Monday, December 18, 2017


Foster families to ACLU: don’t take away kids’ chance at a new home
New lawsuit would make it harder for thousands of children currently in foster care to find permanent homes  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Shamber Flore and several adoptive families are going to court in Michigan today to stand up for vulnerable foster children. In Dumont v. Lyon, the ACLU is trying to force religious adoption agencies to close down their foster and adoption programs, making it even harder for thousands of foster kids to find permanent homes. If successful, the ACLU’s lawsuit would especially harm minority and special needs kids.     
 
Every year in Michigan, over 600 youth “age out” of foster care, which means that at the age of 18 they officially leave the foster system never having found a permanent family. This number is on the rise, and a recent study showed that these youth—mostly African American—are particularly vulnerable to ending up in poverty, without an education, and back on the streets. That’s where religious adoption agencies like St. Vincent Catholic Charities come in.
 
“I don’t understand why the ACLU is trying to take away hope from children who were once like me—victims of abuse exposed to drugs, prostitution, and neglect,” said Shamber Flore, who was adopted as a foster child in 2005. “My family would not have adopted me without the help of St. Vincent. We need more agencies like this finding more homes for kids—not less.”
 
Last year, St. Vincent recruited more new foster families than almost every other agency in its service area. Religious adoption agencies like St. Vincent are important in this work because they can reach families from different segments of the population that would not otherwise adopt or foster. They are also particularly successful at placing large sibling groups and providing support to families with medically fragile kids. And the majority of kids in St. Vincent’s care are minority and special needs children.
 
But in September 2017, the ACLU sued trying to make it illegal for the state of Michigan to partner with religious adoption agencies simply because of their religious beliefs.
 
“The ACLU’s lawsuit is not at all about protecting children. It’s about scoring cheap political points at the expense of children,” said Stephanie Barclay, counsel at Becket. “Thankfully, the constitution prohibits that result.”  
 
Becket is representing Shamber Flore, Melissa and Chad Buck, and St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Becket will file today to intervene in the Eastern District of Michigan to defend the right of families and religious adoption agencies to keep serving Michigan’s most vulnerable children.
 
 
Additional Information:                                                
  • Motion to Intervene will be available here (December 18, 2017)
  • Case page for Dumont v. Lyon (all legal docs, press releases and background)
  • Media Kit  (Images, b-roll, graphics. Credit: Becket)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Penn. AG Shapiro: Little Sisters unwelcome in City of Brotherly Love


Little Sisters of the Poor and supporters gathered outside Philadelphia court while hearing inside decides their fate

WASHINGTON, D.C. This morning, the Little Sisters of the Poor waited outside a Philadelphia courthouse while a hearing inside decided their fate. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is suing the federal government to take away the Sisters’ religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate. Shapiro says that the Little Sisters and others who would be affected if he wins have no say in court over what happens to their rights. Today supporters gathered outside the Philadelphia court to support the Little Sisters in this case, where Mother Loraine Marie Maguire addressed the crowd.
 
In early October, HHS issued a new rule that protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits from providing services in their healthcare plans that violate their faith like the week-after pill. The Little Sisters’ four-year legal ordeal seemed close to an end but now Pennsylvania’s lawsuit is threatening the Sisters’ rights again. Just last week, Pennsylvania obtained a court order keeping the Little Sisters from joining the case to defend their hard-won rights. Becket immediately appealed that order to the Third Circuit.
 
“We are hopeful that the court will rule as the Supreme Court ruled, that the government doesn’t need us to do its work. As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling to love and to serve and finally put this legal ordeal behind us,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sister of the Poor.
 
Represented by Becket, the Little Sisters spent the last four years battling the HHS mandate (learn more about the Little Sisters here). Following an earlier ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, in October HHS finally admitted that it had been wrong to fight the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 
“After the Little Sisters’ four-year fight, a Supreme Court victory, and a new rule that protects women like them, Attorney General Shapiro still went to court to take away their rights. He then argued that the Little Sisters shouldn’t even be allowed to come to this court today to make their case,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. “Josh Shapiro left the Little Sisters of the Poor out in the cold – in the City of Brotherly Love.”
 
Oral argument took place in federal district court in Philadelphia to decide if the protection for the Little Sisters will stand. A similar hearing took place on Tuesday in Oakland, California where supporters rallied outside the courthouse in support of the Little Sisters.
                                                   
 
Additional Information:       
 
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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).

Atheists abandon crusade against sermons ... again!


FFRF runs away from its own lawsuit to force Trump to censor sermons
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night, and for the second time in a row, a group of pastors defeated a lawsuit by militant atheists that demanded the IRS control the internal religious teachings of houses of worship. The atheists—Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—dismissed their own lawsuit, giving up before the court had a chance to rule against them. FFRF’s dismissal in FFRF v. Trump comes just three years after it did the same thing in their identical lawsuit, FFRF v. Koskinen. Both times, FFRF ran away after religious leaders intervened to defend their rights. By law, because this is now the second time that FFRF has given up on the same claim, FFRF’s dismissal means they have lost on the merits—and the pastors have permanently fended off FFRF.
The following statement can be attributed to Daniel Blomberg, counsel at Becket
“FFRF is running away again, and this time for good—in federal court, you don’t get a third bite at the apple. Which is great news for pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams who want to preach their faith without IRS censorship. The pulpit is one place where a little more separation of church and state would go a long way.” 
Additional Information:                                                                      
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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Democrats war against the Little Sisters of the Poor?


