Ben Johnson

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UPDATED: Supreme Court unanimously shoots down Obama admin in religious freedom case

Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 12, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a breakthrough decision for religious freedom, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that religious institutions have a constitutional right to determine their ministers without government interference.

Although the High Court has long recognized churches’ First Amendment right to choose priests and senior pastors, yesterday’s 9-0 decision marked the first time it upheld the “ministerial exception” for religious schools and other parachurch ministries.

“[T]here is a ministerial exception grounded in the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 36-page ruling. “Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision.

“Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs…According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.”

Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, hailed the ruling as “a great day for the First Amendment.” He said, “This decision makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government – because whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asked the court to overturn the ministerial exception, which was first adopted by lower courts in 1972, a legal precedent that precedes Roe v. Wade. Mark Rienzi, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the radio program Kresta in the Afternoon on Thursday the EEOC’s position “said in essence religion gets no special treatment here.”

The Court’s decision called the EEOC’s view of the ministerial exception “untenable,” “extreme,” and “remarkable,” according to religious organizations no greater rights than those enjoyed by “a labor union, or a social club.”  The 9-0 ruling amounted to a “very emphatic rejection of this administration’s very narrow view of religious liberty,” Rienzi said.

The Obama administration sued a Detroit-area Lutheran school for dismissing Cheryl Perich, a teacher and “commissioned minister,” for breaking a church doctrine requiring disputes to be resolved internally. Perich, who was diagnosed with narcolepsy, claimed the school really fired her because of her medical condition. Rather than attend a church tribunal, she filed a discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) joined in litigation against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School, arguing all church employees other than priests or senior pastors should be able to sue for discrimination.

Douglas Laycock, the University of Virginia Law professor who argued the school’s case, said no court could evaluate whether a minister had been fired under a pretext without first ruling whether his views and conduct were sufficiently orthodox, something forbidden under the First Amendment. The First Amendment forbade state intrusion into church hiring practices, Laycock said, adding that Perich referred to herself as a minister and claimed a ministerial housing allowance on her taxes.

The EEOC argued since lay teachers performed the same duties, and ministry took up only 45 minutes of her workday, Perich was entitled to lost wages, damages, and attorneys’ fees. Justice Roberts ruled, “The issue before us, however, is not one that can be resolved by a stopwatch.” In his concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito stated, “the constitutional protection of religious teachers is not somehow diminished when they take on secular functions in addition to their religious ones.”

Religious liberties advocates argued the case had far-reaching consequences for church ministries of all backgrounds. Government interference in church personnel decisions could lead to a chilling of free speech not favored by the current administration, argued John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, which filed an amicus brief on the school’s behalf. “When a church is forced to make employment decisions based on a lawsuit rather than spiritual needs, the end result is that its core activities and spiritual message are inevitably altered in order to accommodate or protect against government pressures or expectations,” he stated.

Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council described the lawsuit as a “profoundly troubling claim of power over churches.” 

Proponents of the administration believed the plaintiff’s civil rights outweighed potential First Amendment concerns. Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stated, “Clergy who are fired for reasons unrelated to matters of theology — no matter how capricious or venal those reasons may be — have just had the courthouse door slammed in their faces.”

The Obama administration’s lawsuit was supported by the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way, the American Humanist Association, and several other organizations.

One Catholic organization, BishopAccountability.org, offered an amicus for the EEOC.

Justice Clarence Thomas offered a concurring opinion broadening the ministerial exception and stating the Church should be free to select its ministers entirely free of government regulation. The state, he wrote, should “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as a minister.” Justices Alito and Elena Kagan added in their concurrence that the term “ministers” should not be definitive, to assure Christian sects and non-Christian religions that have no notion of ordained ministry enjoy the same protections.

The issue is likely to come before the court again, as this ruling did not offer a blanket definition of who qualifies for the ministerial exception, or what other kinds of lawsuits may be allowed. Roberts ruled, “There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances if and when they arise.” 

The case is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.



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Lisa Bourne

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Donald Trump says he will promote LGBT ‘equality’ as president

Lisa Bourne

CONCORD, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Does Donald Trump support the gay agenda or oppose it? On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, observers are still scratching their heads about where the GOP frontrunner actually stands.

Trump has repeatedly and consistently said he supports the natural definition of marriage, but can a President Trump be relied on to promote it resolutely and cogently? It is this question that has many marriage activists expressing concern about his increasingly likely hold on the GOP nomination.

In fact, the National Organization for Marriage has gone so far as to say that Trump has “abandoned” the pro-marriage cause.

Trump himself underscored the problem on the weekend when he told a New Hampshire television station that from the White House he would push “equality” for homosexuals even further forward.

