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, said a similar law in Pennsylvania might have shut down Gosnell’s facility before he could commit his crimes. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, disagreed.
Emily Belz, the writer of the WORLD story, states:
Thomas’ dissent highlights how the court is making up its abortion jurisprudence as it goes along. The decision “perpetuates the court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”
In a case involving abortion and religious freedom, the Supreme Court this week refused to hear a case out of Washington state that involved a challenge to a policy in the state that required pharmacists to dispense abortifacient drugs over their conscience objections. WORLD reported on this development, as well. The pharmacists challenging the regulation had won in a lower court, but lost at the appeals court level.
Justice Alito offered a dissent regarding the high court's refusal. The report quotes the justice as saying that , “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” Roberts and Thomas joined in, which means, according to Belz, the writer of that story, as well, that Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote to reject the case. The court requires four votes to take a case.
You can hear an interview on The Meeting House about these two cases by clicking here.