Author archives: Travis Weber

How to respond to the “After School Satan Clubs”

by Travis Weber

August 10, 2016

As has been widely reported the last several weeks, a group called the “Satanic Temple” is looking to set up “After School Satan Clubs” (ASSC) in public schools around the country. What should we think of this, and how should we respond?

From the group’s name, one would presume these clubs are teaching about demonic activity. But a glance at their website shows them prominently proclaiming that they seek to teach “based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view,” and explaining their view that “Satanism is a religion that endorses scientific rationalism as our best model for understanding the natural world.” They don’t actually believe in Satan.

So why not name the clubs “humanist” or “atheist” clubs? Perhaps these activists realized this would not draw the public attention like the name “Satan” would (the actual Church of Satan rejects the ASSC’s methods). The Satanic Temple has already agitated in the name of its “religion” by “creating a gigantic bronze statue of Baphomet for the lawn of the Oklahoma State House, opening city council meetings with Satanic incantations, [and] distributing coloring books featuring the dark lord to schools across the country.” So why do they want to draw public attention and provoke?

These atheist and humanist activists simply don’t like the fact that children could be exposed to the message of Christianity, and appear to want to pick a fight with Christians. They say they want religion totally eliminated from schools, and the group’s homepage prominently displays: “DONATE TO HELP US COUNTER EVANGELISM IN SCHOOLS.” Their main purpose appears to be to try to shut down Christian clubs in schools. How would they accomplish that?

In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court held that when a school opens up a limited public forum to a certain type of speech, it cannot discriminate against groups looking to use that forum based on the viewpoint of their speech. The ASSC organization seeks to use these forums for its clubs. If the ASSC merely wanted the same opportunity as everyone else to speak their viewpoint, that would be understandable. But their whole purpose seems to be driven by an animosity toward Christian clubs; hence the provocative name.

They are aiming to do that by provoking school administrators into shutting down the limited public forum entirely. As the group’s website states: “Our goal, ultimately, is to place an ASSC in every school where the Good News Clubs, or other proselytizing religious groups, have established a presence.” Group members have said: “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty… So, ‘the Satanic Temple leverages religious freedom laws that put after-school clubs in elementary schools nationwide.’ That’s going to be the message.”

The ASSC organization appears to be trying to upset enough parents that school officials would close the forum to all groups (the fact that the group is based in Salem, Massachusetts, seems designed to aid its publicity stunt). If the forum is not open at all, then no clubs get to speak.

Though this would include the ASSC clubs, these activists appear to be fine with this as long as that puts an end to the Christian clubs too. As the ASSC founder reportedly told PEOPLE magazine, “[i]f they would get rid of the Good News clubs, there wouldn’t be a need for the After School Satan program.” In other words, the very purpose of the ASSC is to shut down the Good News Clubs. The ASSC organization, presuming parental outrage, is hoping school administrators take the bait and close the forum rather than allow the “Satan clubs” to operate.

What should we think about all this?

First, school administrators should not be deterred. The ASSC organization would love nothing more than for the school forum be shut down to all groups, including Christian groups. The forum should not be shut down out of concern for this group’s presence (its name does not even line up with what it is teaching anyway). It can be given a place among other student groups, and we can let the battle in the marketplace of ideas play out. Ultimately, neither rationalism nor demon worship can provide the hope and healing offered by Jesus.

Second, we should not look at this as a set-back, but as an opportunity, in at least two areas:

  • The ASSC organization is using a forum which is open to all under the Good News Club case. Why not use this opportunity to make sure that children are aware of their right to start Christian clubs if they don’t exist? As one Family Research Council event recently highlighted, let us also make sure school officials, administrators, and teachers are aware of the legal protections for religion in the public school. The forum is open—make sure we are using it!
  • If the ASSC organization wants to start a spiritual discussion, whether on the national stage or local school, let’s welcome such a discussion. The group’s use of the term “Satan” gives everyone an opportunity to discuss…Satan. Let’s explain his role in the Bible, his power to tempt humans away from God to our own detriment, and the good news that Jesus provides a way out of that temptation. Even if the ASSC organization wants to fall back on rationalism, let’s welcome an invitation to open up the Bible and rationally examine its claims: that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. He’s either Lord, liar, or lunatic. But nothing else. All must make a choice.

Both humanism (the worship of human progress) and actual devil worship will fail to offer humans a solution to our dilemma of the sense that something is broken, that something is just not right in the world. Only a restored relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ can do that. Every day, we are already seeking opportunities to tell the world this good news before it’s too late. This is just another opportunity, planted right in our lap! Let us go forth and proclaim the Gospel!

