Category archives: Legislation

Of Dogs and Unborn Babies

by Mary Jayne Caum

November 19, 2020

For the last two weeks, fallout from the election chaos has dominated the news cycle. Because of this, state and local initiatives have largely gone unnoticed. But two important laws were on the ballot in Colorado: (1) Proposition 115 and (2) a repeal of Denver’s pit bull ban.

Proposition 115 was a state-wide initiative to ban late-term abortions throughout Colorado. If successful, it would have been illegal to commit an abortion in Colorado once an unborn child reaches 22 weeks gestation. Proposition 115 specified that committing an abortion on an unborn child who has reached at least 22 weeks gestation would be a misdemeanor and any abortionists who violated this law would be subjected to professional penalties including suspension of their medical license. Of course, the measure did exempt from prosecution the woman who underwent the abortion. It also allowed an abortion after 22 weeks gestation when the life of the mother was at risk. Despite scientific and philosophical support for banning these late-term abortions, Colorodans voted to continue the dangerous and deadly practice.           

In Denver, Colorado, another measure was in the hands of the citizenry. For 30 years, it has been illegal to own a pit bull in Denver. This law banning pit bulls resulted from several pit bull attacks in Colorado in the 1980s, and the stigma surrounding certain breeds including pit bulls. For years, pit bulls have been stigmatized as an inherently aggressive breed waiting to tear you limb from limb. However, the facts simply do not align with this myth. The National Geographic reports that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that pit bulls are inherently aggressive and dangerous. Changing attitudes towards pit bulls combined with widespread initiatives to destigmatize the breed resulted in Denver’s decision to lift the ban on pit bulls. Personally, this author supports Denver’s decision to allow pit bulls. As a dog mom, it warms my heart to see dogs rescued, given a chance, or destigmatized. While I applaud the people of Denver’s decision to legalize pit bulls, I do find Colorado’s stance on human life and animal life troubling.            

An unborn child is viable somewhere around 22-24 weeks gestation. Neonatal medicine defines viability, “as the gestational age at which there is a 50% chance of survival with or without medical care.” Therefore, last week in Colorado, the voters elected to continue aborting viable babies while lifting a ban on pit bull ownership in Denver. Critics may claim I am comparing apples and oranges. Colorado is not populated by Denver alone. However, almost 6 million people live in Colorado, while almost 3 million people live in metro Denver. So it is safe to say that the attitudes of individuals in metro Denver represents the mindset of at least half of Colorado. With that in mind, let us return to the point of this article: the inherent worth of a child vs. the inherent worth of an animal.

As a Christian, I believe both man and beast have value. However, man is worth so much more. Because humans are made in the image of God, we have inherent worth and dignity. Our value is so great, God sacrificed His holy and glorious Son and raised Him from the dead to purchase us from the grips of sin and death. While reflecting upon His creation, God deemed nature and its animals “good” while praising man as “very good.” No matter how much we try to devalue life in our society, men and women are inherently priceless and imbued with a dignity God did not bestow on any of His other creations.

This is not to say we should be cruel to our animals. One of the wisdom books in the Bible espouses its readers, “the righteous care for the needs of their animals.” Therefore, according to God’s Word, one of the distinguishing features of a righteous person is the manner in which he treats animals. For this reason, I rejoice when another shelter dog is rescued, a dog fight organizer is prosecuted, and a pit bull is allowed to be loved.

However, we cannot confuse our duty to properly care for animals with the inherent worth and dignity of our fellow man. After creating man, God exhorted Adam to have dominion over the animals God created. Abortion fundamentally rejects the dignity and worth of every human being. Instead of recognizing the humanity of every unborn child, we devalue and sacrifice our unborn children in the name of convenience, preference, and career advancement. As a society, we cannot continue down this path of devaluing human life. 

While we pat ourselves on the back for being progressive and rejecting the fallacious notion that certain dog breeds are inherently aggressive, let us not forget our fellow man. It is a well known fact that when an abortion is committed against a child around 22 weeks gestation, the abortionist’s preferred method of murder is dismemberment abortion (also known as D&E: dilation and evacuation abortion). Although Denver was correct to statutorily reject the idea that pit bulls inherently desire to tear humans limb from limb, Colorado was wrong to leave unborn infants vulnerable to abortionists who tear these innocent children limb from limb.

Sadly, I believe the prophetic words of G.K Chesterton have been realized, “Wherever there is animal worship there is human sacrifice.” Let us reverse this trend of human sacrifice. Let us honor our Creator by protecting His creation: both animal and human. While enjoying the companionship of our furry friends, we should continue to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of each human individual—born and unborn.

