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Ben Johnson

Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby on HHS mandate in 5-4 decision

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

Updated on June 20 at 3:15 p.m. EST.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning the U.S. Supreme Court decided closely held corporations with religious objections cannot be compelled to furnish potentially abortion-inducing drugs to their employees by a 5-4 decision.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) allows for closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby to maintain their religious outlook and still do business, the majority ruled in a 49-page opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. The law holds that government may only impose a mandate that burdens religious business owners' consciences if the government has a compelling interest in doing so and uses the least invasive means possible.

"We must next ask whether the HHS contraceptive mandate 'substantially burden[s]' the exercise of religion," the justices wrote. "We have little trouble concluding that it does."

"We reject HHS's arguments that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships," they added. "The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their business as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs."

The ruling holds that the HHS mandate is not the least invasive alternative. "The mandate plainly fails that test," the opinion holds.

The five justices in the majority found it "unnecessary" to rule on whether the HHS mandate serves a compelling government interest, side-stepping the issue of whether assuring women's access to contraceptives is a common good. However, Justice Kennedy in his concurrence wrote "a premise of the Court's opinion is its assumption that the HHS regulation here at issue furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees." 

Justices also chose not to comment on whether the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment, saying the RFRA alone invalidates the provision as applied to closely held for-profit corporations.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas on the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. (formerly Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.) and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a four-page concurring opinion to swing the decision in favor of Hobby Lobby.

The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialites Corporation argued in court that the HHS mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act – which requires all employers to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to female employees without charging a co-pay – violates their owners' evangelical Christian faith.

“Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles,” said Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby. “The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins called the decision "one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation." Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest agreed it was " a victory for common-sense, as pro-life Americans do not lose their First Amendment freedoms when they open a family business or when they value unborn life."

The court's four liberal justices filed two separate dissents to today's ruling. One, authored by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, runs 35 pages and calls the majority opinion "a decision of startling breadth." They strongly objected to the notion that for-profit corporations qualified for protection from laws that might violate its owners' religious views. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan filed a separate one-paragraph dissent, joining Ginsburg siding with HHS but not commenting on the standing of for-profit corporations.

Hobby Lobby is the largest and only non-Catholic privately owned business to file a lawsuit against the HHS mandateThe company provides 16 of the 20 forms of contraception required by new federal regulations. But the owners opposed paying for or furnishing potential abortifacients like Ella and the morning-after pill to its female employees. 

The decision suggests that the Obama administration could have had U.S. taxpayers underwrite the cost of contraceptives for corporations that refuse to decline them on religious grounds.

It also states the administration could implement a system similar to the law's “accommodation” for religious non-profits, unveiled in February 2013. The provision allowed non-profit organizations to note their religious objection in writing, and their insurance companies would then be compelled to provide the contraceptives to female employees for “free.” Pro-life observers dismissed the notion as little more than an accounting gimmick, saying the insurance companies would pass on the costs to the employers by charging higher premiums. The Little Sisters of the Poor have sued, saying participating in the system violates their religious freedom; justices specifically said they did not decide the constitutionality of the system for "all religious claims."

But "HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections," the justices wrote. "We therefore conclude that this system constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty."

Hobby Lobby CEO David Green said, “This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”

Last June 27, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hobby Lobby had “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.” However, Conestoga Wood lost its case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals last July.

The Hahn family, which owns Conestoga, says its devout Mennonite faith and belief that life begins at conception forbids it from complying with the mandate. 

The Greens' son, Mardel, who operates 35 Christian bookstores, also joined the lawsuit.

The hobby chain, with more than 500 stores in 41 states, faced a penalty of $100 a day per employee or $1.3 million in daily fines for violating the HHS mandate. In all, Hobby Lobby faced $475 million a year in fines, Conestoga would have been slapped with $33 million, and Mardel's Christian book chain with $15 million in ObamaCare penalties.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases last November. 

Today is the last day of the Supreme Court's session. It will resume on the first Monday in October. 

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LifeSiteNews staff

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Professor fails student because she won’t denounce Christian faith and morality

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

Polk County, FL, May 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A sixteen-year-old, dual-enrolled student, “G.L.,” is the subject of religious intolerance by humanities professor Lance "L.J." Russum at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida. Liberty Counsel has asked the dean to investigate the professor and his curriculum.

