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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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‘Little miracles’: Mom gives birth to naturally-conceived quintuplets after refusing ‘selective reduction’

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An ultrasound of the five different compartments, each with its own baby, inside Kim's womb.

AUSTRALIA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A 26-year-old Australian mom has given birth to five healthy babies, all conceived naturally, after refusing the doctor’s advice that she must abort three of them in order to give the remaining two a better chance at life. 

“After my initial ultrasound I was told I could consider the selection method to give 2 babies the best chance in life,” wrote mom Kim Tucci in a Facebook post last September. 

“I watched a YouTube video on the procedure and I cried. I could never do that! Was I selfish for not giving two the chance of 100% survival? All I knew is that I already love them and that every heart beat I heard I connect with them more. For me life starts when a heart starts beating and all I know for sure is that I will do whatever it takes to bring them into this world healthy,” she wrote. 

Last Thursday Kim and her husband Vaughn welcomed the five new members into their family — one boy and four girls —increasing the number of their children from 3 to 8. The babies were born at 30 weeks, 10 weeks early, due to insufficient space in Kim’s womb. They weighed on average about 2.5 pounds. 

The quintuplets’ story began last March, after Kim and Vaughn had been trying for six months to conceive just one more child for their family. Due to health complications, Kim wondered if she would ever become a mother again. 

After what she thought was an extra long cycle, she decided to take a pregnancy test. 

“I was feeling tired and a little nauseated and thought I would take a pregnancy test just to get the ‘what if’ out of my head. To my shock and utter excitement it was positive,” she wrote on a Facebook post.

The parents got the shock of their lives when doctors confirmed in an ultrasound examination that there was not one baby, but five. 

“After a long wait for the ultrasound we finally went in. The sonographer told me there were multiple gestational sacks, but she could only see a heart beat in two. I was so excited! Twins!”

“I was moved to another machine for a clearer view and had the head doctor come in and double check the findings. She started to count, one, two, three, four, five. Did i hear that correctly? Five? My legs start to shake uncontrollably and all i can do is laugh. The sonographer then told me the term for five is ‘quintuplets,’” Kim wrote.

Even though Kim began to feel stretched to the limit with all those human lives growing inside her, she chose to focus on her babies, and not herself, referring to them as “my five little miracles.” 

“It's getting harder as each day passes to push through the pain, every part of my body aches and sleeping is becoming very painful. No amount of pillows are helping support my back and belly. Sometimes I get so upset that I just want to throw my hands up and give in.”

“Sometimes my pelvis becomes so stiff I can barely walk and my hips feel like they are grinding away constantly. I'm finding it hard to eat as I basically have no room left in my stomach, and the way it is positioned it's pushed all the way back with the babies leaning against it.” 

“My skin on my belly is so stretched its painful and hot to touch. It literally feels like I have hives! No amount of cream helps relieve the discomfort. I have a lot of stretch marks now. Dealing with such a huge change in my body is hard.” 

“Is it all worth it? Yes!!!! I will keep pushing through,” she wrote in one Facebook post days before the babies were born. 

The newborns' names are Keith, Ali, Penelope, Tiffany, and Beatrix. They were born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, Western Australia. Mother and babies are reported to be doing well. 



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UN rights chief tells Catholic countries to legalize abortion over Zika virus: bishops and cardinal react

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GENEVA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The United Nations, following the lead of international abortion activists, is now urging Latin American countries hit by the mosquito-borne Zika virus to lift restrictions on abortion for pregnant women who have contacted the virus and whose pre-born children may be at risk for birth defects, including having smaller than normal heads. 

The UN human rights office said today that it is not enough for South American countries to urge women to postpone pregnancy without also offering them abortion as a final solution. 

“How can they ask these women not to become pregnant, but not offer… the possibility to stop their pregnancies?” UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told reporters. 

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that governments should make available contraception and abortion services.

“Laws and policies that restrict (women’s) access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,” he said.

But Brazil’s bishops strongly asserted yesterday that efforts should be made to eradicate the virus, not the people who may be infected by it. 

The disease is “no justification whatsoever to promote abortion,” they said in a statement, adding that it is not morally acceptable to promote abortion “in the cases of microcephaly, as, unfortunately, some groups are proposing to the Supreme Federal Court, in a total lack of respect for the gift of life.”

Honduras Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has also come out strongly against the notion of “therapeutic abortions” as a response to the problem. Unlike Brazil where abortion is legal in the case of rape or health of the mother, abortion remains entirely illegal in Honduras.

“We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion,” the cardinal said in a homily at a February 3 Mass in Suyap. “Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist. Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives,” he said. 

While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency February 1 on account of concerns over the virus, critics have pointed out, however, that not one death as resulted from the virus. Even on WHO’s own website the virus is described in mild terms. 

“It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis. Zika virus disease is usually mild, with symptoms lasting only a few days,” the website states. “To date, there have been no reported deaths associated with Zika virus,” it added. 

Critics suspect that the crisis is being manipulated to advance an anti-human agenda on the pre-born. 

“Is Zika, actually, a hideous virus that threatens to spread uncontrollably across the world creating an army of disabled children with tiny heads and low IQ’s? Or might this be a willful misinterpretation of the scarce data to manipulate public opinion and legislatures?” wrote pro-life critic Mei-Li Garcia earlier this week.

“It becomes very clear that the publicity surrounding this story has a very little to do with medicine and a lot to do with a convenient crisis that is being used by those pushing for the legalization of abortion around the world,” she wrote.



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Hillary’s litmus test for Supreme Court picks: They must ‘preserve Roe v. Wade’

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DERRY, NH, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Hillary Clinton has a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees - several, in fact. At a Democratic event on Wednesday, Clinton unveiled her criteria in selecting a judge for the nation's highest court.

“I do have a litmus test, I have a bunch of litmus tests," she said.

"We’ve got to make sure to preserve Roe v. Wade, not let it be nibbled away or repealed,” she said.

There have been over 58,000,000 abortions since the 1973 court ruling legalizing abortion in all 50 states, according to National Right to Life.

That echoes her recent call to arms speech before Planned Parenthood last month, when she stated that taxpayers must fund abortion-on-demand in order to uphold the "right" of choice.

“We have to preserve marriage equality,” Clinton said, referring to last summer's Obergefell v. Hodges case, a 5-4 ruling that redefined marriage nationwide. “We have to go further to end discrimination against the LGBT community."

Her views differentiate her from the Republican front runners. Ted Cruz has called the court's marriage ruling "fundamentally illegitimate," and Donald Trump told Fox News Sunday this week that he would "be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things." Marco Rubio has said he won't "concede" the issue to the one-vote majority.

All Republican presidential hopefuls say they are pro-life and will defund Planned Parenthood.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, raised the makeup of the Supreme Court early last month in New Hampshire, saying it receives "almost no attention" as a campaign issue.

On Wednesday, Hillary said "the next president could get as many as three appointments. It’s one of the many reasons why we can’t turn the White House over to the Republicans again.”

Clinton said her judicial appointees must also reverse the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance and oppose a recent decision striking down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, justices struck down Section 4(b) of the act, which said that certain states and jurisdictions had to obtain permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

At one time, most politicians frowned upon any "litmus test" for judicial nominees, emphasizing the independence of the third branch of government. "I don't believe in litmus tests," Jeb Bush told Chuck Todd last November.

But with the rise of an activist judiciary in the middle of the 20th century, constitutionalists have sought to rein in the power of the bench.



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