Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Ignoring precedent

Religious Liberty | State and local governments seek to nullify U.S. Supreme Court protections for pro-life pregnancy centers
by Steve West
Posted 6/04/19, 02:27 pm

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year barring governments from forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortion services, the city of Hartford, Conn., and other jurisdictions are still targeting pro-life ministries. Caring Families Pregnancy Services, which serves the cities of Willimantic and Hartford, filed a complaint last month with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over Hartford’s requirement that it provide notices that could discourage women from using its services.

Caring Families claims that a recently enacted city ordinance discriminates against it by compelling it to inform clients that it does “not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services.” The new law exempts abortion centers and community health clinics from providing the notice. Connecticut legislators are considering statewide restrictions similar to those enacted by Hartford, the Connecticut Post reported.

The HHS complaint followed a lawsuit against the ordinance filed in April by Mobile Care, a satellite ministry of Caring Families. While the city claimed the ordinance was meant to ensure that women had comprehensive access to reproductive health services, Caring Families contended the real purpose was to deter pregnant women from considering pro-life alternatives to abortion. The pregnancy care center also called the required notice misleading because the services the center provides do not require the supervision of a medical professional. According to its website, Caring Families offers ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, counseling, adoption referrals, parenting classes, Bible studies, and post-abortion support—none of which require a licensed medical provider to be present.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra that a California law that required pro-life pregnancy centers to notify women of the availability of free or low-cost abortions and that they had “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services” was unconstitutional, compelled speech. Alliance Defending Freedom counsel Denise Harle, who represents Caring Families, told me NIFLA dictates the result here.

“The Supreme Court made clear in NIFLA that governments cannot single out a certain viewpoint for disfavored treatment and then coerce those speakers to make certain statements, under threat of punishment,” she said.

Courts have partially and wholly invalidated similar laws in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Hawaii; Illinois; Montgomery County, Md.; and New York City, Harle said, adding, “The city of Hartford is the only governmental entity we’re aware of that has been brazen enough to enact speech regulations discriminating against pro-life pregnancy centers in spite of the Supreme Court’s clear ruling.”

Yet NIFLA Vice President of Legal Affairs Anne O’Connor told me about similar attempts to flout Supreme Court precedent. New York’s state Senate is considering legislation to require pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients that they do not provide abortions or birth control services. And a New Jersey bill would require such facilities to tell clients that the Department of Health encourages pregnant women to consult with a licensed healthcare professional, along with whether the center has a licensed healthcare professional on staff and provides referrals for contraception or abortion services.

“After the NIFLA ruling, we thought that abortion proponents would walk away for a while,” O’Connor said. "Instead, it’s like we kicked the beehive.”

Associated Press/Photo by Reed Saxon (file) Associated Press/Photo by Reed Saxon (file) Archbishop José Gómez

Breaking the confessional seal

A bill before the California State Legislature that would require Catholic clergy members to report some of what they hear during confession is waiting for an Assembly committee assignment after the Senate passed it a few weeks ago in a 30-4 vote. The bill removes an exemption to mandatory reporting laws that protects communication between a clergy member and a penitent.

“I am deeply disappointed with today’s Senate vote,” Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez, who also serves as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, tweeted on May 23. “I continue to believe we can strengthen mandated reporting laws to protect children’s safety while at the same time preserving the sanctity of penitential communications.”

Despite several amendments protecting confessional seals—the bill now only requires priests to report if a fellow priest or a co-worker reveals sexual abuse—the Catholic Church in particular bristled at the bill’s passage. Gómez said in an earlier statement that confession is sacred and that forcing priests to break it not only violates their religious liberty but it also is not an effective way to curtail sexual abuse because it is not the kind of sin that people report during confession. He pointed out that other protected communications, such as attorney-client privilege, had not received the same treatment despite being more likely to include information about abuse. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Alliance Defending Freedom Alliance Defending Freedom The Lyceum in South Euclid, Ohio

Clarified rights

Following a lawsuit, the city of South Euclid, Ohio, said it would not force a Catholic classical school to hire employees who reject church doctrine on marriage and sexuality. The city had refused to answer The Lyceum’s multiple requests for clarification after an ordinance went into effect that prohibited discrimination based on religion, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression (among other things) in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“No one should have to file a federal lawsuit simply to find out whether they are violating a vague law with criminal penalties,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed suit on behalf of the school. “We’re disappointed that the city didn’t do the right thing right from the start, but we’re pleased that it now acknowledges that The Lyceum’s parents, students, and faculty have the freedom to seek out this unique, faith-based education and maintain community standards rooted in Catholic teaching.”

ADF attorneys dropped the lawsuit last week once South Euclid officials made it clear that school would not be subject to fines or restitution, or its officials put in jail for violating the ordinance by following Catholic doctrine. —R.L.A.

Facebook/Chick-fil-A Pittsburgh Airport Facebook/Chick-fil-A Pittsburgh Airport A Chick-fil-A restaurant at Pittsburgh International Airport

FAA enters Chick-fil-A battle

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the city of San Antonio’s decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from an airport concession contract over the company’s Christian underpinnings, including support of the Biblical definition of marriage. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy has expressed publicly his Christian beliefs concerning marriage, and the restaurant chain’s foundation has donated to organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which also supports traditional marriage. The FAA told San Antonio officials on Friday it is investigating complaints that the airport discriminated “against a private company due to the expression of the owner’s religious beliefs,” according to a San Antonio Express-News report. City Attorney Andy Segovia said his office is reviewing the notice.

In response to San Antonio’s decision, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill on May 21 that would prohibit cities from taking adverse action against an individual based on financial contributions to religious organizations. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has indicated he would sign the bill. —R.L.A.

Steve West

Steve is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

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Comments

  • RC
    Posted: Wed, 06/05/2019 09:37 am

    US Constitution, 1 Amendment, “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,…”

    What part of this do the city officials of San Antonio not understand?  So if the owner of Chick-Fil-A did not express his religious opinion, then his business would not be restricted?  Don’t need to be an attorney to see the clear violation of the 1st Amendment by the City of San Antonio.   Thanks to the FAA for raising the question.

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