High Court Puts Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. Ruling on Hold

by Travis Weber

August 4, 2016

Yesterday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to stay the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which had required the Gloucester County School Board to open up a male restroom in its schools to a biological female student who identifies as male. Pending the filing of a petition for a writ of certiorari by the school board asking the Court to hear the case on the merits, the school board’s policy permitting only biological boys to use boy’s rooms and girls to use girl’s rooms will be allowed to remain in effect.

While only a procedural development, it is a promising one. The Court could have allowed the Fourth Circuit’s decision to go into effect—but didn’t. The fact that the Court took affirmative action in favor of this school district’s freedom should be heartening to schools around the country who want to retain the ability to set their own policies.

It is especially important that schools take note of this development in the face of the hostile actions of the Obama administration. Despite all the talk of how conservatives focus on social issues, the President is the one obsessed with bathrooms, coming out with an edict that unilaterally makes up law to use as a cudgel against every locality through the country. And the administration is not satisfied to tread lightly. Its edict directs every school district to open not just its bathrooms to people of the opposite sex, but locker rooms, overnight accommodations, and other areas.

The administration is also more radical than the courts. In its opinion, the Fourth Circuit had directed that restrooms be opened to the opposite sex by relying on a legal doctrine demanding deference to an executive branch opinion. The administration, however, in its edict, simply declares a new interpretation of “law” (that Title IX’s definition of sex includes protections on the basis of “gender identity”) without a coherent basis. It flies in the face of multiple sources of legal authority, and exists nowhere except in the fevered minds of modern activist judges, administration officials, and their allies. Schools have properly resisted the Obama administration’s unlawful bathroom edict for this reason. The Court’s latest move is further reason to do so.

Federal Judge Still Refuses to Let Mississippi Religious Freedom Law Go Into Effect

by Travis Weber

August 3, 2016

After Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi granted a preliminary injunction against HB 1523 and refused to let that state’s religious freedom law go into effect last month, Governor Bryant requested that the ruling be put on hold pending appeal. Judge Reeves refused to grant this request too, the other day declining to stay his ruling while the case is appealed. His opinion contains several weaknesses, and a failure to adequately address arguments in support of the law.

Judge Reeves claims that his opinion granting the preliminary injunction “laid out” why “HB 1523 is not like federal laws which permit persons to opt-out of going to war or performing abortions.” But that opinion did not adequately explain the distinction in the abortion context. He tried to argue that abortion dissenters have a problem with “all abortions,” while Mississippi clerks don’t have a problem with “all marriages licenses.” But it’s not for Judge Reeves to dictate whether someone’s conscience objections are correct. If someone has a guilty conscience, then they have a guilty conscience. Moreover, he still dodges the question of why conscience protections which only protect the pro-life view violate the Establishment Clause—which is the actual legal question anyway. The answer, of course, is that they don’t. In Harris v. McRae, the challengers to the Hyde Amendment (barring certain funding of abortions) had argued that it violated the Establishment Clause on the theory that it incorporated into law “the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the sinfulness of abortion and the time at which life commences.” The Court responded that “it does not follow that a statute violates the Establishment Clause because it ‘happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.’ … That the Judaeo-Christian religions oppose stealing does not mean that a State or the Federal Government may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, enact laws prohibiting larceny.”

On top of inadequately addressing these arguments, Judge Reeves’ initial opinion failed to even mention “laws which permit persons to opt-out of going to war,” much less “la[y] out” why they are different from HB 1523.

Of course, the answer is they are not. Judge Reeves bafflingly cites to Gillette v. United States, but Gillette actually supports Governor Bryant’s case, standing for the proposition that laws which protect only one side of a certain area of beliefs are perfectly consistent with the Establishment Clause. Judge Reeves claims that “issuing a marriage license to a gay couple is not like being forced into armed combat or to assist with an abortion. Matters of life and death are sui generis.” But this isn’t the issue. Judges have no role in providing their personal opinion as to the matter being objected to. If the objector has a conscience problem, the inquiry stops there. This is well-settled under our constitutional religious freedom framework, and prevents judges themselves from being tangled up in assessing religious beliefs. To do otherwise leads to Judge Reeves’ error: judging the conscience of the objecting clerk. Who is he to tell that clerk otherwise if they believe same-sex marriage causes grievous harm and they don’t want to be a part of facilitating it?

Judge Reeves continues this error in a footnote: “Allowing conscientious objectors was a win-win: good for soldiers and good for conscientious objectors. HB 1523 is different. Allowing people to opt-out of serving LGBT citizens comes at the expense of LGBT citizens.”

