Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Letting doctors do no harm

Religious Liberty | President Donald Trump announces conscience protections to healthcare providers
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 5/07/19, 03:04 pm

At an event marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, President Donald Trump announced new rules for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers. The rules strengthen protections for doctors, nurses, and others who object to participating in procedures such as abortion, assisted suicide, or sterilization.

Under the new regulations, government or government-funded entities cannot discriminate against other entities, employees, or professionals with religious or moral objections to procedures such as abortion. The rules also protect individuals and organizations from being forced to provide payment or referrals for those procedures and safeguard parents who have religious objections to certain treatments for their children.

Congress has passed numerous laws protecting conscience to varying degrees. The new rules give teeth to those laws by clarifying that the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has the authority to investigate religious discrimination complaints and withhold federal funds from those who don’t comply. The regulations encourage HHS funding recipients to post notices of their employees’ rights to work in accordance with their beliefs.

HHS said that the last regulation on healthcare workers’ rights to moral and ethical objections, passed in 2011, did not sufficiently protect religious liberty. Since then, healthcare workers like Sandra Rojas, a nurse in Illinois, have had to choose between making referrals for abortion or losing their jobs. The Winnebago County Health Department fired Rojas in 2015. “Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” Roger Severino, director of the OCR, said of the new regulations. “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”

HHS cited a 2009 survey of 2,865 members of faith‐based medical associations, 39 percent of whom said they had faced pressure or discrimination based on their beliefs. Another 32 percent said they felt pressured to refer patients for procedures to which they had “moral, ethical, or religious objections,” and 20 percent of medical students in the poll said they would not pursue obstetrics or gynecology because they expected discrimination against their beliefs in those fields.

“We commend the Trump administration and HHS for this commonsense rule that simply ensures longstanding federal conscience laws are enforced so that no American is forced to choose between violating their beliefs and serving those most in need,” said Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney at the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which submitted a comment to HHS that listed numerous religious liberty cases it has litigated on behalf of healthcare workers. “By ensuring that entities receiving federal funds do not violate healthcare entities’ and individuals’ freedom of conscience, this rule preserves diversity in the healthcare field and maintains respect for the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.”

Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Milo Yiannopoulos

Facebook censors ‘hate’

Facebook raised more free speech concerns last week when it banned provocateurs such as Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and others from its service. The move follows criticism of Facebook and other social media platforms for giving extremists a powerful pulpit for their inflammatory views. It also comes in the wake of deadly shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., and mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by radicalized individuals who used social media to both absorb and express hateful rhetoric.

Facebook implemented the bans under its community standards policy on dangerous individuals and organizations. The policy is aimed at terrorist activity, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, organized violence or criminal activity, and organized hate. The last category has proven controversial because Facebook’s community standards do not define “hate.” Often, media outlets take their cues from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch, which bills itself as “a blog that monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right.” But Hatewatch classifies some non-hateful Christian organizations such as Alliance Defending Freedom and D. James Kennedy Ministries as ‘hate groups” simply based on their support for the Biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

“The potential for abuse is obvious,” David French of National Review wrote about the Facebook bans, citing the “chilling effect even on those who engage in good-faith debate on hot-button topics when their point of view runs contrary to the company’s ideological ethos.” —Steve West

Facebook/Catholic Charities West Michigan (file) Facebook/Catholic Charities West Michigan (file) Supporters of Catholic Charities West Michigan

Foster care fight

A second front has opened in the battle being waged by faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue helping at-risk children in Michigan. Grand Rapids–based Catholic Charities West Michigan (CCWM) sued the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and various state officials in late April in an attempt to stop the state from discriminating against the agency because of its religious beliefs about marriage.

The Catholic Charities lawsuit, filed in state court, comes on the heels of a similar lawsuit filed in federal court less than two weeks ago by Michigan’s St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Both cases challenge a settlement between Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who is openly homosexual, and the American Civil Liberties Union that would prevent the state from contracting with faith-based agencies that will not agree to place children with same-sex couples.

Jeremiah Galus, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, told me that Catholic Charities filed in state court rather than federal court to raise claims directly under state law and the state constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. Galus said ADF is “considering all options to ensure that CCWM can operate its foster care and adoption ministry and continue serving Michigan’s children and families while this lawsuit is pending.” —S.W.

Campus free speech

A new law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, prohibits Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities from creating and limiting expression to “free-speech zones.” The state now requires state-funded public colleges and universities to adopt policies protecting freedom of expression on campus so long as the speech is lawful and does not disrupt the functioning of the college or university. The new law, similar to one recently adopted in Arkansas, makes virtually all outside areas on campuses open forums.

The Oklahoma law is based on model legislation proposed by the Goldwater Institute in a January 2017 report. At least 28 states have introduced campus free speech legislation, and 12 governors have signed bills into law, according to a summary by Campus Reform, a conservative college news site.

“This new law helps ensure that public universities continue to be places where intellectual diversity flourishes and both students and faculty are able to engage in the exchange of ideas rather than being censored on campus,” Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Zack Pruitt said in a statement. —S.W.

A good American

A Denver landlord who told her tenant to find an “American person … good like you and me” to sublet her property instead of a Muslim father and son has agreed to pay the men $675,000. In 2016, Craig Caldwell took out a five-year lease on the building for his fried chicken restaurant. When he closed the business in 2017, he sought to sublet it to Rashad Khan to avoid paying the remainder of the lease, but landlord Katina Gatchis refused to approve. Khan praised the outcome of the suit, saying that if he weren’t in America, “I wouldn’t enjoy the freedoms I have, and I wouldn’t have the justice system that allowed her to have the consequences for acting like she did.” —S.W.

Religious observance

A new law makes Washington the first state to require public universities and colleges to provide academic accommodation to students for religious observances. Professors must allow students to reschedule exams and other required activities to observe religious holidays. A student must notify faculty in writing within two weeks of the beginning classes of the specific days for which accommodation is sought. —S.W

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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