Mary Jayne Caum works in State & Local Affairs at Family Research Council.

FRC on the Hill (July 27-August 7)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

August 7, 2020

Whether in the appropriations process or coronavirus relief discussions, issues of life, family, and religious freedom continued to be debated in Congress in recent days, and Family Research Council wrapped up a busy few weeks fighting for faith, family, and freedom in our nation’s capital. Here are the two big items from the past two weeks:

The House Continues its Spending Spree

The House of Representatives passed the second spending package (H.R. 7617) for fiscal year 2021. This package includes several measures that block some of the president’s pro-life and pro-family policies. Among other things, H.R. 7617 would:

  • Allow D.C. funds to be used for abortions;
  • Grant the marijuana industry banking access and prevent the federal government from enforcing federal law in states that have legalized recreational marijuana;
  • Force private schools participating in the D.C. voucher program (including faith-based schools) to abide by the same federal restrictions as public schools;
  • Cut private schools from COVID-19 relief funding;
  • Lock in Planned Parenthood as a Title X family planning grantee;
  • Eliminate funding for Sexual Risk Avoidance Education, a program that teaches children that avoiding sexual activity before marriage is the surest way to avoid its risks;
  • Stop efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services from working with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that operate in accordance with their faith;
  • Stop efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that science and biology remain the cornerstone of health care, not gender ideology;
  • Gut Department of Defense policy regarding the service of individuals with gender dysphoria despite the policy’s basis in promoting military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion over social experimentation; and
  • Allow men who identify as women into battered women’s shelters.

With this package passed, only the spending bills for Homeland Security and the Legislative Branch remain outstanding in the House. However, the Senate has not begun working on their spending bills, and there are only 14 legislative days left before federal funding runs out on September 30. The appropriations process in the House has been nothing but partisan politics by liberals to advance their priorities and does not reflect a good faith effort to pass spending bills that will actually be signed into law.

Congress Negotiates Next Round of Coronavirus Relief

The Senate unveiled their long-awaited proposal for further medical and economic relief for Americans hurting from the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), which includes a wish list of liberal policy priorities, the Senate proposal (HEALS Act) seeks to spend money responsibly and tailor aid specifically to those most in need.

Among other things, the Heroes Act would:

  • Provide bonus pay for essential workers, which could include those working at abortion facilities;
  • Provide tax subsidies for health care plans that cover abortion;
  • Redefine sex in non-discrimination language to include sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Create legal protections for banks who do business with the marijuana industry.

The HEALS Act, however:

  • Provides financial help without subsidizing abortion or health plans that cover abortion;
  • Puts most of its funding towards schools, virus testing, and the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program;
  • Includes liability protections for nonprofits and churches so that they can reopen safely without fear of frivolous lawsuits;
  • Includes Emergency Education Freedom Grants, which would send money to states in the form of scholarships to be used for private schools and even homeschooling expenses.

Negotiations over the next round of coronavirus relief legislation are still ongoing and major disagreements between the two sides have threatened to stall any compromise solution. However, it is encouraging to see the Senate sticking up for life, family, and religious liberty.

Other Notable Items

  • Senator Josh Hawley has stated that he will only support Supreme Court nominees who are on the record against Roe v. Wade.
  • The CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook testified before the House Judiciary committee. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) directly called out big tech censorship of conservative voices and Amazon’s use of the SPLC hate groups list in the Amazon smile program.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department budget, discussing religious freedom among other things.
  • Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to repeal the longstanding Helms Amendment, a bipartisan policy that bans taxpayer funding for abortion abroad.

We hope this is a helpful roundup of developments connected to faith, family, and freedom on Capitol Hill. Please stay tuned for our next update.

FRC’s Efforts on Capitol Hill (Week of July 20)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Laura Lee Caum

July 28, 2020

FRC wrapped up another busy week fighting for faith, family, and freedom on Capitol Hill.

The House came together — and then fell apart

The House of Representatives returned from a two-week recess with a full schedule of legislative items. On Tuesday, the House passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes all of the major defense programs, with broad bipartisan support. Fortunately, unlike last year, this year’s bill did not include a new family planning program with pro-life concerns or language to reshape military standards to be gender-neutral. The Senate passed their version of the NDAA on Thursday, also with broad bipartisan support. The absence of progressive policy priorities allowed Democrats and Republicans to join together in support of this year’s NDAA.