G.L. and her parents reached out to Liberty Counsel when Russum gave her four (4) straight zeros because she refused to conform to his personal worldviews of Marxism, Atheism, Feminism, and homosexuality. Professor Russum expressed blatant and pervasive anti-Christian bias throughout the class, such as the following essay question: “Why did Christianity, and its male gods, seek to silence these women [the nuns]?”

In other essays where G.L. refused to concede that Christianity was false, violent, or oppressive to women; that Martin Luther’s motivations for the Reformation were wholly secular; and that Michaelangelo’s sculptures and paintings communicated that “same-sex relationship is NOT A SIN,” Mr. Russum gave her a total of four straight zeros.

Russum’s classroom behavior is a reflection of his personal biases. Mr. Russum's Facebook profile pictures include Fidel Castro and Jesus Christ making an obscene gesture. The website “Rate my Professor” shows that G.L. is not the first student to be subjected to the professor’s viewpoint discrimination. His college email signature line includes a quote from a Marxist who praises Lenin, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and Adolf Hitler. These, along with the inappropriate course content, show that Professor Russum is seeking to impose his own values on students, in violation of the Constitution.

Liberty Counsel has demanded (1) a full and independent review of Mr. Russum’s behavior and course content; (2) appropriate grading of G.L’s four “zero” assignments by a different professor; (3) a written apology; and (4) assurances that future courses taught by Mr. Russum, if any, will be free from such unlawful discrimination.

“Mr. Russum should not be permitted to use his position to punish students who do not conform to his anti-Christian views,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “G.L.’s parents asked Polk State College to review this matter, but it refused, so Liberty Counsel is stepping in to help. According to its website, the college’s core values are service, integrity, knowledge, diversity, and leadership. No student should be subjected to such outrageous bias and outright hostility to their values by a professor. Being a professor is not open season to belittle and punish students merely because they do not subscribe to the professor's radical opinions.” 

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Carl H. Esbeck

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How forcing gay ‘marriage’ on America would provoke hostility to religion and limit free speech

Carl H. Esbeck
By

May 6, 2015 (ThePublicDiscourse.com) -- Among the many friends-of-the-court briefs in support of the states in the current same-sex marriage litigation, three especially noteworthy briefs have been filed by religious organizations, public speakers, and scholars concerned about religious liberty and free speech. The ecumenical breadth and numerical strength they represent is impressive. One expresses the combined views of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons” or LDS), the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, the Christian Legal Society, and several denominations affiliated with Evangelical Protestantism. A second brief was filed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Together, these groups represent the religious affiliations of more than 130 million Americans—approximately 40 percent of the country.

The Protestant/LDS brief (which I worked on) and the Catholic bishops’ brief raise similar themes. The signers of both briefs reject the notion that support for man-woman marriage is founded on animus and that the marriage laws can be struck down on that basis. They also warn that elevating sexual orientation to a protected class or same-sex marriage to a fundamental right would impede religious liberty.

third brief, filed by religious organizations, public speakers, and scholars concerned about free speech, explains the ways in which those who do not agree with same-sex marriage have been actively silenced or chilled in speaking their views. Given the importance of the freedom of speech to political and religious minorities, this is especially disturbing.

Religious Support for Man-Woman Marriage Is Not Based on Animus

Support for marriage is not founded on bigotry, hatred, or irrational prejudice.

The Protestant/LDS brief explains that their support for man-woman marriage is based on affirming the importance of traditional marriage (as opposed to vilifying homosexuals), combined with centuries of practical experience counseling with and ministering to intact and broken families, single mothers, and functionally fatherless children. Man-woman marriage is central to the history of the church, personal identity, and lived faith of millions of religious Americans.

Similarly, the Catholic bishops’ brief declares that their support for the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is based upon love, justice, and concern for the common good. No other institution joins together persons with the natural ability to have children and unite any children of the union with their own mother and father.

Ultimately, the briefs argue that convictions supporting traditional marriage express truths that religious believers and faith communities have held for centuries about the positive value of man-woman marriage. These beliefs predate any conception of homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority, much less same-sex marriage. The notion that traditional marriage laws exist for the purpose of harming gays and lesbians is empirically false.