Aside from continuing to err by assessing the value of the conscience objection in the military context, he is just flat wrong. He can’t show any “expense” on the part of LGBT citizens. He tries to point to Estate of Thornton v. Caldor to argue that laws which burden “other citizens and entities” are unconstitutional, but that case involved an actual requirement being placed on private citizens regarding their employment practices. There is NO such requirement here. HB 1523 merely protects certain people from the government. Our Constitution itself does that, and laws are perfectly constitutional when they accomplish the same.

Religion in Immigration: How to Handle it Properly

by Travis Weber

August 2, 2016

An opinion by Judge Reinhardt out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday shows how to properly view the role of religion in asylum and immigration matters.

Kurniawan Salim had first filed for asylum in 2006 when he was a Buddhist on the grounds that he feared returning to Indonesia because of his Chinese ancestry. His claim was rejected. Still in the United States, he has since converted to Catholicism, and now asserts a fear of persecution based on religion if he returns to Indonesia. Yet the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected his request to reopen his case, claiming the evidence offered was “largely cumulative” of that offered in his first case.

Thankfully, Judge Reinhardt reversed the BIA, which had apparently missed the significance of the fact that Kurniawan was now a Christian and had offered significant evidence he would be persecuted on that basis. As Judge Reinhardt observed, the BIA’s “reasoning makes little sense where, as here, the motion to reopen presents a different basis for relief than was relied upon during the prior hearing. In such cases, the evidence related to the new claim for relief is necessarily “qualitatively different” from that offered at the earlier hearing.”

Kurniawan had submitted significant evidence that hostility toward Christians in Indonesia had dramatically increased since his first case, with a letter from his sister in Jakarta describing the immediate threat of attacks against Christians in her area. Judge Reinhardt additionally found that the BIA erred by failing to examine the evidence that Christians were threatened in light of Kurniawan’s membership of this specific religious group.

Judge Reinhardt accurately diagnosed the religious freedom threat for this asylum applicant, while the BIA showed an ignorance of the role religion plays in this type of case. If those at the BIA can’t understand that evidence of threats against Christians matter because someone is a Christian and not a Buddhist, we are in trouble. It is not sufficient to merely recognize the role of religion generally (though that is not always properly done), but government officials must also understand the religious freedom component of these cases as informed by the social, political, and interreligious dynamics of specific areas around the world. They must also bring this clear-headed approach to the broader context of immigration and security, which needs our objectivity and understanding much more than our simple, one-size-fits-all “solutions.”

This case is a glimpse into how international religious freedom as a human right should inform our values as they play out in our immigration system. America has been and will hopefully remain a beacon around the world for the freedom to choose one’s beliefs and live them out without fear of harm. Kudos to Judge Reinhardt for protecting this freedom today.

The Economist Magazine Highlights Progressives’ Religious Freedom Hypocrisy

by Travis Weber

July 15, 2016

We are glad to see last week’s article in The Economist accurately diagnosing the hypocrisy surrounding religious freedom which has infected the agitating political Left in the last several years. This reputable magazine has pinpointed the biggest trouble of the current political and policy dynamic surrounding religious freedom: the progressive Left just can’t bring itself to support traditional Christian claims of religious freedom—even when those claims are brought under the same laws and legal standards as others which modern liberals have supported.

As Family Research Council has consistently made clear, religious freedom laws have historically had bipartisan consensus. Sadly, this is no longer true, as in the last several years the progressive Left has abandoned its support for First Amendment principles in favor of new policy goals. Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, conservatives are attacked as only supporting religious liberty when it concerns them. We have shown this not to be true. Now, we are thankful The Economist has shed additional light on the religious freedom debate.

Ends Justify the Means in Ruling on HB 1523

by Travis Weber

July 1, 2016

Judge Reeves’ ruling striking down individual rights protections in Mississippi’s HB 1523 is a travesty for the rule of law and shows what happens when the judicial process justifies the means with the ends. It is quite unfortunate that the judge can’t see (despite the fact that no same-sex couple has been denied anything by Mississippi in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges) that the law merely protects people from government coercion. It is doubly unfortunate that in his ruling, the judge’s denigrating and dismissive references to “Christians” exhibits an animus toward the people he is entrusted to rule over that is barely bottled up.

On the issue of standing, Judge Reeves can try to cover his reasoning in a legal swamp all he wants, but at the end of the day, his ruling pulls the law to its breaking point in order to find an actual, real injury to anyone at all. In reality, no one has been concretely affected by this law. That’s why he has to contort the matter to find an injury where someone “feels” affected. Yes, feelings get hurt in a democracy (this happens innumerable ways every day, which average American understand) but that’s part of living in a diverse country. Despite citing the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause decision Town of Greece v. Galloway multiple times, he conveniently forgot to cite Justice Kennedy’s reminder in that case that “offense … does not equate to coercion.” Instead, Judge Reeves has opted in essence to deny the people their own right to govern. With such rulings, one can’t blame them with being fed up with federal judges and the elites who think like them.