While members resisted the temptation to insert partisan priorities in the NDAA, the same could not be said of the Democrats on the Appropriations committee. The House passed the first minibus appropriations package (H.R. 7608), which includes several major pro-life and pro-family concerns. Specifically, the State and Foreign Operations section of the bill included language to repeal President Trump’s Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which bars funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. The bill would also provide direct funding for the World Health Organization, which actively promotes abortion and a radical sex education agenda abroad. Finally, the bill would weaken a longstanding pro-life amendment that bans funding for any organization or program that promotes coercive abortions. Despite President Trump’s threat to veto any spending bills that weaken or undermine current pro-life policies, House leadership has pushed through a spending bill full of anti-life measures.

FRC priorities attacked in committee hearings

One-third of pregnancies in trans men are unintended.” That statement from the co-founder of Minority Veterans of America is just one example of the radical liberal agenda that was on full display in House committee hearings this week.

Several values issues came up in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. First, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) questioned what was included in the expansion of contraception access for veterans in H.R. 4281. The Director of Reproductive Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clarified that this would include abortifacients like the morning after pill. H.R. 3582, which would expand the scope of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include LGBT-identifying veterans, was also introduced. Promoting progressive social policies in the VA has become a new tactic in the House as they seek to sneak in social experiments on abortion, marijuana, and LGBT rights into these federal programs.

Some members used the House Foreign Assistance Budget hearing to attack the president’s appointees at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). John Barsa, the Acting Administrator of USAID, who has actively fought against the global expansion of abortion throughout the coronavirus pandemic, was questioned by members for the various pro-life and pro-family appointees at USAID. The questions the members asked were not about the appointee’s experience or credentials for the role. Instead, they raised concerns only because the president’s appointees hold a worldview with which they disagree. These types of attacks are very similar to those leveled at key White House officials, like Russ Vought, as they made their way through the Senate confirmation process. This indirect assault against people who hold a biblical worldview is greatly concerning.

Although there was a fair share of anti-life and anti-family rhetoric on Capitol Hill this week, Christians shouldn’t be discouraged. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that in God’s hand, “the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.” Remember, God is sovereign; nothing surprises Him or takes Him off guard. Moreover, there are actions you can take to protect the values of faith, family, and freedom. First, it is important that you pray. Scripture instructs us to pray for those who are in authority, which includes our leaders in government. Second, it is imperative that you vote and get involved in the political process. As God commanded the exiles in Babylon, we, too, should seek the welfare of our city by engaging in the sometimes messy world of politics. This is one of the practical ways we obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). Thus, when we are tempted to be discouraged by the rhetoric on Capitol Hill, let’s remember the words of Winston Churchill. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Laura Lee Caum is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Speaker Pelosi’s Partisan Coronavirus Relief Bill Attacks Life and Family

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Mary Beth Waddell, J.D.

May 19, 2020

Partisan politics are at play again. Last week, House Democrats passed the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), a coronavirus relief bill that purports to help the people risking their lives on the front lines of the coronavirus, but in reality disregards vulnerable lives by funding abortion providers and deconstructs the idea of family.

The bill passed by a margin of 208-199 with one Republican supporting and 14 Democrats opposing. While it is unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is important to highlight how congressional Democrats are seeking to work against human life and the family during this pandemic.

In summary, the Heroes Act:

Attacks Longstanding Pro-life Policies

  • It creates a new “Heroes Fund” to provide an additional $13 per hour for essential workers in addition to their regular wages. Helping frontline workers who have put their lives at risk to battle the coronavirus is a good idea in principle; however, the bill’s definition of essential work includes any work conducted at outpatient clinics without any restrictions on those working at abortion clinics. It is disheartening enough that some liberal states have deemed abortion as an essential service, but pro-abortion members of Congress providing bonus pay for abortion clinic workers—while millions of Americans remain unemployed—takes abortion extremism to a whole new level.
  • Appropriates nearly $1 trillion in funds to state and local governments so they can continue conducting tests, providing essential equipment, and treating patients suffering from coronavirus. There is bipartisan support for such funding. However, the funding proposed in the Heroes Act has very limited restrictions on usage. This means liberal states like California and New York can use the federal funds to cover budget shortfalls they created by funding Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Just a few months before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S, the Illinois legislature appropriated millions of dollars for abortion facilities that provide family planning services.
  • Provides several tax subsidies for employers that can be used to pay for health plans that cover abortion. In particular, it would provide a full subsidy for COBRA health premiums, a current program which allows the recently unemployed to remain on an employer health care plan. This subsidy would violate the principles of the Hyde Amendment by directly subsidizing employer health care plans that cover abortion. 
  • Makes substantive changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was designed to help small businesses and nonprofits seek immediate financial relief, and many churches and religious nonprofits have been able to access the program. Large nonprofits that perform abortions are currently ineligible for the PPP because of the 500-employee limit. Instead of expanding the program to include larger charitable organizations, House Democrats prioritized making an exception for abortion providers.