A cable news reporter self-identifying as a lesbian asked him last Thursday after a rally in Exeter, "When President Trump is in office, can we look for more forward motion on equality for gays and lesbians?"

“Well, you can and look - again, we're going to bring people together. That's your thing, and other people have their thing,” Trump told Sue O’Connell of New England Cable News. “We have to bring all people together. And if we don't, we're not gonna have a country anymore. It's gonna be a total mess.”

Following the comments, Trump appeared Sunday on ABC’s This Week program with George Stephanopoulos and would not commit to appointing Supreme Court justices who’d overturn Obergefell, though that would be his “preference.”

STORY: ‘Anyone but Donald Trump’: Here’s his record on life, marriage, and religious liberty

“We’re going to look at judges. They’ve got to be great judges. They’ve got to be conservative judges. We’re going to see how they stand depending on what their views are. But that would be my preference,” he told Stephanopoulos. “I would prefer that they stand against, but we’ll see what happens. It depends on the judge.”

Trump’s comments follow his statements during a Fox News Sunday interview last week, when he said, “If I'm elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things, but they've got a long way to go.” 

“[Marriage] should be a states rights issue,” Trump continued. “I can see changes coming down the line, frankly.” 

When asked by Fox if he “might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage,” Trump replied, “I would strongly consider that, yes.”

The real estate mogul criticized the Supreme Court for the Obergefell decision imposing homosexual “marriage” on all 50 states last June, but then later in August, Trump voiced support to NBC News for banning companies from firing employees on the basis of sexual orientation. “I don't think it should be a reason” to fire workers, he said at the time on Meet the Press.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and a number influential evangelicals have endorsed Senator Ted Cruz in the race for president. The Texas senator has not only committed to appointing pro-marriage justices, but says the president and the states can rightly defy the “fundamentally illegitimate” ruling just as President Lincoln defied the Dred Scott decision.

NOM has also been highly critical of Trump, saying he has “abandoned” their cause. The organization said in its January 27 blog post just prior to the Iowa Caucus that “Donald Trump does not support a constitutional amendment to restore marriage to our laws. Worse, he has publicly abandoned the fight for marriage. When the US Supreme Court issued their illegitimate ruling redefining marriage, Trump promptly threw in the towel with these comments on MSNBC: ‘You have to go with it. The decision's been made, and that is the law of the land.’”

NOM had said the week before that Trump “has made no commitments to fight for marriage, or the rights of supporters of marriage to not be discriminated against and punished for refusing to go along with the lie that is same-sex 'marriage.'”

New Hampshire voters have been tracked as showing support for homosexual “marriage,” as a poll last February showed 52 percent of Republican NH primary voters saying opposing gay “marriage” is unacceptable.

The latest CNN/WMUR tracking poll shows that overall 33 percent of likely Republican primary voters support Trump, giving him a growing 17-point lead over the nearest GOP contender. RealClearPolitics polling average in the state puts him at 31.0 percent support, with Marco Rubio second at 14.7, John Kasich third at 13.2, and Ted Cruz fourth at 12.7.



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Greg Quinlan

Opinion, , ,

The unravelling of Chris Christie

Greg Quinlan

February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- I'm a member of the clergy and for the past eight years have lobbied the powerful in Trenton, covering the administrations of both Governors Jon Corzine and Chris Christie.  I did much of my work on behalf of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, associated with Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.  I am currently the President of the Center for Garden State Families.

Those of us who are engaged in the fight to secure the right to believe, speak, and practice the Christian faith in America were all heartened by the election of a Pro-Life Governor in 2009.  Not only did Chris Christie run as an open Pro-Lifer, but he adopted a position in support of natural marriage in the course of the campaign.  And when legislative Democrats attempted to pass same-sex marriage in the lame duck session, so they could have outgoing Governor Corzine sign it into law, Chris Christie rallied opposition and stopped it.  Those were the early, hopeful days; but as Governor, Chris Christie has presented himself in an inconsistent, even scatterbrained way, often making decisions that go against earlier stated beliefs. 

One of his first decisions was to make a liberal Democrat the state's Attorney General.  Once approved by the Senate, and she was, the Attorney General could not be fired by the Governor, as was the case with other cabinet officers.  This gave a liberal Democrat enormous power and she used it to join up with liberal Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in filing a brief against Christians in a case called Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.  Just one day after being sworn in, the newly appointed state Attorney General took the most aggressive legal posture available to defend former Governor Corzine’s one-gun-a-month handgun rationing law, moving to dismiss an NRA lawsuit to overturn the law, and later vigorously opposing the NRA’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the case.  Because of this appointment, New Jersey did not join in the lawsuits to overturn ObamaCare.

Governor Christie appointed a radical "sexologist" to run the NJ Department of Children & Families.  This appointee would later resign when it emerged that she had held the top job in an organization that had supported a study advocating the normalization of some forms of adult-child sex. 