Judge Reeves errs further in searching the woodwork to find constitutional violations. He admitted “discerning the actual motivation behind a bill can be treacherous.” He should have followed his own admonition. Instead, he somehow finds HB 1523 to be a violation of the Establishment Clause, despite the fact that it imposes no coercive religious requirement on anybody! (Town of Greece again relevant here). He claims that since the law doesn’t protect every type of Christian religious belief out there, it’s somehow invalid.

Yet amazingly, at the same time, the court dismisses the fact that members of non-Christian faiths also oppose same-sex marriage and would be protected by HB 1523 by arguing that those people don’t really believe their own religion:

Every group has its iconoclasts. The larger the group, the more likely it will have someone who believes the sun revolves around the Earth, a doctor who thinks smoking unproblematic, or a Unitarian opposed to same-sex religious marriage. But most people in a group share most of that group’s beliefs.

Aside from improperly delving into doctrine itself, the court’s statement is irrelevant, and by recognizing that some non-Christians would be protected by this law, it contradicts its entire grounding for this decision (that this is really just about the protection of Christians).

Under Judge Reeves’ thinking, any tailored conscience or religious rights protections would be invalid.

Additionally, his analysis of federal conscience protections is just flat wrong. He says the analogy of HB 1523 to these protections in 42 U.S.C.§ 300a-7 is not appropriate because they are “neutral” in that they protect pro-life and pro-abortion doctors, and cites to subsections c, d, and e of the statute. However, only subsection c makes reference to protection of both sides of the issue. Subsections d, e, (and a) protect doctors and facilities opposed to abortion from being forced to participate in it, and do not make mention of any pro-abortion views. The fact is that these conscience protections and similar types of exemptions have long been a part of our pluralistic society, and show how diverse people can live side-by-side while conscience is honored. When conscience is threatened, it can be protected. Yet Judge Reeves would stifle consciences that need protection in the name of protecting against some imaginary harm. He might be asked: Exactly whose consciences are being violated that he feels need additional protection in HB 1523?

In the midst of this long, contorted, and unfortunate ruling (supposedly based in part on the Establishment Clause), Judge Reeves could have at least cited the Supreme Court’s well-known pronouncement on this principle in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette decades ago:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Instead, he has imposed his own orthodoxy on them and heaped even more disenfranchisement on the heads of the people of Mississippi. “You may not like Obergefell,” the judge seems to say, “but I’m not even going to allow you to protect your own liberty in the face of it.” 

NPR Thinks Conservative Christians Are Grappling With Whether Religious Freedom Includes Muslims

by Travis Weber

June 30, 2016

In a recent story, NPR raised the question of who religious freedom applies to, and what conservative Christians think about its application to Muslims. Unlike NPR, I refuse to use quote marks to describe religious freedom—itself a recent development that the news media obediently follow, along with everyone else who all of a sudden wants to question the legitimacy of a constitutional principle over two hundred years old.

Turning to NPR’s story, the answer is: Yes, religious freedom goes for all faiths. This is clear enough from the positions most conservative, Christian advocacy groups take on the issue, confirmed by their support for RFRA and Free Exercise rights (which by their legal methodology naturally apply to all faiths). Family Research Council recently made this very clear in articulating our actual position on religious liberty, instead of what it is often perceived to be. Sensible people understand that security needs do not justify (and are even impaired by) blanket religious discrimination. Indeed, as security expert Dr. Sebastian Gorka pointed out the other day at FRC, one can address security concerns intelligently and efficiently, while preserving the religious liberty we hold dear for all faiths.

The NPR story simply tries to rustle up more than is there. The pastor cited as in opposition to religious freedom for Muslims reportedly says “he believes the U.S. Constitution protects all religions, including Islam”—he just wishes advocates would channel their energies slightly differently. Sounds like he does believe religious freedom is for all. Can we expect the media to interview some Imams who would say the same thing?

The real story lies in the currents underlying the NPR story. The Muslims who stand for religious freedom are courageous and deserve our support. But there are many within the Muslim world—as Muslims define it—who don’t have any concept of civil liberties for people of all faiths, and are willing to die fighting against such a concept. Dr. Gorka referenced this war within Islam the other day at Family Research Council. The largest group of victims of Jihadists are other Muslims. Those within the world of Islam who refuse to support religious freedom for all need to be confronted, and the media who ignore them and give them a free pass deserve to be called out.