Undermines Marriage and Family

  • The bill deconstructs the idea of family with the same language that some had attempted to insert into the paid family and sick leave program in the Phase 2 coronavirus relief bill. While the language in this bill doesn’t include “domestic partnership” in a definition of “spouse,” it uses multiple definitions to try and achieve the same effect. The bill amends paid leave requirements to include paid sick leave for family members including “domestic partners.” This greatly waters down the significance of the family structure and renders the word “family” virtually meaningless.
  • Redefines “sex” in the context of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and medical conditions related to pregnancy. This is the same language that appeared in the infamous Equality Act the House passed last year, which would have redefined civil rights laws in a manner inconsistent with biological realities and forced organizations to provide abortions. The language would apply to this bill and the other relief bills that have already become law, such as the Cares Act.
  • Establish diversity and outreach programs that specifically prioritize gender and sexual minorities. Further, the bill would create a designated suicide hotline that politicizes the meaning of sex. An excessive focus on sexual minority status is misplaced, given the existence of other high-risk groups and risk factors such as underlying mental illness.

Additional Progressive Priorities

Partisan policies have no place in legislation intended to address a pandemic. In addition to the aforementioned provisions that seek to undermine the sanctity of human life and the family, the Heroes Act includes:

  • Provisions propping up the notion of hate crimes, which FRC has consistently opposed because they undercut freedom of expression. Hate crimes are essentially “thought” crimes, and hate crime laws punish the accused for a perceived prejudice against the victim. This is reinforced by the bill’s addition of “alternate sentencing” to existing hate crimes law, which will allow courts to order “educational classes” to correct the defendant’s alleged prejudice. Thoughts are not criminal; only actions are, and the First Amendment protects all expression, even that with which we disagree. Existing criminal law categories are sufficient to address the interests of justice without straying into the dangerous territory of trying to eradicate the thoughts of our citizens. 
  • Language taken straight out of the SAFE Banking Act, a policy that would legitimize the marijuana industry by granting them access to capital and other banking services. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, “The word ‘cannabis’ appears in this bill 68 times. More times than the word ‘job’ and four times as many as the word ‘hire.’” Reducing current federal restrictions on marijuana would, among other things, give money laundering access to international drug cartels who are already using marijuana legalization as a cover, and would radically increase investment in the marijuana industry.
  • A second round of stimulus checks with a change to allow illegal immigrants without a social security number to be eligible. Republicans led an effort to amend this policy, but came up just short of amending this language before final passage.
  • An extension of the $600 per week unemployment insurance increase through January 2021, allowing some individuals to continue collecting more money on unemployment than they would working. This perverse incentive to work was raised by Senate Republicans during the debate of the CARES Act, and now as the economy starts to open could have even more lasting impacts on the value and dignity of work.
  • Long-term changes that reshape the way elections are conducted in a way that favors Democrat candidates. This bill would require 15 days of early voting for federal elections and absentee vote by mail ballots for all voters. It would also mandate that all voters can register the same day, both in-person and online. Not long ago, many Democrats were highly concerned about fraud and interference in the 2016 election. Now, they are seeking to mandate mail-in ballots and online registration, policies that can put election security at risk.

Unfortunately, the present national health emergency has not united Congress to help our country. Congressional Democrats have shown time and time again that they would rather score political points than help our country through this pandemic. As Congress continues to consider what steps may be necessary to provide additional relief to the health care system and economy, FRC will remain vigilant in protecting faith, family, and freedom.

Congressional Support for Communities of Faith Pays off for Churches

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

May 12, 2020

Congressional programs designed to help the faith community rarely work as intended. But the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), one of the signature policies in the CARES Act, appears to be one of those rare successes.

The PPP was created to provide financial relief to small businesses and nonprofit organizations (with fewer than 500 employees) whose finances have been strained by the economic fallout of the coronavirus. With most in-person church services temporarily suspended due to social distancing requirements, 40 percent of pastors report decreased giving, and 18 percent say donations have been cut in half. But now, thanks to the PPP, many churches—as well as small businesses and other nonprofit organizations—are able to keep the lights on and employees paid.