Two recent press releases from The Becket Fund raise the question: Why are the Democrats still trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide contraception and abortions, and abortion inducing drugs to their employees? What does this say about the Democratic Party?

Here are the two press releases:

FIRST: The Little Sisters of the Poor and their hard-fought rights will be on trial Thursday, December 14, but the Sisters will be outside the courthouse because of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s attempt to silence them. Shapiro is suing to take away the Sisters’ religious exemption from a Health and Human Services rule. In early October, HHS issued a new rule that protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits from providing services in their health care plan that violate their faith like the week-after pill. The Little Sisters’ four-year legal ordeal was close to an end, but now the state of Pennsylvania is suing HHS to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption. Worse yet, Pennsylvania successfully won a court order keeping the Little Sisters from joining the case to defend their rights. A similar hearing took place on Tuesday in Oakland, California where nearly 50 people rallied outside the courthouse in support of the Little Sisters. Represented by Becket, the Little Sisters will speak up outside the courthouse to ensure that they can continue their vital ministry of caring for the elderly poor, as they have for over 175 years, without violating their faith (learn more about the Little Sisters here).

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SECOND: The Little Sisters of the Poor were back in court to defend themselves against a lawsuit by California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is suing to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption from a Health and Human Services rule. Becerra has argued that the Little Sisters shouldn’t be able to defend their rights in this lawsuit. Before the hearing, nearly fifty people attended a rally outside the Oakland court in support of the Little Sisters. 

In early October, HHS issued a new rule that protects religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor from providing services that violate their faith like the week-after pill. This meant their four-year legal ordeal was close to an end, yet shortly after, the state of California sued to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption. Represented by Becket, the Little Sisters went back to court to ensure that they can continue their vital ministry of caring for the elderly poor without violating their faith. 

“We pray that soon this trying time will be over; that the court will rule as the Supreme Court ruled last year saying the government doesn’t need us to provide these services to women. As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling of serving the elderly poor,” said Mother Maria Christine of the Little Sisters of the Poor (watch her full statement here.)  

The Little Sisters spent the last four years battling the HHS mandate that would have forced them to either violate their faith by providing services like the week-after pill in their healthcare plan, or pay millions in fines. Following an earlier ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, in October HHS admitted that it had been wrong to fight the Little Sisters and issued a new rule that finally exempts them and other religious non-profits. The government had long exempted big businesses—such as Exxon, Chevron and Pepsi—and even its own health care plans. California never sued the Obama administration for creating these exemptions that reach tens of millions more people than the Little Sisters’ exemption.   

“Women like the Little Sisters of the Poor do not need more bureaucrats pushing them around. They should be allowed their day in court to argue for their rights, and they should be allowed to practice their faith in peace,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor.  

Oral argument took place in federal district court in Oakland, California to decide if the protection for the Little Sisters will stand, and whether the Little Sisters will be allowed to defend it in this court. A decision is likely by the end of the year.  

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 Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here). 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pro-Life activities continue outside abortion clinic despite NY attorney general lawsuit:Thomas More Society protects church members against unwarranted harassment


Brooklyn, NY – A group of pro-life advocates with Church @ The Rock in Brooklyn, New York, will continue their activities outside a Jamaica, New York, abortion clinic uninterrupted, despite unfounded accusations by an abortion-supporting Attorney General. 
Thomas More Society attorneys are defending ten of fourteen peaceful pro-life sidewalk counselors named by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a federal lawsuit that accuses them of threats and violence against abortion clinic patients. 
Martin Cannon, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, explained, “Our clients will continue praying for and offering alternatives to women seeking abortions at Choices Women’s Medical Center, and they will do so without the State's interference, despite AG Schneiderman’s attempts to stop them with a preliminary injunction founded on baseless claims.” 
Cannon expects that the pro-life sidewalk counselors will prevail at trial, having already won the motion to consolidate the preliminary injunction hearing with the full trial of the case in January 2018.
Schneiderman’s lawsuit, filed in June, was seeks an end to what he claims is “a weekly pattern of threatening, obstructive and violent activity by a network of anti-abortion protestors.” He called the church members’ efforts to counsel women considering abortion and to advocate for the rights of the unborn, “horrifying” and “illegal.”
“Our clients are life-affirming Christians who peacefully counsel women considering abortion. They conduct themselves reasonably and compassionately. They offer information and alternatives to those willing to listen, and otherwise express themselves appropriately on the public sidewalk.” stated Cannon. He noted that the Thomas More Society clients are members of Church @ The Rock in Brooklyn, a congregation that has been witnessing for life outside of the abortion facility, weekly, since 2012.
Schneiderman’s support of the abortion industry is well publicized. In April he openly opposed any defunding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, proclaiming, “I was proud to lead a coalition of attorneys general in filing an amicus brief against the Ohio state law that would defund Planned Parenthood.” 
When he announced his lawsuit against our clients, he proudly proclaimed that he has been a part of the abortion movement since he was seventeen years old and dropped out of school to work in a clinic much like the one at the center of the case. 
Read background on the Thomas More Society involvement with People v. Griepp et al here.
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago and Omaha, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit thomasmoresociety.org.