Instead of trying to create a sensation where none exists, perhaps the media can focus on the religious freedom story that does exist.

Supreme Court Denies Hearing and Curtails Freedom in Stormans Case

by Travis Weber

June 30, 2016

Sadly, earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case of Stormans v. Wiesman.

In declining to hear this case, the Court missed an opportunity to shore up individual freedom and rebuke baseless government harassment of religious believers.

The Stormans owned a pharmacy and did not want to dispense certain drugs that can kill embryos due to their moral and religious beliefs, yet are happy to refer potential customers to other pharmacies who could dispense them. The drugs are carried by more than 30 other pharmacies within five miles of the Stormans’ pharmacy. It seems like there’s a way in this case for conscience to be honored, and the customer to receive their drugs.

Unfortunately, Washington State had put in place regulations barring pharmacies from referring customers elsewhere for religious or moral reasons, despite permitting them to do so for a host of secular reasons.

These regulations were challenged as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause due to their targeting of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to hear the case, yet unfortunately declined. Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas) dissented from this denial of certiorari.

As Justice Alito observed in his dissent, “none of [the Stormans’] customers has ever been denied timely access to emergency contra­ceptives.” At the end of the day, the only reason for this law is to disparage the moral objections of those who think differently and force these unwilling pharmacists to play a part in the government’s imposed regime by steamrolling their individual freedom. And now, in permitting a lower court decision against the Stormans to stand, Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg apparently see no problem with letting the state of Washington squash religious freedom by barring referrals tied to religious reasons but permitting them for non-religious reasons.

Now, as Justice Alito put it, the price we must pay is the continued existence of “regulations [which] are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors.” This price may be acceptable to some for now—at least until it is turned around and applied against them.

Abortion Distortion” at work in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

by Travis Weber

June 28, 2016

Once again, we saw the “abortion distortion” at work in our nation’s high court. The majority opinion first distorted the law governing whether a claim should be procedurally barred in order to let these claims against the Texas law proceed, then it distorted its own abortion jurisprudence governing whether there was actually an undue burden here to find one where one doesn’t exist. The majority went out of its way to support a lower court’s basis for striking down the law (and in doing so, tried to give courts authority to interfere where they shouldn’t), when it actually should have simply deferred to the legislature. The majority’s opinion leaves the state of abortion law more muddled than ever. As Justices Thomas and Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts) pointed out in dissents, there can be no doubt that our nation’s high court simply does not apply the law fairly and neutrally when it comes to the issue of abortion. This can only serve to discredit it as an institution.

Majority opinion

Justice Breyer wrote the majority, joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kennedy. In its opinion, the Court bent the typical rules governing claim preclusion to permit the claims against HB 2 to proceed, then even bent its abortion jurisprudence a fair bit to conclude they imposed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional “right” to obtain an abortion.

Claims not procedurally barred

The first issue was whether any of the plaintiffs’ claims were procedurally barred under res judicata, a doctrine which prohibits raising the same claim if it has already been raised by the party to the case. The Court said they were not. The Court first held that the plaintiff’s admitted privileges claims were not barred because changed circumstances made the claims raised in this case different than those raised in an earlier case challenging the Texas statute (a dubious holding). It also held that the surgical center claims were not barred even though they were not raised in the earlier case because they were based on a different portion of the statute (also dubious).

Undue Burden

The Court began by laying out its standard: “We recognize that the ‘State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient.’ Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 150 (1973). But, we added, ‘a statute which, while furthering [a] valid state interest, has the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice cannot be considered a permissible means of serving its legitimate ends.’ Casey, 505 U. S., at 877 (plurality opinion). Moreover, ‘[u]nnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.’ Id., at 878.”

The justices held that neither the admitting-privileges nor surgical-center requirement “offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, Casey, supra, at 878 (plurality opinion),” and thus “each violates the Federal Constitution. Amdt. 14, §1.”

The Court of Appeals had held that (1) the courts should not consider and balance medical benefits against the burden when applying the undue burden standard (but rather just look at the burden issue), and (2) a standard of lower constitutional scrutiny should apply to abortion issues. The majority in Hellerstedt reversed the Court of Appeals on both these points.

Undue Burden – Admitting Privileges Requirement

The Court heavily deferred to the determinations of the district court (and affirmed the ability of courts in general to make such determinations) on these issues, and claimed that courts can resolve questions of medical uncertainty—not just legislatures. The Court held that courts can and should balance the medical benefits of a law against its burdens.

