Ben Johnson

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New HHS accommodation only ‘pretends to protect’ a select few, solves nothing: AUL legal assessment

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Obama administration's new HHS birth control mandate regulations released today, and spun as a concession to religious freedom, barely change existing policy and may even have made things worse, according to an analysis released by Americans United for Life on Friday. The pro-life legal group notes that, in addition to failing to resolve the conscience concerns of religious employers, under the rules no business or individual opt out exists, although people do not cease to hold deeply compelling religious beliefs once they enter the workforce or marketplace. 

The hefty brief is the latest in a string of commentary rejecting the proposed accommodations which -- like a similar announcement last year -- were announced on a Friday morning and immediately supported by Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

The full AUL legal analysis is below:  

The Obama Administration has not substantively altered its assault on the First Amendment’s Freedom of Conscience.  Today’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) reiterates the Administration’s commitment to what is often referred to as the “HHS mandate”– its coercive policy of forcing coverage for life-ending drugs and devices.

In some significant ways, the Obama Administration’s NRPM is even narrower than the protections it had previously entertained as a possibility in its March 2012 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM).

In the ANPRM, for example, the Obama Administration asked for input on whether for-profit employers with religious objections should be accommodated.  Today, they announced that for-profits with religious or moral objections—such as the Bible publisher Tyndale and family run businesses like Hobby Lobby—will absolutely not be afforded any conscientious protection.

The NRPM acknowledges that under the regulation issued by HHS in February 2012, if a church (that otherwise would have been exempted from the mandate) maintained a soup kitchen, or ran a parochial school, it could have been disqualified from the conscience protection because it served or hired persons regardless of their faith.  The NPRM states that this disqualification “was never [HHS’s] intention.” That, of course, is undermined by the fact that requiring organizations to be insular, and primarily serve and primarily hire persons of their own faith, were explicit requirements chosen by HHS.

While it is small step forward to drop the insularity requirements, the Obama Administration’s exemption still only applies to a very narrow category, and does not extend the guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of conscience to all Americans.

In fact, today’s announcement states that the Obama Administration will not, as it had previously considered, exempt or even “accommodate” an entire single group health plan of a church or religious organization, if each affiliated employer on the single group health plan does not independently meet the narrow requirements of the Obama Administration’s definitions.

The NPRM’s  proposed “accommodation” for only certain religious non-profits is also grossly inadequate.

Besides failing to consider for-profit employers and non-religiously affiliated non-profits whose pro-life consciences are nonetheless violated by the HHS mandate,  the NPRM is clear that “all references to ‘accommodation’ are references to an arrangement in which contraceptive coverage is provided…including objecting religious institutions of higher education.”  Accommodation does not mean an exemption.

The NRPM’s description of the “accommodation” as alleviating the conscience concerns of even the select few it pretends to protect requires a substantial amount of make-believe. Its argument that a “separate” contraceptive plan (that employees/students must be automatically enrolled in—there is no individual opt-out) will somehow not require the payment of either the enrollees or the “accommodated” religious non-profit, rests on the idea that it “is cost neutral because they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies...”  Put another way, it is only cost-neutral for the insurance company if both “separate” policies are considered.  In order to make the Obama Administration’s math for “free contraception” work, these insurance plans are not really distinct.

Importantly, the NPRM does nothing to correct the inappropriate inclusion of the abortion-inducing drug Ella in a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was intended to prevent diseases.  Forcing coverage for life-ending drugs and devices under the guise of “preventive care for women” is not achieving the goal of “public health and gender equality” announced in the NPRM.

The Obama Administration may hope that announcing its policies on a Friday afternoon will result in the American public either not noticing, or forgetting over the weekend.  However, 48 hours will not change the fact that the HHS mandate continues to violate protections in state and federal laws and the foundational American principle of Freedom of Conscience.

AUL developed an opt-out bill that has been used by eight of the 18 states that have opted-out of offering insurance plans that cover abortion in the state Exchanges required under Obamacare. AUL has also filed amicus briefs in the following on-going cases, arguing that parts of Obamacare are not Constitutional because of violations of First Amendment Conscience Rights: Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, Wheaton College v. Sebelius, Nebraska v. Sebelius, and O’Brien v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition, AUL filed a joint brief with other pro-life allies in United States Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida before the United States Supreme Court.

This analysis is reprinted with permission from Americans United for Life.

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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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