His judicial appointments were also confusing.  While claiming to oppose same-sex marriage, Governor Christie nominated an openly gay Republican to the state Supreme Court who supported it.  Even Democrats wouldn't support this plainly unqualified appointment, and he never served.  The Governor supported the advancement of a liberal Democrat to the job of Chief Justice, while refusing to support the re-appointment of a Republican and the Court's most conservative member.  He also appointed a controversial defense attorney who had defended a number of Islamic extremists who had violated immigration law. 

In 2013, many of those in the Christian community opposed legislation that banned young people from receiving counseling and therapy to lead them away from homosexuality.  As an ex-gay myself, I could have personally attested to the benefits of such counseling, much of which is no different than what is found in contemporary twelve-step programs.  However, the Christian community opposing the ban was not afforded the opportunity to meet with the Governor.  Only the homosexual community with its pro-ban agenda was given that benefit.

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

I don't blame the Governor for this, but I do blame his staff.  As President Ronald Reagan said, "personnel is policy," and  Governor Christie's choices in personnel have not advanced the policies he campaigned on, and often it was the direct opposite.   

New Jersey ended up being just the second state in the country that only allows young people to receive counseling that advocates homosexuality, but bans by law counseling that advocates heterosexuality. When he signed it into law, Governor Christie embraced the made-up "science" of the propagandists, when he cited un-specified "research" that "sexual orientation is determined at birth."  This is the so-called "gay-gene" trope that has baffled those engaged in the Science of Genetics because it has never been discovered.

As a candidate for Governor, Chris Christie talked the talk and raised the expectations of Christians in New Jersey. As Governor, and especially in his appointments, Christie undermined our confidence in his leadership. Christians should ask tough questions before extending our faith in him again.



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Center for Medical Progress lead investigator David Daleiden speaks at an event in Washington, DC, before the 2016 March for Life. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Pro-life investigator hits back with new footage after judge blocks release of abortion sting videos

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

SAN FRANCISCO, February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A new video from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) shows two National Abortion Federation (NAF) employees saying that abortion clinics would be interested in kickbacks from profits on fetal tissue and body part sales.

The video comes three days after a San Francisco imposed an injunction sought by NAF against CMP videos that one of the abortion group's attorneys said meant that "NAF's members can sleep a little easier tonight."

CMP accused the pro-abortion organization of hiding behind the court.

According to U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick, however, NAF "made...a showing" that release of CMP videos would harm rights to privacy, freedom of association, and liberty of NAF members.

URGENT: Sign the petition to Harris County urging them to drop the charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Click here.

"Critical to my decision are that the defendants agreed to injunctive relief if they breached the agreements and that, after the release of defendants’ first set of Human Capital Project videos and related information in July 2015, there has been a documented, dramatic increase in the volume and extent of threats to and harassment of NAF and its members," wrote Orrick.

Additionally, the judge found that CMP's videos “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions," and that nobody from the abortion industry “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit" in the CMP videos.

However, in a new video released today that is unrelated to the injunction, a NAF employee told undercover journalists that kickbacks "definitely [sound] like something some [of] our members would be really interested in," with another chiming in that money from private purchasers to abortion clinics were "a win-win" for clinics.

The undercover investigators, who had purported to be part of a biotechnology company with an interest in fetal parts, were offered the chance to be at a NAF conference. “We have an exhibit hall and then we also have the general conference. But I mean, this is a very great way to talk to our members. We have a group purchasing program through our membership,” the journalists were told. “So it seems like this would be a really great option to be able to offer our members, as well.”

This is the second ruling against CMP in recent weeks, and the second by Orrick since July. The San Francisco judge issued a restraining order against CMP related to NAF's 2014 and 2015 meetings in San Francisco and Baltimore that Friday's ruling extended.

The other recent ruling came in the form of an indictment of CMP's David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Merritt and Daleiden turned themselves into Houston authorities for booking and processing last week. After being released on bail, Daleiden spoke at a LifeSiteNews/Christian Defense Coalition press conference after which more than 100,000 petition signatures backing Daleiden were dropped off to the Harris County, Texas District Attorney's office.

According to Orrick, who says he reviewed the more than 500 hours of recordings from CMP, "It should be said that the majority of the recordings lack much public interest, and despite the misleading contentions of defendants, there is little that is new in the remainder of the recordings. Weighed against that public interest are NAF’s and its members’ legitimate interests in their rights to privacy, security, and association by maintaining the confidentiality of their presentations and conversations at NAF Annual Meetings. The balance is strongly in NAF’s favor.”

NAF did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations by Orrick and a NAF spokesperson that CMP's videos have caused threats and other security concerns against NAF members.



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