PJI confronts school district on collusion with newspaper to violate student privacy with sex survey


Fresno, CA—Attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute are calling for investigation, apologies to parents, and other remedial steps after the Fresno Unified School District allowed a reporter to violate privacy and parental notification laws.

PJI detailed its concerns last week in a letter to the Superintendent and school board members of Fresno USD.  This spring, a reporter for the Fresno Bee was given access to Fresno high school students on campus.  The reporter quizzed the minors on what they were learning about sex education, particularly with regard to abortion and LGBT issues.  The survey ended by directly asking students whether they have had sex and/or unprotected sex. 

Both state and federal law require that parents be notified and given an opportunity to object before surveys are given to students that probe their beliefs or practices in areas such as sex, religion, politics, or family life.  According to the parents who contacted PJI, no attempt was made to follow the law. 

Despite the dubious manner in which answers to the surveys were obtained, the Bee published the results of the survey, and even quoted several minor students by name, on October 20.

The PJI letter notes that the District’s failure to protect students and parents could lead to severe consequences such as the loss of federal funding.  PJI is therefore calling on the District to take a number of steps to correct the violation.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “Convincing a school district to allow the violation of student privacy and parental rights in order to sell newspapers is a new low for the mainstream media.  These laws exist to protect family privacy, and they were blatantly disregarded.  We expect a genuine apology to parents and a genuine commitment to change in order for the District to avoid further legal consequences.”

Parents of high school students within Fresno Unified should contact PJI for assistance in determining whether their rights were violated.       

Monday, October 23, 2017

UCLA applying bizarre security fee policy to student club event featuring Ben Shapiro: Requirements weren’t applied to speaking event featuring Hillary Clinton


LOS ANGELES – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Monday to the University of California, Los Angeles, on behalf of a student Republican group that is facing unconstitutional security fee hurdles for a Nov. 13 event featuring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. The university says Bruin Republicans will be charged exorbitant security fees if significant numbers of people other than UCLA students, faculty, and staff show up. The letter asks the university to rescind the requirement and modify the policy.

UCLA admits that there’s “no way” the student group will be able to afford the fees if charged—fees of the kind that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear violate the First Amendment. The school didn’t impose the same requirement on other events that attracted large outside audiences. In 2014, it paid $300,000 to Hillary Clinton to speak at the school. Of the 1,800 tickets for that event, 1,400 were sold to the highest bidder (mostly off-campus purchasers) and only 400 were given away to students.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has made very clear, public universities can’t enact policies that effectively stifle free speech just because administrators fear protestors might show up,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “The reason for that is simple: Speech isn’t free if all it takes to silence it is for someone else to object. The high court has specifically stated that security fees, such as the ones at UCLA, aren’t constitutionally permissible.”

As the ADF letter explains, “The Supreme Court has said, ‘[s]peech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.’ Imposing security fees based on the perspective offered by Bruin Republicans and its speaker is viewpoint discrimination. Thus, the University is violating Bruin Republicans’ First Amendment rights.”

The UCLA Policy on Costs of Safety Services at Campus Events Sponsored by Registered Campus Organizations, enacted more than eight years ago, is supposed to apply to every campus event hosted by every student organization. Because the university has more than 1,200 student organizations that host thousands of events every year, the policy should have been applied to tens of thousands of events since its enactment. Instead, the university has applied it only four previous times, and two of those were to Bruin Republican events.

“Instead of applying the policy as written, the University exercises complete discretion in deciding whether to apply the policy to a student group’s event,” the ADF letter explains. “In fact, Mike Cohn, Director of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement, acknowledged that the policy had been ‘dormant’ for a while. But like a ghoul in the night, the University decided to resurrect the policy so that it can haunt its favorite target, Bruin Republicans, because the University has determined that other members of the campus community may object to the content and viewpoint to be expressed at the Event.”

“Here, the University assessed the security fees based on the viewpoint of Bruin Republicans’ event and speaker,” the letter continues. “Mr. Cohn is requiring Bruin Republicans, and its officers, to agree to pay some unspecified amount—which he acknowledges will be so large that they will be unable to pay—because Shapiro’s topics and views are controversial. The University’s policies and practices authorize the University to assess security fees based on the controversial nature of the activity and listeners’ potential reactions.”

“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “UCLA should be modeling this for its students, and a good first step would be to end this bizarre and unconstitutional policy.


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.