Initially, there was some concern that existing small business loan regulations (which excluded religious-based organizations) would render churches ineligible for the PPP. Thankfully, a bipartisan group of members of Congress led by Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent a letter to the Departments of Treasury and Labor and the Small Business Administration (SBA), clarifying that Congress intended to allow churches and religious nonprofits access to these loans. Subsequently, SBA issued guidance to ensure that lenders would not discriminate against the loan applications of faith-based organizations. The guidance also clarifies that churches would not be sacrificing their autonomy or First Amendment-protected religious freedom by accepting government funds.

Shortly after the PPP’s second round of funding commenced, it was discovered that thousands of churches had applied for and received these loans. Out of the roughly 12,000 Catholic parishes that applied for the PPP loans, an estimated 9,000 received funds. In a recent LifeWay survey, two in five Protestant pastors said they applied for loans, and approximately 59 percent of them were approved. Additionally, the Jewish Federations of America announced that 573 Jewish organizations, including 219 synagogues, received loans.

The efforts by members of Congress and the Trump administration to ensure churches have access to essential financial assistance—thereby saving some of them from laying off employees or closing altogether—should not be overlooked. When crafting the largest economic relief package in American history, instead of forgetting about churches or actively trying to exclude them from economic relief, these political leaders prioritized faith-based organizations. They realized that churches, in addition to running religious services, often employ staff to operate schools, food banks, and other services that play a vital role in American society, especially during a crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic.

This is one more item on the ever-growing list of actions the Trump administration has taken to promote religious freedom.

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 2)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

March 23, 2020

Things are moving rapidly in our nation’s capital as our government attempts to respond to the coronavirus. On March 18th, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is the second phase of coronavirus response legislation. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Testing: One of the main legislative requests, both from President Trump and Congress, was to speed up testing across the country. This bill directly addresses that need by appropriating $1.2 billion to help cover the costs of coronavirus testing. With this new funding, access to coronavirus tests will increase dramatically while costs will come down to zero. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, consult the CDC website to see testing protocols.

Food Assistance: The second piece to this bill is providing necessary food assistance to those affected most by this virus, mainly schoolchildren and senior citizens. This package includes an additional $500 million to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is a critical program that helps low-income women and their children access healthy and nutritious food. The bill also sets aside funding to ensure that children from low-income families can receive a meal from the school lunch program if their school is closed longer than five days due to the coronavirus. State agencies will be responsible for administering these meals to schoolchildren.

This bill also contains $200 million for senior nutrition programs, including extra money for home delivered-meals and meals at senior centers. Since the elderly are most at risk of dying from the coronavirus, it is important that the government provides specific funding to ensure that the elderly can still access food in this difficult time.

Medical and Sick Leave Expansion: The major point of contention in H.R. 6201 was how to tackle medical and sick leave requirements.

First, H.R. 6201 expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide family leave for those needing time off to care for a child because their school or childcare provider closed due to the coronavirus. The legislation mandates 10 days of unpaid leave, and any remaining leave after 10 days must be paid. There are caps to limit paid leave to $200 a day, and these requirements do not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees.

Second, this legislation requires all employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to any employee who has been advised to self-quarantine, is recovering from symptoms of the coronavirus, or is caring for a family member who has symptoms of the coronavirus. Paid leave is capped at $511 a day, and this coverage includes part-time and hourly employees. To ensure that small businesses are not disproportionately affected by this mandate, the Secretary of Labor has the authority to exempt certain small businesses if this requirement would jeopardize the viability of the business. There are also tax breaks to help employers cover the cost of this paid leave requirement.

These increased sick leave requirements are prudent measures to help workers affected by the virus. However, in the original bill and throughout negotiations, Democrats made several attempts to include controversial language that radically expands access to leave benefits in a way that alters longstanding social policy and weakens the family.

The term “domestic partnership” was inserted in several places throughout this bill, including in the definition of the word “spouse,” which should be reserved strictly for marriage. The injection of this term into federal statute in this manner takes advantage of our emergency posture and is unnecessary now that marriage has been redefined by the Supreme Court to include same-sex couples. It also further erodes marriage and family, the foundation of society, by equating a “domestic partnership” with the time-tested social building block of marriage.

Domestic partnership” is also defined here to include a “committed relationship.” While we have nothing against the idea of “committed relationships” in general, the way that term was defined here—to include those 18 years or older who “share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s common welfare”—would expand the benefits under this bill in a way that waters down the significance of the family structure and renders it virtually meaningless. The rushed nature with which these serious changes to family structure were considered for codification into federal law was further cause for concern for us.

The FRC team identified this problematic language and worked with key negotiators to make sure it was removed from the House-passed bill. However, removing this language did not sit well with the Democrat leaders, so when the bill was considered on the Senate floor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offered an amendment to re-insert this dramatic expansion into the medical and sick leave provisions. Our team alerted key senators about the damaging effects of this amendment, and fortunately, it was defeated by a vote of 47-51. H.R. 6201 passed absent the anti-family provisions, and was signed into law by President Trump on March 18th.

The federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been swift, and for good reason. As these large spending packages continue to move through Congress, the FRC team will continue to remain vigilant and work to ensure they support faith, family, and freedom.

New York City to Repeal Ban on Adult Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

by Peter Sprigg

September 19, 2019

It’s not often that a legislative body moves to repeal a law that it enacted less than two years earlier—especially when it passed by a vote of 43-2.

Nevertheless, this week Corey Johnson, speaker of the New York City Council (who openly self-identifies as gay) announced that he will move to repeal a city-wide ban on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which critics of the practice call “conversion therapy.” My colleague Cathy Ruse has also written about this development at The Stream.

The law was enacted in late 2017 and just took effect last year.

Why the about-face? Unfortunately, it’s not because of a new-found respect for the rights of people with unwanted same-sex attractions to seek the help they desire.

Instead, they fear that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike the law down as unconstitutional.

In January 2019, an Orthodox Jewish therapist, Dr. David Schwartz, filed a lawsuit challenging the new law. He is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

As ADF points out in their complaint, “The Counseling Censorship Law is unprecedented. It is the first in the nation to censor speech between counselors and adult patients.” The 18 states, and other localities, that have already restricted SOCE have only prohibited the practice with minors—on the theory that they are more vulnerable to coercion and less able to give informed consent.

A bill similar to the New York City law, AB 2943, was considered in California last year, but was withdrawn by its sponsor at the last minute. California instead recently adopted a non-binding resolution, ACR 99, condemning SOCE.

Previously, therapy bans for minors in California and New Jersey had been upheld in federal circuit court decisions. Additional lawsuits are pending in Maryland and Florida.

What was different about New York City? For one thing, its scope. Not only did it ban therapy for adults (not just minors), but it also barred any such assistance “offered or provided to consumers for a fee,” regardless of whether the individual is a licensed mental health provider. Rather than facing a professional sanction such as the loss of a license, violators could be fined up to $10,000.

Although the Supreme Court has not yet heard a challenge to therapy bans, it has not been silent about them. In the 2018 case of NIFLA v. Becerra, the court struck down a California law that essentially required pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions, ruling the law violated the centers’ First Amendment free speech rights. California had defended the law (as they defended their therapy ban for minors in a case called Pickup v. Brown) by arguing that certain kinds of “professional speech” do not have the same First Amendment protections. Justice Thomas rejected that view in his majority opinion in the NIFLA case:

Some Courts of Appeals have recognized “profes­sional speech” as a separate category of speech that is subject to different rules. See, e.g., … Pickup v. Brown, 740 F. 3d 1208, 1227–1229 (CA9 2014) … . These courts define “professionals” as indi­viduals who provide personalized services to clients and who are subject to “a generally applicable licensing and regulatory regime.” … Pickupsupra, at 1230. “Professional speech” is then defined as any speech by these individuals that is based on “[their] expert knowledge and judgment,” or that is “within the confines of [the] professional relationship,” Pickupsupra, at 1228. So defined, these courts except professional speech from the rule that content-based regulations of speech are subject to strict scru­tiny. See  … Pickupsupra, at 1053– 1056 … .

But this Court has not recognized “professional speech” as a separate category of speech. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by “professionals.” This Court has “been reluctant to mark off new categories of speech for diminished constitutional protection.” And it has been especially reluctant to “exemp[t] a category of speech from the normal prohibition on content-based restrictions.” This Court’s prece­dents do not permit governments to impose content-based restrictions on speech without “‘persuasive evidence … of a long (if heretofore unrecognized) tradition’” to that effect.

This Court’s precedents do not recognize such a tradi­tion for a category called “professional speech.”

I wrote about the implications of this for therapy bans in a blog post in July 2018, “Will the Supreme Court Save Sexual Orientation Change Efforts?” It appears that some of the leaders of the LGBT movement may have come around to the same realization.

This is yet another illustration of the fact that elections—and judicial nominations—have consequences.

Federal Judge and the ACLU Agree that RFRA Protects Religious Exercise in the Military

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

July 1, 2015

In another affirmation that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the constitutional right of free exercise for military service members, a federal judge recently ruled that the statute protected the rights of a Sikh to receive a grooming accommodation while enrolled as an Army ROTC cadet at Hofstra University.