The Court found that the evidence in the record indicates that the admitting privileges requirement places a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice” (quoting Casey). The Court again deferred to district court findings that facilities were closing at the time the law began to be enforced, which meant women had to travel further to obtain abortions, and there were fewer doctors (doctors were also unable to obtain admitting privileges for reasons unconnected to their ability to perform medical procedures), longer wait times, and more crowded facilities. Taken together, and viewed in light of the absence of a health benefit, this list of effects causes an undue burden.

The Court also noted the statute here does not have legislative findings, which weighs in favor of a court having to scrutinize findings more carefully, and heavily deferred to the district court’s evaluation of the evidence—and concluded it found nothing in the record “that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a “working arrangement” with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

The government argued facilities may have closed for reasons unrelated to this law, but the Court found that that the plaintiffs had “satisfied their burden to present evidence of causa­tion by presenting direct testimony as well as plausible inferences to be drawn from the timing of the clinic clo­sures.” When faced with the example of Gosnell, the Court said “there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing stat­utes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations. Regardless, Gosnell’s deplorable crimes could escape detection only because his facility went uninspected for more than 15 years. Pre-existing Texas law already contained numerous detailed regulations covering abortion facilities, including a requirement that facilities be inspected at least annually.”

Undue Burden – Surgical Center Requirement

Again, the Court deferred to the district court and found that the health and safety concerns are not advanced by the surgical center requirement, especially in light of the existing regulation imposed by Texas. The Court credited evidence and deferred to an expert witness at the district court level, and found that many of the law’s requirements were not necessary to regulate abortion, and had the additional effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the face of a woman’s ability to obtain one by making them travel further and disrupting the medical care they would receive. In making these findings, the Court recognized it assumed that medical facilities operate at or near full capacity, and credited what it viewed as “commonsense inferences” by the district court. The court held that Texas had not shown that remaining facilities could accommodate many more women.

In essence, the Court nitpicked the evidence for ways Texas had not perfectly shown HB 2 would advance women’s health, and even when it had shown health benefits, claimed the burden outweighed these benefits (and the law was thus unconstitutional).

Other arguments

The Court rejected the argument that facial invalidation was precluded by the law’s severability clause. It also rejected Texas’ argument that the law did not impose a substantial obstacle because the number of women affected by the law is not a “large fraction” of Texan women of reproductive age. The Court finally rejected Texas’ argument, based on Simopoulos v. Virginia, that surgical center requirements could be applied to second-trimester abortions. The Court noted this was before Casey, which discarded the trimester framework.

Ginsburg Concurrence

Justice Ginsburg concurred, focusing on the claim that child-birth and other medical procedures are “far more dangerous” than abortion, and yet not subject to the requirements Texas attempts to impose here. “Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’ Planned Parenthood of Wis., 806 F. 3d, at 910. When a State se­verely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety. See Brief for Ten Pennsylvania Abortion Care Providers as Amici Curiae 17–22. So long as this Court adheres to Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973), and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H. B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ Planned Parenthood of Wis., 806 F. 3d, at 921, cannot survive judicial inspection.”

Thomas Dissent

Justice Thomas criticized the majority for “perpetuat[ing] the Court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”

Quoting Justice Scalia, he said this decision “exemplifies the Court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.’ Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U. S. 914, 954 (2000) (Scalia, J., dissenting).”

Thomas continues, “[u]ltimately, this case shows why the Court never should have bent the rules for favored rights in the first place. Our law is now so riddled with special exceptions for special rights that our decisions deliver neither predict­ability nor the promise of a judiciary bound by the rule of law.”

He criticizes third-party standing, which permits plaintiffs to sue on behalf of others (and which permitted the claims to be brought in this case in the first place). He observes the Court has made special exceptions for this doctrine in the case of abortion, noting: “There should be no surer sign that our jurisprudence has gone off the rails than this: After creating a constitutional right to abortion because it ‘involve[s] the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy,’ Casey, supra, at 851 (majority opinion), the Court has created special rules that cede its enforcement to others.”

Even under Casey, Justice Thomas notes that the majority alters the undue burden test here by (1) telling courts to balance burdens and benefits of the law instead of just assessing the burden, by (2) making their own medical assessments as opposed to deferring to the legislature, which is permitted to enact a law in the face of a debate within the medical community (Stenberg, supra, at 971 (KENNEDY, J., dissent­ing) (“the right of the legislature to resolve matters on which physicians disagreed” is “establish[ed] beyond doubt”), and by (3) scrutinizing laws for more than a reasonable relation to a legitimate state interest even when the law does not impose a substantial obstacle to obtaining an abortion (“Where [the State] has a rational basis to act and it does not impose an undue burden,” this Court previously held, “the State may use its regulatory power” to impose regulations “in furtherance of its legiti­mate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including life of the un­born.” Gonzales, supra, at 158 (emphasis added)).”

