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Retired Colorado school bus driver Dennis Pesce remembers how, every year in mid-March, his job would get exponentially harder as the school drop-off lane became congested with parents dropping off students who missed the bus. The reason: the beginning of daylight saving time, or DST.
Tired parents and cranky children across the country know the confusion resulting from loss of sleep as the clocks spring forward one hour to increase the amount of evening daylight. But some lawmakers in state legislatures as well as Congress are pushing legislation to eliminate the time change each spring and fall, citing energy and health benefits.
DST, which starts on March 14 this year, has always been controversial: The practice began in 1918 with the Standard Time Act as a means of conserving energy (from lighting and heating) to support the war effort. A year later, the time change was repealed and became optional for states and municipalities. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reinstituted DST, maintaining it year-round until 1945. Over the next two decades, the question was left to states and local governments.
The practice began in 1918 with the Standard Time Act as a means of conserving energy to support the war effort.
In 1961, a transportation industry study found that an hourlong drive between West Virginia and Ohio required passing through seven time zones. This finding drove passage of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, bringing the whole country to observe daylight saving time for six months of the year while allowing states to pass bills to opt out. Today, DST is in effect eight months of the year in all but two states—Arizona (excluding the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii.
DST is up for debate yet again. Legislatures in at least 10 states from Alabama to Washington have pending bills to make DST year-round, eliminating the semiannual clock change. In January, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., resubmitted the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make DST permanent across the country. He touted the purported benefits: Americans can engage in more outdoor physical activities, cutting down on childhood obesity. The extra hour of evening light could reduce violent crime such as robberies. A study found DST reduces artificial light use, decreasing electricity consumption.
Yet critics of the plan note the potential benefits to energy conservation, traffic safety, and crime reduction are minimal, pointing to a 1974 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A 2008 Department of Energy assessment found DST only reduced primary energy consumption by 0.02 percent, as the use of air conditioning increases in the early evening hours.
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Sam Lee was sitting in a doorway when he met Roberta, a white girl in her early 20s with glasses and long brown hair. She couldn’t get past him, and that was his goal. It was around 1980, and in those early years of the pro-life sit-in movement, Lee was experienced in using his body to barricade abortion facility entrances. He was 23 and had been doing it since 1978.
He probably got in the way of a lot of women, but Lee remembers Roberta in part because of what she said to him. “You don’t understand,” she pleaded. “If I don’t have this abortion, I’ll be kicked out of my boyfriend’s apartment.” She wasn’t angry, Lee said later: “I think she was desperate, and I was in the way.”
Not for much longer. Police soon arrived, arrested him and his friends, and put them in paddy wagons. “She went in and, as far as I know, she had the abortion. Never really did find out,” Lee says. But he points to that interaction and others like it as events that would inform his pro-life work for the next four decades. When faced with other dead ends in his activist efforts, Lee worked to build and support agencies that help women in crisis pregnancies—and he’s seen the fruits.
“How do you answer that? You can’t answer with just platitudes … like, ‘Oh, honey, it’ll be OK,’” Lee muses, remembering the effect Roberta’s words had on him. In the back of the paddy wagon, he talked about it with his friends. They all agreed they had to do something to help women like Roberta. At first, a couple of the female pro-lifers opened their apartment to homeless pregnant women. But the long-term plan was to start a maternity home.
By 1982, Lee and his friends acquired an old convent and opened Our Lady’s Inn. The home’s first live-in house parent was Gloria Fahey, the woman Lee would eventually marry after meeting her on a blind date. Meanwhile, Lee continued his involvement with sit-ins: blocking facility entrances until police arrived, getting thrown into paddy wagons, being processed at police stations, sometimes showing up in court. Police arrested him about 50 times in the six or seven years between 1978 and his last sit-in.
A month after his wedding to Gloria in May 1983, Lee began serving 314 days in a Chesterfield, Mo., correctional institution for visiting abortion facilities in violation of court orders. By the time he got out, he realized spending years in jail for joining sit-ins wouldn’t do much good for the pro-life movement or his new family. So he turned to legislation.
There’s a direct cause and effect between the support for … these agencies and the women’s lives who are improved and the babies who have been saved.
His experience crafting a defense for himself and his friends after their sit-in arrests gave him a natural segue into writing pro-life bills. His initial goal was to protect pro-lifers in court. He designed one of his first bills to make the “necessity” appeal easier for pro-lifers charged with trespassing. (The argument said the evil of abortion outweighed the evil of trespassing, compelling pro-lifers to sit in front of abortion facility doors.) But that bill never passed. His focus expanded to restricting abortion facilities and establishing legal protections for babies. He helped write the Missouri bill the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in the 1989 case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, along with the state’s heartbeat bill protecting unborn babies with beating hearts. Some legislation he worked on helped close abortion clinics, bringing the statewide number down from 29 in 1982 to one in 2020.
But he says some of the most rewarding work he’s done has involved legislation that supports agencies like Our Lady’s Inn.
In 1992, Missouri elected its first pro-abortion governor since Roe v. Wade. Gov. Mel Carnahan served two terms. “We had a real dry spell,” said Lee. “It was very difficult to get things passed.” So he took a different approach: Instead of pushing bills to regulate abortion, he’d introduce legislation that could help pro-life agencies.
He crafted tax credit legislation to incentivize donations to maternity homes. That bill allowed maternity home supporters to get a reduction in their tax bill of up to 50 percent of what they gave to the agency—government support without the strings that come attached to direct funding.