After the Army denied the student’s accommodation request which was made when he sought to enter ROTC, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the student, alleging that the denial violated RFRA (and citing the standard under the recent DOD Instruction 1300.17). In its complaint, the ACLU asserted the Army policy “substantially burdens his religious exercise because it mandates conduct that is prohibited by his religious beliefs and substantially pressures him to modify his behavior in violation of his faith.”

In ruling on these claims, the federal court in the District of Columbia noted that while there is judicial deference to military decision making, RFRA also clearly applies to the military; indeed, “[t]he Department of Defense expressly incorporated RFRA into its own regulations effective January 22, 2010.”

Under RFRA, if an individual can show that government action has substantially burdened their religious exercise, then the government has to show it has a compelling reason for burdening the belief, and has done so in the least restrictive way possible.

In this case, there was no dispute that the plaintiff’s religious beliefs were sincere, and the court found that they were substantially burdened:

Therefore, there is no dispute that the Army’s refusal to grant plaintiff the accommodation that would enable him to enroll in ROTC while maintaining his religious practice was a government action that required plaintiff ‘to choose between following the tenets of [his] religion and receiving a governmental benefit.’” Such a denial “constitutes a ‘substantial burden’ under RFRA.”

The court acknowledged that the military is a distinct area of society with very unique concerns regarding order and discipline. However, Congress clearly meant RFRA to apply to the military and the statute clearly applies to situations like this.

Its analysis continued: “This case appears to be the first to squarely present the question of how a court is supposed to incorporate traditional deference to the military into the RFRA strict scrutiny analysis.” Therefore, the court looked to an area to which Congress also clearly meant RFRA to apply—prisons. In that context, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Holt v. Hobbs that a sister statute with the same standard—the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act—required the strict scrutiny standard to be applied to each situation in a “‘more focused’ inquiry” assessing whether the religious exemption can be granted.

The court dismissed the Army’s arguments that earlier cases—including Goldman v. Weinberger—require deference here, noting that “those cases predate RFRA.” Instead, the court chose to look to the framework laid out in Holt.

The Army also tried to argue for deference on the theory that it was better equipped to deal with social changes on its own (such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), but the court rejected that argument, noting that “even if it involves an important matter of public policy and evolving social norms, Congress has already placed a thumb on the scale in favor of protecting religious exercise, and it has assigned the Court a significant role to play.”

The court continued by ruling that the Army has not shown that denying the accommodation here (while granting numerous such accommodations in other cases) advances any compelling interest of the military. Notably, “[t]he Army conducted an internal examination of the effect of [another Sikh’s] religious accommodation on his service, and the study concluded that “the Soldier’s religious accommodations did not have a significant impact on unit morale, cohesion, good order, and discipline,” and that it “had no significant impact on his own, or any other Soldier’s, health and safety.”

The Army’s heavy reliance on uniformity in denying this accommodation and assertion that “compliance with Army grooming standards facilitates ‘the ability to assess a Soldier’s competency and attention to detail’” is irrelevant to the religious basis of the requested accommodation here and fails to satisfy “the individual assessment that is fundamental under RFRA.”

For “the accommodation this plaintiff seeks does not stem from any lack of self-control, dedication, or attention to detail. To the contrary: plaintiff seeks an accommodation because he faithfully adheres to the strict dictates of his religion. So even if, in some cases, a soldier’s failure to follow the Army’s standards might signal a rebellious streak or reflect a lack of impulse control or discipline, LTG McConville’s decision fails to grapple with the fact that any deviation from the rules on plaintiff’s part flows from a very different source. And therefore, the decision lacks the individual assessment that is fundamental under RFRA.”

In concluding, the court affirmed that it would not give blind deference to the claims of even very senior military decision makers as sufficient to trump religious exercise rights:

Notwithstanding [LT General McConville’s] thirty-four years of experience in the Army … and his superior judgment about military matters, adopting his conclusion [that the accommodation should be denied] without more would entail abdicating the role that RFRA requires the Court to play.

Finally, the court noted that even if there was a compelling interest here, the Army had not accomplished it by the least restrictive means—it had rejected the plaintiff outright, instead of at least permitting him to initially enroll in the ROTC program (during which time he is not yet commissioned).

The ACLU did well in laying out robust religious freedom arguments so far in this case. It merely remains for the organization (and others like it) to do so in other contexts. These advocates must see that after (rightly) supporting the Sikh’s religious exercise in this case, such support must flow to all religious exercise in order to consistently support religious freedom and the First Amendment. Anything short of that is picking and choosing the contexts in which the advocate wants the First Amendment to apply—and that is certainly not supportive of constitutional rights for all.