Further, state laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman are not invalid simply because they overlap with, or are informed by, religious or moral viewpoints. Many of the most significant social and political movements in our nation’s history were motivated by religious and moral considerations. Indeed, advocacy to redefine marriage to include two people of the same sex is itself motivated by arguments that, however flawed in our view, have religious and moral roots.

Traditional Marriage Laws Cannot Be Struck Down on the Basis of Animus

Marriage laws cannot be held invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment, and particularly not on the basis of animus.

As the Protestant/LDS brief explains, the animus doctrine is extremely limited in scope. It is applicable only when the sole purpose of a statute is to harm a group, as evinced by an unprecedented departure from ordinary governing standards. Marriage amendments and statutes—which merely codify the definition of marriage that until a decade ago existed continuously and ubiquitously since before the Founding, and which advance many governmental interests unrelated to anti-gay animus—do not qualify as such a departure under Supreme Court precedent.

The definition of marriage distinguishes and specially supports certain forms of conduct that further society’s interests. Both briefs affirm, based on long experience, that a home with a mother and a father is the optimal environment for raising children, an ideal that state law properly encourages and promotes. Given the unique capacity for reproduction of the male-female couple and the unique value of homes with a mother and a father, it is reasonable and just for a state to treat the union of one man and one woman as having a public value that is absent from other intimate sexual relationships.

The Catholic bishops’ brief points out that more than a quarter of the nation’s children currently live with only one birth parent. Government support for a marital bond between the biological mother and father of a child reduces, or prevents further increases in, the incidence of single parenthood and the consequent burdens it places on the custodial parent (usually the mother) and government welfare programs.

While the law may not draw classifications based on mere thoughts, beliefs, or inclinations, it can and routinely does distinguish between types of conduct and aids those it finds most in need of protection and support. Confining marriage to man-woman unions does not imply hatred toward the many other intimate arrangements that the law permits but does not endorse. The right to be left alone does not entail a right to public affirmation and support for one’s intimate relationships.

Recognizing a Right to Same-Sex Marriage Would Impede Religious Liberty

A Supreme Court ruling declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage would have a disastrous impact on religious liberty.

As the Protestant/LDS brief explains, a decision declaring state marriage laws void for animus would disparage those religious organizations and persons who believe deeply in marriage. Such a decision would stigmatize them as bigots akin to racists. That stigma would impede their full participation in democratic life, as their beliefs concerning marriage, family, and sexuality are placed beyond the constitutional pale. Because religious people cannot renounce their scriptural beliefs, a finding of animus would consign believers to second-class status as citizens whose doctrines about vital aspects of society are deemed presumptively illegitimate. The misattribution of animus would deprive believers and faith communities of their rights to the free exercise of religion, free speech, and democratic participation. Assaults on religious liberty, already under pressure, would intensify.

Likewise, a ruling that sexual orientation is a suspect class entitled to heightened scrutiny would harm religious liberty. Judicial suspicion would quickly follow, directed at laws but also at the religious beliefs and practices of religious organizations and believers themselves. If the Court were to declare sexual orientation a suspect class, claims soon would arise urging that the government has a compelling interest in barring sexual orientation discrimination so as to justify the suppression of religious practices in the private sector concerning employment and charitable services. Because scriptural beliefs regarding marriage, family, and sexuality are central to religious institutions and the religious way of life, recognizing sexual orientation as a suspect class would generate countless new conflicts.

Indeed, a constitutional right to same-sex marriage under any theory would generate tensions with religious freedom and related interests across a wide array of religious, educational, charitable, and cultural fronts. As the Catholic bishops’ brief warns, because marriage so pervades civil and social life, redefining marriage as a matter of constitutional law would soon create extensive church-state conflicts. Where states have redefined marriage, conflicts between new claims of equal treatment with claims of religious liberty have already arisen. A Supreme Court ruling imposing same-sex marriage on the country would needlessly embroil the judiciary in conflicts between church and state for generations to come.

Directly or not, a Court ruling creating a right to same-sex marriage would convey what Justice Kennedy has decried as “hostility toward religion . . . inconsistent with our history and our precedents.”

Constitutionalizing Same-Sex Marriage Would Weaken Free Speech

Religious freedom aside, the ability to speak freely is fundamental to both personal dignity and the strength of a self-governing republic. As Justice Kennedy has observed:

At the heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person should decide for him or herself the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression, consideration, and adherence. Our political system and cultural life rest upon this ideal.

