Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Missouri Satanist challenges pro-life laws as ‘religious tenets’

Religious Liberty | Case represents a new tactic in challenging abortion regulations
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 10/17/17, 03:42 pm

Pro-abortion activists have adopted a new legal strategy against pro-life laws in Missouri, challenging them as violations of religious liberty protections. In 2016, a self-avowed Satanist sued the state, claiming its abortion regulations are “religious tenets” and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Admendment of the U.S. Constitution and Missouri’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The case now heads to the state’s Supreme Court for what could be a final decision.

A county court twice last year dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiff, identified as “Mary Doe,” did not have standing and failed to state an actionable claim. The woman was not pregnant when she filed the lawsuit, so the law did not apply to her and did not prevent her from having an abortion. But in a 3-0 decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District found some redeeming value in the plaintiff’s twisted view of the law and ruled Oct. 3 that the case “raises real and substantial constitutional claims” only the high court can address.

The original complaint, filed last year in Cole County Circuit Court, challenged the state’s informed consent law and is rife with religious language illuminating the plaintiff’s claim that the statute amounts to religious canon. The law’s declarations that life “begins at conception” and abortion terminates “the life of a separate, unique, living human being” form the “Missouri Tenet,” the plaintiff claims. She calls the list of compelled actions the “Missouri Lectionary”: Abortion providers must present women a booklet detailing gestational development, offer an ultrasound and heartbeat monitoring, and make women wait 72 hours before having the abortion.

Women are not required to accept the information, ultrasound, or heartbeat monitoring but must acknowledge in writing they received the offer. In earlier complaints, the plaintiff contended enduring the offer is an affront to her “Satanic Tenets” and violates RFRA because only she has the right to decide when life begins and when to remove “human tissue” from her body.

“But plaintiff does not claim a deeply held religious belief against complying with ‘irrelevant and unnecessary’ regulations,” Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem wrote in dismissing the RFRA claims. “Rather, she claims the regulations are irrelevant and unnecessary because they were motivated by a religious belief she does not share.”

That logic would strike down a host of laws, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kevin Theriot told me. Just because a law is based on a commonly held religious tenet (such as God’s commandment against murder) does not constitute a state establishment of religion.

If the plaintiff persisted in her appeals, the case would have ended up before the Missouri Supreme Court regardless of the appeals court decision, according to Theriot. But the appeals court could have followed the two previous judges’ rulings and dismissed the case. Instead, its unanimous decision to transfer the case lends credence to the “religious tenets” claim and the Establishment Clause violation, Theriot said.

On the bright side: If the Missouri Supreme Court rules the abortion law is indeed a “religious tenet,” affirming the Satanist’s religious tenets in the process, it could aid efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as a religious institution—because the abortion giant’s doctrine on human life is drawn from the same canon as Mary Doe’s.

Facebook Facebook The Lehigh County, Pa., seal

Prayers, seals, and appeals

Two county commissioners boards in Pennsylvania and North Carolina have voted to continue their legal defense of challenges to their public displays of Christian heritage.

Lehigh County, Pa., commissioners voted 6-3 on last Wednesday to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against the county seal, which includes a cross among other iconic symbols representing the region 60 miles north of Philadelphia. A federal judge ruled in September that legal precedent, not his interpretation of the Constitution, required he rule the cross violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, handing victory to the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Commissioners in Rowan County, N.C., will take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking justices to overturn a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the board members’ pre-meeting prayers also violate the Establishment Clause. The 4th Circuit ruling contradicts a ruling from the 6th Circuit in a similar case, making both ripe for the high court to weigh in. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the prayer complaint in 2013 on behalf of three county residents. —B.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg, file Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg, file California Gov. Jerry Brown

California governor vetos pro-abortion legislation

Surprised religious liberty and pro-life advocates praised California Gov. Jerry Brown for vetoing legislation designed to strip faith-based entities of their right to hold employees to pro-life standards. Brown’s Sunday evening decision rankled the bill’s Democratic author and its pro-abortion sponsors, whose hyperbolic response declared the governor’s veto hurt women across the country.

Greg Burt, with the California Family Council, told me that opponents did not expect the veto but said they had “glimmers of hope” throughout the legislative session because Brown made no public statements about the law. The bill would have outlawed the common practice of religious institutions and organizations requiring their employees to abide by pro-life standards that include the prohibition of contraceptive use, in vitro fertilization, pre-marital sex, and abortion.

NARAL Pro-Choice of California and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice sponsored the bill. —B.P.

No high court love for the Ten Commandments

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a case brought by city officials in Bloomfield, N.M., seeking to keep a Ten Commandments display on the city hall lawn. The rejection lets stand a lower court decision ordering the monument’s removal.

Two Bloomfield residents filed the lawsuit against the city, claiming the display “offended” their atheist sensibilities and constituted an establishment of religion, even though the monument stood among four other privately funded displays representing American heritage.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom who represented the city against the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union insist the Supreme Court needs to rectify its two disparate rulings on similar public display cases. The disparity has resulted in conflicting lower court decisions. —B.P.

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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Sun, 10/22/2017 04:38 pm

    Concerning Satanists, if they believe in their misconception of that fallen angel, then they are also acknowledging that there is a God. Also, American government is a representative democracy so that everyone has a right to be in the public square and to be members of the public society and to be a part of the workings of the government.  Any denial of any citizens of this great country from being equally representated is tyranny. Further, if Christians are shut out of society because of the "magical influence" of Christians witnessing for Christ, then so should the socialists, the anarchists, the satanists: every popular movement among the people will have some kind of attraction for those who join them, and it is not always rational.  If you are attracted to a movement, the first thing that you do is read about it.  This idea of some kind of irrational force that causes people to like Christianity is evidence of the lower standards of education in America because we are being stopped by people who "feel" and who do not think.  Christianity is a religion.  If you don't like Christianity, then you can choose to not be a Christian; however, you have no right to politicize a religion so that you may stop it.