It failed in 1995 and again in 1996. In 1997, Lee attached it to one of Gov. Carnahan’s priority bills, a sales tax reduction on groceries promised while on the campaign trail. Despite pushback from pro-abortion legislators, Lee’s pro-life allies in the Senate persisted. The bill with the provision for the tax credit passed unanimously in the Senate on the last day of the session, and Carnahan signed it into law.
Gloria Lee, now the chief programs officer at Our Lady’s Inn, says the tax credit helped the organization raise enough money to move into a larger building, then open a second location to house more women. It’s been able to expand services and hire more staff, including trained counselors and nurses.
Sam Lee believes the tax credit and similar pro-life legislation have set Missouri apart as a pro-life haven in the country, and he’s probably right. According to data from Heartbeat International’s worldwide directory, the number of maternity homes in Missouri rivals that of states like New York and Pennsylvania, even though Missouri’s population is around 6 million, less than half the size of those states. For maternity homes per capita, Missouri is neck and neck for first place with Maine, whose population is under 1.5 million.
Another bill, a pregnancy center tax credit, took seven years to become law, passing in 2006. Since then, the number of pregnancy centers in the tax credit program has grown from 43 to 75.
By now, Lee has been a full-time lobbyist for 35 years. He’s split between two homes, in St. Louis and Jefferson City: From January to May, while the Legislature is in session, Lee lives in his Jefferson City apartment, meeting with state legislators, researching old law, and drafting new bills—sometimes staying up until 2 a.m. to finish a project.
His apartment floor is piled with books and papers. Three bookcases line the wall and more than a dozen stacks of books surround a table he hasn’t used since his grandchildren came for a visit in 2019. It’s not a visually appealing living space, he says, but it’s functional: He’s made a path between the books so he can walk around and open and close the door. He doesn’t mind the mess or lack of decorations on the walls: “What’s important to me is that there’s order in my writing … in the presentation in the law.”
Lee has written and lobbied for plenty of legislation that went nowhere. But he’s optimistic about his work, believing his legislation has helped save lives: “In my mind there’s a direct cause and effect between the support for … these agencies and the women’s lives who are improved and the babies who have been saved. There’s just no doubt in my mind.”
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Rodney King offered a plaintive plea in the spring of 1992, hoping to quell deadly riots in Los Angeles. “People,” he said, “can we all get along?”
A more sophisticated form of King’s plea may be at the heart of an unusual number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions this term that impact religious liberty: Can Americans find a way to live together despite sharp differences in religious beliefs? A majority of the court justices seem to be charting a middle course they hope will settle that question.
Conservatives were shocked in June when the court interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to bar the firing of an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though its ruling only addressed private employers, many observers worried the 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia would lead to an avalanche of budget-sapping litigation that would weaken the ability of religious organizations to act in accordance with their convictions.
Two more recent developments will test that prediction. On July 20, 22 states and the District of Columbia, citing Bostock, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for rolling back an Obama-era regulation for healthcare providers that outlawed discrimination based on gender identity. And in a lawsuit filed in federal court on July 16, Jesse Hammons, a woman who identifies as a man, claims the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center engaged in discrimination by refusing to perform a hysterectomy due to the religious beliefs of the hospital’s administration.
But despite Bostock, a trio of decisions near the end of the Supreme Court’s term signaled strong support for religious liberty among a majority of the justices. These decisions may offer a safe harbor to those with religious convictions.
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down a Montana constitutional provision that barred public aid for religious schools. If states provide funds to private schools, said the court, they must not discriminate but must also provide funds to private religious schools. The ruling upheld a state tuition tax credit scholarship that did just that.
In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the court affirmed the right of a Catholic order of nuns not to offer contraceptive coverage to employees in its group health insurance plan.
And religious schools were heartened by a decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, where the court ruled that the “ministerial exception”—a doctrine barring courts from interfering in religious institutions’ internal matters—extends to teachers who perform vital religious duties. That ruling will help protect schools’ employment decisions from governmental intrusion.
While these decisions aren’t groundbreaking, together they reaffirm a constitutionally protected sphere of religious autonomy and liberty—a sense that people, gay or religious, must be free to act upon their deepest convictions. Private employers with religious convictions must still reckon with Bostock’s holding, yet churches and religious institutions are being bolstered by the court’s affirmation of religious freedom.
“The court has signaled that religious liberty is a crucial part of maintaining a pluralistic society in which people can coexist with deep differences,” says Thomas Berg, a constitutional law scholar at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Berg notes that while the court in Bostock extended civil protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender persons, the majority in that case said it remained “deeply concerned” about protecting the rights of religious organizations.
Two cases to be argued in the court’s term beginning in October offer the justices opportunities to further strengthen religious liberty.
In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the court will determine whether the city can cut ties with Catholic Social Services over the organization’s faith-based objection to placing foster children with same-sex couples. The city is relying on a neutral public accommodations law that bars most businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The court’s ruling in Espinoza suggests it may similarly rule that Philadelphia cannot discriminate against religious agencies.
In the other case, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., the court will consider whether the state can punish florist Barronelle Stutzman for her Biblical beliefs about marriage, which preclude her from making custom floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding. The state cited Stutzman for violating a public accommodations law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
With these religious liberty cases, the court is dealing with deeply polarizing issues that Congress, also polarized, is unable to resolve, says Berg: “A key historical purpose of religious liberty is to reduce cultural conflict by giving people assurance that their deep commitments will be protected.”
Societal peace may be beyond the purview of the Supreme Court. But a majority of the justices appear to be attempting some measure of judicial peace—and hoping we can all get along.