Often, speech, religion, and political issues are intertwined. Where would the nation be if the abolitionists, deeply convicted by their faith, had been silenced in their quest to change hearts and minds over slavery? Where would we be if the Reverend Martin Luther King, and others like him, had not been able to speak freely from Black Church heritage on human dignity and liberty?

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

It is commonplace for there to be a moral dimension to issues in the public square. To countenance politically correct moral views but to dismiss less popular moral views as being driven by animus simply because they stem from religious principles is a double standard. Free speech protections are all the more crucial for those willing to dissent from the views most dominant in our culture.

This concern is not just abstract worry. It stems from real-life events:

  • 19-year Marine Corps and Navy veteran chaplain was removed from the promotion list and detached for cause (essentially terminated) for privately expressing support for traditional marriage.
  • An Atlanta Fire Chief authored a book in which he briefly stated his religious view that marriage should only be between one man and woman, for which he was suspended and then terminated despite no evidence of discrimination by him while at work.
  • District Health Director for the State of Georgia was fired after state officials reviewed his sermons as a lay pastor that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman.
  • A Missouri university student who refused on religious grounds to complete a class assignment requiring her to write a letter to her state legislator lobbying for same-sex adoption rights was charged by the university with misconduct, questioned by the Departmental Ethics Committee at length, and informed that her degree may be withheld.

And there are more such stories. Thus, it is not surprising that fifty-eight supporters of same-sex marriage as a matter of policy released a public statement expressing their concern for the free speech rights of those opposed to same-sex marriage. A ruling that same-sex marriage is protected by the Constitution will exponentially magnify the current pressure by federal agencies through policies, manuals, and training materials that will impose speech codes on employees, silencing or chilling those who are out of step.

The Constitution marks a wiser course—that is, leaving the people free to decide the great marriage debate through their state democratic institutions. Allowing all citizens an equal voice in shaping their common destiny is the only way the diverse views of a highly diverse people can be respected on this matter of political, social, and religious importance. Respect for the principle of equal citizenship and equal participation in the democratic process is the only way that the contemporary controversy over same-sex marriage can be resolved without inflicting harm on millions of religious believers and their institutions.

Carl H. Esbeck is the R.B. Price Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Missouri. Reprinted with permission from The Witherspoon Institute

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Andrea Rodil

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Activists exploit 10-year-old pregnant rape victim to legalize abortion in Paraguay

Andrea Rodil
By Andrea Rodil

ASUNCION, Paraguay, May 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- "10 Year Old Paraguayan Girl Pregnant by Rape": A headline like this will undoubtedly shock and paralyze most people. As the mother of a girl of 12 who lives in Paraguay I cannot even begin to imagine what I would feel in my heart if something like this happened to my daughter.

A few days ago, the media in Paraguay reported headlines just like this.  A 10 year old girl had been taken to the emergency room of a hospital in Asuncion complaining of abdominal pain and an unexplained increase in the size of her belly.  After several tests, the doctors came to a conclusion: the girl was pregnant.

In 2014, the girl's mother had reported the man she lived with to the police, accusing him of 'groping' her daughter who was then only nine years old. Police began investigating the case, but soon the mother withdrew the accusation, assuring the police that it was all a misunderstanding. The mother continued to live with the man, and now a year later, her little daughter is 23 weeks pregnant. It is now believed that the girl was subjected to constant abuse and that her mother knew, or at least suspected what was happening.

In this terrible case there are two victims and many culprits.  Obviously, the victims are the young girl and her baby.  I have mixed feelings about the mother of the little girl.  As a woman, I would not put all the blame upon the girl's mother, for I am convinced that the violence experienced by the girl was probably also suffered and feared by the girl's mother.  However, as a mother myself, I also know that I would fight tooth and nail against anyone who tried to hurt one of my children. I would in fact gladly give my life to defend them.

One cannot forgive the actions -- or in this case -- the inaction of the mother who failed to protect her daughter - and the mother is currently imprisoned for her complicity in the abuse.  The police stated that for more than a year the girl's mother knew her daughter was abused by her partner and she let it continue. 

Meanwhile, the principal perpetrator, the man who raped and impregnated the 10-year-old girl, is on the run, having absconded the moment the case became public.