This case is certainly a win for the free exercise of religion in the military. It is also a case likely to produce odd bedfellows; the ACLU is supporting robust free exercise in a case involving a Sikh, but conservative Christians, Muslims and others concerned about religious freedom in the military will see it as helpful to their own causes. And rightly so. Congress passed a statute restoring strong free exercise protections. It did so with strong bi-partisan support, and made clear the law applies to the military. At least for now, a court has affirmed that the statutory law on religious freedom in the military supports a strong and robust free exercise of religion.

Is POT a Laudable Pursuit?

by Robert Morrison

June 17, 2015

Some in the conservative movement seem confused by the rush to legalize marijuana. Maybe we should run with the crowd, these folks are asking themselves. Maybe we’ll be more popular with the young. Maybe the elders of the tribe should follow the youngest one, they say.

Maybe NOT. We elders have all been 18; none of these young Americans has been fifty yet. And we want them all to get to be fifty.

My friends Bill Bennett and Seth Leibsohn have penned this important column in the Los Angeles Times.  Here, they raise an important warning about the rush to reefers.

What I like best is their quote from Lincoln. The purpose of government is to “clear the paths of laudable pursuit.” This might be called the Lincoln Corollary to the Declaration of Independence. When some mistakenly think that Jefferson’s wonderful phrase “pursuit of happiness” implies hedonism and nihilism, or a laissez-faire attitude toward personal and public morality, Lincoln gets us back on track with that laudable pursuit line.

Do we have too many young men finishing school, pursuing skilled vocations, signing up for the military, marrying, fathering children, serving in local volunteer fire departments, and coaching Little League?

If you are in favor of legalizing pot, do you think we haven’t had enough Fergusons or Baltimores?

We owe the young our best judgment. I didn’t do drugs as a young man, but I was an avid smoker. I really enjoyed lighting up. I valued the camaraderie of a smoke break with my buddies in the military.

Last October 27, I was leaving my local convenience store with my coffee in hand. A fellow in front of me held the door and, just as I exited, he lit up.

I did inhale. It was my first inhaling in thirty-seven years. And I instantly remembered why I liked smoking cigarettes.

We shouldn’t “play the Pharisee,” another great Lincoln phrase. We shouldn’t act holier than thou. But we owe our young friends our best guidance for them and for ourselves.

Or else, what are those “better angels of our Nature” for?

Architecture, Values and the March for Life

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 8, 2015

It is difficult to look at scenes of great universities and historic colleges and not be moved by the architecture portrayed. Traditionally, institutions of higher learning have wanted to display their seriousness of purpose and devotion to great thought and leading-edge research in the buildings they have constructed. Thus, some of the most beautiful public spaces in our country, and indeed the world, are found on American college grounds.

Architecture is important. As Winston Churchill said to the House of Commons during the peak of World War II, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” So consider what contemporary architecture says about today’s halls of knowledge. Edifices crafted out of shiny glass and sharp edges, boxes in which people are warehoused instead of buildings that invite contemplation or ennoble creativity.

What does this say about our culture’s view of human dignity in our time? Of the pursuit of knowledge and the purpose of research?

There’s nothing wrong with utility, but utility without beauty is a form of reductionism: Man as machine whose chief end is output rather than man as image-bearer of God whose chief end is to glorify Him through noble pursuits. The architecture of one’s time displays that time’s values. And the values of our time are deeply troubling.

As is widely recognized, much of modern academic life either is actively and unapologetically anti-Christian or at least so “tolerant” it welcomes the debased and debasing. Yet thankfully, these approaches to truth have not penetrated the hearts and minds of many brave academics and their students.

For example, later this month thousands of college students will mark the grim 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. They will meet to remember the 57 million Americans destroyed in their mothers’ wombs due to the reduction of human value to one of preference, convenience and radical personal and sexual autonomy. Family Research Council will be joining many of them as, together, we participate in the March for Life on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. on January 22.

If you can’t join us on the date, watch our 10th annual “ProLifeCon” online. ProLifeCon is “the premier conference for the online pro-life community. With new pro-life majorities in both the House and Senate, legislative momentum at the state level, and Americans increasingly identifying with the pro-life movement” FRC believes 2015 will be a year for hope. Listen to pro-life leaders like FRC president Tony Perkins, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life and many others as they discuss the year ahead and what the pro-life community can do to advance the human dignity agenda in the new year.

At FRC, we celebrate the eternal truth that in His grace, God has made all men and women, from conception until natural death, “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8). The architecture of our building – stately but warm, an edifice designed to remind all who see it of human dignity and personal warmth - is a daily reminder of it.

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