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Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law

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By Ben Johnson

Updated at 12:15 p.m. EST.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Supreme Court has unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a buffer zone around abortion facilities.

The justices' 9-0 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley reverses the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the law, which barred sidewalk counselors from setting foot within 35 feet of abortion facilities statewide.

The 34-page ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the statute went too far by forbidding pro-life advocates from engaging in free speech on “a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility.”

The buffer zone law represents an “extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers,” the justices ruled. “The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

“While we wish the decision had recognized the content-restrictions inherent in this type of law, this decision is truly a victory for courageous, compassionate sidewalk counselors in Massachusetts who have saved hundreds of lives through their quiet outreach offering help and alternatives to women,” Dana Cody, president and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, told LifeSiteNews.com. 

“In a brazen affront to the First Amendment, Massachusetts government officials had sought to use the threat of arrest and criminal conviction to silence those offering women life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. “The Supreme Court rightly rejected this unlawful attempt to deny pro-life Americans their First Amendment rights.”

However in a flashpoint with three conservative justices, a majority of the justices endorsed the right of states to create buffer zones around abortion facilities as long as they are more narrowly tailored, especially if the state establishes a legal history of intimidation.

“The act is neither content nor viewpoint based and therefore need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny,” they ruled, provoking a stern response from Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.

Pro-life forces had said the law censored their speech by allowing abortion escorts to speak freely to women but silencing anyone who would try to tell the woman of abortion's potential harms.

“The government cannot reserve its public sidewalks for Planned Parenthood, as if their message is the only one women should be allowed to hear,” said Mark Rienzi, the sidewalk counselors' attorney. “Today’s decision confirms that the First Amendment is for everyone, and that the government cannot silence peaceful speakers. That result is good news for Eleanor McCullen, and it is great news for the women she helps.”

Justice Roberts rejected the notion that buffer zone laws target only one side of the argument, saying they “burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests” in protecting women seeking an abortion from allegedly aggressive pro-life protesters.

The bill was introduced in 2007 by Massachusetts House of Representatives. Member Martha “Marty” Walz, who is now the president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. She claimed in a USA Today op-ed that the law is necessary to protect abortion workers from “violent, extremist anti-abortion protesters led by Operation Rescue.”

Eleanor McCullen – a 77-year-old grandmother who says she has spent more than $50,000 of her own funds trying to reach young women and protect unborn children – filed suit in January 2008 against state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is currently running for governor of Massachusetts as a Democrat.

Obama administration Deputy Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn argued on behalf of the U.S. government in support of the restrictive law. But oral arguments showed every justice, including Elena Kagan, expressing skepticism about the breadth of the Massachusetts ordinance.

Justice Kennedy asked at one point, “Do you want me to write an opinion and say there’s no free speech right to quietly converse on an issue of public importance?”

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The Supreme Court previously upheld a Colorado law establishing an eight-foot floating buffer zone outside abortion facilities in 2000 by a 6-3 vote. Scalia, Kennedy and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the 2000 case, Hill v. Colorado, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer voted in favor.

Colorado, Montana, and New Hampshire have state laws mandating buffer zones about abortion offices. So do the cities of Burlington, Vermont; West Palm Beach, Florida; Portland, Maine; Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, California.

“I'm thankful for the Supreme Court doing the right thing, recognizing freedom of speech and freedom of dissent,” Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said today. “Those of us who are pro-life have constitutional guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, along with everyone else. This was a good decision, and I am cheered that it was a unanimous decision.”

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Lisa Bourne

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Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne
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Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

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Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
The Editors

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Watch the March for Marriage online—only at LifeSiteNews

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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

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By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

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