Faced with such tragedies, our society is nevertheless left to deal with a situation that is more common than one can imagine.  According to the Paraguayan Ministry of Health, in 2014 there were 684 cases of pregnancies of girls between 10 and 14 years. This data reveals the magnitude of the problem.

Now, what is to be done with the pregnant young girl?

Amnesty International is using this case to call for the legalization of abortion and it has mounted an intense lobbying campaign with the Paraguayan government to pressure them into aborting the 27 week old child.  They are calling for "the legal interruption of pregnancy" in order to protect the health of the little girl.

The abortion advocates' campaign repeats the mantra that the state must act "as soon as possible to protect all human rights of girls, starting with the right to life, health and physical and psychological integrity, in the short, medium and long term.” They say that they defend the "right to choose".

I wonder if Amnesty International activists are really concerned with the little girl? For it seems that they what they are really doing is using her, using her tragic circumstance to advance their own agenda. 

Do they not realize what they propose as a solution is simply to commit a further injustice? Do they not perceive that two wrongs don't make a right? Do they not realize that the one they are punishing with death is the weakest and most innocent of the parties involved?

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay is clear in stating that the state must protect life from the moment of conception. In this case, both the 10-year-old girl who has been abused, and the baby she carries in her womb, have the right to demand that the State act to protect their lives.  Both should have access to all the necessary medical efforts needed to attend to them; both are victims and deserve all the support of society and the state. 

The value of a life is not defined by age, stage of development, or the circumstances under which one was conceived.  All life is valuable in itself. The authorities have a moral obligation and a constitutional duty to protect them and give them the care necessary to save both.

Although Amnesty international states that abortion is necessary in order to save the life and health of the little girl, at this moment, thankfully, her life is not in danger. The doctor who is monitoring the little girl, Dolores Castellanos, has confirmed that the pregnancy is developing without affecting the health of the infant or the little girl.  However, media propaganda unleashed around the case insists that the young girl will die if she is allowed to reach full term.

To their great credit, the government has been cautious and resilient, and Health Minister Antonio Barrios has not succumbed to the international abortion lobby's pressure. He has stated that the government has applied strict measures to protect the child and the baby.

Moreover, many Paraguayan non-profit organizations and other institutions have stepped up and offered to help with comprehensive care such as counseling, material and financial short and long-term support, continual support, but most importantly with support that takes into consideration the life of both children, the young mother and her baby.  Yet others, like Amnesty International, are not offering comprehensive care for the victims, and instead are just taking advantage of the situation to try to establish a precedent for the legalization of abortion in order to eventually enact laws that violate the right to life.

While comprehensive and compassionate care for the young girl and her baby are laudable, it is only putting out one fire which unfortunately will break out again. More must be done to address the roots of the tragedy that this girl and so many other children like her have to suffer.

Instead of abortion, it is time for the government to enact substantive solutions to child abuse. It should legislate to promote comprehensive educational programs to prevent child abuse in the first place; it should promote a culture of appreciation and care for children, not create an even more calloused society that tolerates the murder of children as a solution.  We have to protect all of our children, born and preborn, for they are the future face of society.

But above all, we must realize that the best answer we have to child abuse has always been right in front of our eyes.  It is such an obvious solution that it seems unbelievable that so many 'experts' would not see it: we must strengthen the family headed by a father and a mother.  The family is the most basic non-profit organization, and the one with the greatest public purposes.  It is focused on the health of the individual and is the only true foundation of society.

The little girl who is pregnant today comes from a family that is the picture of dysfunction. The mother, who had a low-income job, had three children by three different fathers: a 13 year old, the little girl of 10 who is pregnant, and an 8-year-old boy.  Let's tackle the underlying roots of the problem.

There is no better investment for the government than public policies that strengthen, protect, and promote marriage and the family as irreplaceable social capital, especially when there are young children involved.  Society at large must embrace a culture that recognizes and values the family and all its members as a treasure to be cared for and preserved.

What this little girl and others like her have experienced is impossible to erase. They were robbed of their childhood innocence.  The abuse to which she was subjected will leave an indelible imprint in her memory and on her soul.  It requires our support and care.  But thinking that killing the baby in her womb is somehow going to help her is a grave mistake.  It will not ease, but on the contrary, will increase the harmful aftermath of the experience.  Violence cannot be erased with more violence.

As my grandmother told me: "As much as it may anger me when a nice plate is chipped, I will never think that the solution is to smash the rest of the china."

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