Justice Thomas criticized the majority for writing an opinion without any clear standard, which will “mystify” lower courts trying to figure the matter out. The Court merely highlights certain parts of the record, and announces that there is an undue burden. In Justice Thomas’s view, this opinion looks like it’s applying the strict scrutiny standard that Casey had rejected.

He proceeds to criticize the Court’s seemingly ad-hoc application of different standards of review, based on the Court’s preference for the issue, which leads to unpredictability among other issues: “Likewise, it is now easier for the government to restrict judicial candidates’ campaign speech than for the Government to define mar­riage—even though the former is subject to strict scrutiny and the latter was supposedly subject to some form of rational-basis review. Compare Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 575 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2015) (slip op., at 8–9), with United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slipop., at 20)).”

Thus, “[t]he Court should abandon the pretense that anything other than policy preferences underlies its balancing of constitutional rights and inter­ests in any given case.”

Indeed, the Court’s preference for special rights and inconsistent application of its standards to cases based on the rights at issue poses significant problems for the Court as a judicial body—this case being only one example. “The Court has simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitu­tional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution … Unless the Court abides by one set of rules to adjudicate constitu­tional rights, it will continue reducing constitutional law to policy-driven value judgments until the last shreds of its legitimacy disappear.”

He concludes: “Today’s decision will prompt some to claim victory, just as it will stiffen opponents’ will to object. But the entire Nation has lost something essential. The majority’s em­brace of a jurisprudence of rights-specific exceptions and balancing tests is ‘a regrettable concession of defeat—an acknowledgement that we have passed the point where ‘law,’ properly speaking, has any further application.’ Scalia, The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules, 56 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1175, 1182 (1989). I respectfully dissent.”

Alito Dissent

Justice Alito also dissented, with Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas joining.

Claim is procedurally barred

Justice Alito first criticized the majority for bending the rules of res judicata to accommodate the claim at issue because it concerned abortion. “When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner. The Court has not done that here.”

In essence, the majority’s basis for permitting the claims to proceed here is weak, has holes, and has insufficient supporting authority. “The Court awards a victory to petitioners on the very claim that they unsuccessfully pressed in the earlier case. The Court does this even though petitioners, undoubtedly realizing that a rematch would not be allowed, did not presume to include such a claim in their complaint. The Court favors petitioners with a victory that they did not have the audacity to seek.”

Justice Alito observed the majority failed to even address the many elements of res judicata, and in ruling that the claims here were not the same, even erred when it addressed that element!

In essence, the claims are bound together by the law’s impact on the present or future closure of facilities. The claim in this case therefore is the same, had already been raised by the plaintiffs, and therefore should be barred. It doesn’t matter that the plaintiffs have new and better evidence; this doesn’t get around the issue that the claims are the same. The new and old claims are based on the same acts and set of circumstances, and new evidence does not transform them into different claims. The authority cited by the majority—the Comment F to Section 24 of the Second Restatement of Judgments—says a claim may be a different claim, not that it always is. This leeway should be applied sparingly, in Justice Alito’s view, and the majority does not have the authority to conclude as it does. There are no new “acts” here by Texas which even could make these claims different, but only new consequences, if at all. The plaintiffs here knew what the effects of the law would be, and thus have no basis to assert their claims are now different.

The plaintiffs could have provided evidence in their first case to show that facilities would close, yet now “the Court attempts to argue that petitioners could not have shown at that time that a sufficient number of clinics had already closed. As I have explained, that is not what petitioners need to show or what they attempted to prove.”

Even if the Court thinks that petitioners’ evidence in the first case was insufficient, the Court does not claim that petitioners, with reasonable effort, could not have gathered sufficient evidence to show with some degree of accuracy what the effects of the admitting privileges requirement would be. As I have just explained, in their first trial petitioners introduced a survey of 27 abortion clinics indicating that 15 would close because of the admitting privileges requirement. The Court does not identify what additional evidence petitioners needed but were unable to gather. There is simply no reason why petitioners should be allowed to re-litigate their facial claim.”

In sum, the Court’s holding that petitioners’ second facial challenge to the admitting privileges requirement is not barred by claim preclusion is not supported by any of our cases or any body of lower court precedent; is contrary to the bedrock rule that a party cannot re-litigate a claim simply because the party has obtained new and better evidence; is contrary to the first Restatement of Judgments and the actual rules of the second Restatement of Judgment; and is purportedly based largely on a single comment in the second Restatement, but does not even represent a sensible reading of that comment. In a regular case, an attempt by petitioners to re-litigate their previously unsuccessful facial challenge to the admitting privileges requirement would have been rejected out of hand—indeed, might have resulted in the imposition of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. No court would even think of reviving such a claim on its own. But in this abortion case, ordinary rules of law—and fairness—are suspended.”

