Pro-life sidewalk counselors in Pittsburgh are asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on a city ordinance that creates a buffer zone around abortion businesses. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the counselors a win last year by interpreting the ordinance so it did not apply to them. That’s not enough, said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney John Bursch: “The city can still prosecute pro-life sidewalk counselors and censor pro-life advocates even after the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, and until the Supreme Court weighs in, the threat remains.” —S.W.
The coronavirus outbreak is the first public health crisis to disrupt the U.S. Supreme Court since the 1918 Spanish flu. When they hit the pause button on oral arguments and public opinion readings on March 12, the justices put a number of religious liberties cases in a holding pattern.
The consolidated cases Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania address whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious employers from a regulation requiring health plans to cover contraception and abortifacients. The Catholic nuns have fought state officials for nearly a decade over the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate, which they say violates their deeply held religious convictions about the sanctity of life. The high court had scheduled oral arguments in the case for April 29.
The pandemic also will delay two cases about whether churches can make employment decisions based on their religious beliefs without the government second-guessing them. And Christian floral designer Barronelle Stutzman is waiting to hear whether the justices will hear her case for the second time.
Though the court is not holding oral arguments for the time being, it could issue opinions online in cases it has already heard. Three such cases deal with whether federal workplace laws against sex-based discrimination also cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Rulings in Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda consolidated with Bostock v. Clayton County along with Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC could affect the conscience rights of many Christian business owners.
The Supreme Court also might release its decision about whether the state of Montana discriminated against parents who wanted to send their children to religious schools using a state tax credit scholarship. The justices heard the case in January.
A pandemic knows no deadlines, so the court could continue to postpone decisions or rule without argument. But most court observers say the justices likely won’t rule on the weighty matters at issue in these cases until they can reconvene. —S.W.