The majority erroneously holds that these claims are separate based on weak and inapplicable authority. In reality, these claims are based on the same bill, both impose now requirements on facilities, both seek to protect women, both challenged as imposing the same kind of burden, and are treated by the plaintiffs as a package in terms of their claim that they are trying to “shut down” abortion facilities. There is no doubt they are part of the same litigation.

No Undue Burden

Even if the claims are not barred, there is no undue burden here.

Since plaintiffs assert rights on behalf of their patients, they must show an impact on a “large fraction” of impacted women to obtain facial relief. They fail to do that. They only show that certain facilities closed, but make “little effort” to show why they did.

Justice Alito noted that this law may impact facilities, which is understandable, and even desired in the aftermath of situations like the Gosnell matter. Indeed, “the Philadelphia grand jury that investigated the case recommended that the Commonwealth adopt a law requiring abortion facilities to comply with the same regulations as ASCs.”

However, facilities may have closed because of (1) H. B. 2’s restriction on medication abortion, (2) the withdrawal of Texas family planning funds, (3) the nationwide decline in abortion demand, and (4) physician retirement (or other localized factors).

The plaintiffs could have made precise findings regarding each facility in Texas, and had the burden of proof to do so, but didn’t.

In addition, the plaintiffs simply didn’t put on any evidence of actual facility capacity as it concerned facility access. The majority let them off the hook on this point, even though this was important to determine an undue burden.

Finally, the majority failed to recognize that under Casey, traveling 150 miles is not an undue burden, and a significant majority of Texas women didn’t have to travel that far.

Justice Alito also wrote that even if the claims were not precluded, in applying the severability clause here, the law’s requirements must be held in every city in which it does not impose an undue burden.

Sadly, the Court has to again apply the “abortion distortion” to argue that the severability clause does not apply here, and invalidate the entire statute. Indeed, many non-abortion related provisions of the law are now struck down too.

He concludes: “When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner. The Court has not done that here.” The Court’s “patent refusal to apply well-established law in a neutral way is indefensible and will undermine public confidence in the Court as a fair and neutral arbiter.”

Harvard law professor: “Don’t Let Mississippi Establish Anti-Gay Religion”

by Travis Weber

June 17, 2016

That’s actually the title of a piece by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman on Bloomberg View yesterday.

Our ability to reason together as a pluralistic nation has been sorely compromised by unashamed advocacy pieces like this. Those who know better like Noah Feldman will one day hopefully come to regret compromising their accuracy to try to achieve their objective. Sadly, much damage will be done in the meantime.

The harm done by his reckless characterizations of Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act (HB 1523) demands a response.

What has Mississippi done in HB 1523? It has exempted people with certain beliefs from being forced to violate their conscience should the government make them complicit in a same-sex marriage celebration. That doesn’t sound like any “establishment” of religion to me, and it isn’t—under any reasonably understanding of what the Establishment Clause was meant to accomplish. Moreover, it would protect anyone who holds those beliefs—Muslims, Jews, Christians, or others. Establishment Clause law is primarily concerned with making sure the government doesn’t coerce or force people into a belief system with which they don’t agree.

It’s ironic that this is the precise protection HB 1523 ensures people receive. It’s doubly ironic that Noah Feldman would instead have everyone comply with the government’s “religion” of same-sex marriage acceptance. If Mississippi was doing what Feldman claims it’s doing, why the need for HB 1523’s protections from the government? There wouldn’t be any need. If we are going to use his line of thinking about “establishment,” he should see HB 1523 is needed precisely because our government is increasingly moving toward an “establishment” of support for same-sex marriage.

If Noah Feldman and others making his arguments actually believe such exemptions are constitutionally problematic, I’d expect them to argue against laws providing exemptions in a variety of contexts. Notably, their opposition only seems to arise when Christianity seeks protection.

The title to his piece also contains a misrepresentation of Christian belief: that Christianity is merely “anti-gay.” Actually discovering the truth here requires some study of Christianity, however. Christian teaching on sexuality is comprehensive, and contains a number of precepts for human flourishing and well-being in accordance with God’s design. Same-sex conduct is only one of the parameters. There is no such thing as mere “anti-gay” Christianity. Yet the Christian view of sexuality is consistently mischaracterized by this framing—because advocates who use it aren’t seeking the truth, and they know this propaganda works on people who don’t bother to seek it either.

Claiming the mantle of objectivity and reason in order to further an agenda is not new. But it removes the building blocks on which our pluralistic society can exist. It is especially disheartening when done by those who know better and are entrusted to do otherwise.

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