Friday, March 23, 2018

Court gives voice to kids and families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Adopted children and foster families in Michigan can now join the fight against the ACLU’s efforts to shut down the adoption programs that brought their families together, a federal court just ruled. In Dumont v. Lyon, the ACLU is suing to stop the state of Michigan from relying on private adoption agencies like St. Vincent Catholic Charities because they run their programs based on their religious beliefs. If the ACLU succeeds, it would take away vital support that foster families need, and make it even harder for thousands of foster kids to find permanent homes (watch their story in this 3-min. video).  

The court allowed the “children and families to have a voice in these proceedings” to explain how they could be harmed if the ACLU wins its lawsuit. Families like the Bucks could “lose critical services that are currently provided to them by St. Vincent and may lose the ability to adopt biological siblings of their present adoptive children.” And former foster children like Shamber Flore may lose “the opportunity to volunteer at St. Vincent and do the important work of mentoring children in a faith-based setting who, like herself, come from broken and abusive backgrounds.”  

“The ACLU’s lawsuit would take away homes from vulnerable kids who have already gone through so much,” said Shamber Flore, a former foster child who found her adoptive family through St. Vincent. “I’m so grateful the court didn’t let the ACLU silence our voices, particularly since children are the ones who will lose the most.”   

There is a nationwide shortage of families willing to foster and adopt. In Michigan alone, there are thousands of kids in the foster care system, many of whom age out without finding a home. The government can’t recruit enough families to foster and adopt on its own so it relies on private agencies, like St. Vincent, to help find more willing families. Last year alone, St. Vincent recruited more new foster families than nearly 90 percent of other agencies in its service area.  

“St. Vincent brought my family together and continues to be an invaluable resource for us. If it is shut down, it will take away essential support we rely on right now,” said Melissa Buck, a mother of five children with special needs adopted through St. Vincent.  

In 2017, the ACLU sued the State of Michigan to shut down its partnerships with faith-based foster and adoption agencies like St. Vincent solely because of their religious beliefs about marriage. St. Vincent takes care of children regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and its beliefs have never prevented a child from being placed in a loving home. Gay couples working with other agencies have been able to adopt children in St. Vincent’s care in the past. The ACLU’s clients could have done the same thing, and they even live closer to four other foster and adoption agencies that would have helped them adopt. Instead of going to these agencies to help kids, they have spent years going out of their way to target St. Vincent and try to shut down their programs. 

“It’s baffling why the ACLU is attempting to shut down one of Michigan’s most successful adoption agencies,” says Stephanie Barclay, counsel at Becket. “Michigan foster kids and their families need St. Vincent. And now, because of today’s ruling, the court will hear why.” 

The Buck family, Shamber Flore, and St. Vincent, represented by Becket, have now requested the court to dismiss the needless lawsuit filed by ACLU and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. Oral argument for this hearing will take place on May 10.  

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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). 

Good Friday brings fifth anniversary “Way of the Cross” to abortion clinics nationwide

                                Participation Sites Have Doubled for Annual Pro-life
                                     Witness on Observance of Christ’s Crucifixion

 Chicago -- This year’s Good Friday, falling on March 30, 2018, will mark the fifth anniversary of the Pro-Life Action League’s Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion [https://prolifeaction.org/event/wotc2018/], commemorating the 60 million  children lost to abortion since its legalization in 1973. The number of abortion facilities where this solemn prayer vigil will be observed has doubled since the nationwide event was launched in 2014, growing to nearly 100 locations coast-to coast this year. Crowds of mournful pro-life advocates will gather outside of abortion vendors, including many run by Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion chain—to pray for an end to abortion on this Christian holy day.

“Good Friday marks the bleak day that Jesus suffered and died on the Cross as an innocent victim,” remarked Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League and national coordinator of the event. “Two thousand years later, innocent unborn children made in His image are suffering and dying every day through abortion. Through our Way of the Cross prayer vigil, we forge a spiritual link between Jesus on the Cross and the unborn victims of abortion.”
Scheidler observed, “We hear cries for social justice all around us—and we should heed them all. Christ identified Himself with the prisoner, the homeless, the immigrant. But He also identified Himself with the unborn when he became incarnate as an unborn child. No matter how many poor and downtrodden people we help, this will never be a truly just and compassionate society until every unborn child is welcomed into the human family.”
Good Friday vigils will be held at Planned Parenthood centers and other abortion clinics across the country. A list of observances nationwide is available here https://prolifeaction.org/event/wotc2018/].
About the Pro-Life Action League 
The Pro-Life Action League was founded by Joe Scheidler in 1980 with the aim of saving babies from abortion through direct action, and is now headed by Joe’s son, Eric. Not content to await a political or judicial solution to abortion, the League seeks to stop the killing of unborn children right now through all available peaceful means, including public protest, sidewalk counseling, education, youth outreach, and national leadership. Visit prolifeaction.org to learn more.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Pro-life student group lawsuit prompts end to ‘trigger warnings’ at Ohio University

ADF attorneys represent Students for Life at Miami U. of Ohio

CINCINNATI – Miami University of Ohio has agreed to change its unconstitutional policies that authorized officials at its Hamilton campus to require students to post signs “warning” others about their group’s pro-life display. As part of a settlement ending a federal lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the campus chapter of Students for Life, the university has agreed to revise its policies to respect the free speech rights of all students, regardless of their viewpoint.

“We commend the university for quickly recognizing that its officials do not have the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “By revising its policies to respect students’ constitutionally protected rights, the university has fostered the marketplace of ideas that public universities are supposed to be. After all, the only permission slip students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment, and they cannot be forced to post ‘trigger warning’ signs simply to share their ideas.”

Last year, Students for Life sued university officials after they shut down the group’s annual Cemetery of the Innocents display. When Students for Life sought approval to hold the display, an official informed the group’s president that the display would only be permitted if the group placed signs around campus warning people about its content. She justified this “trigger warning” requirement by saying the display might cause “emotional trauma” to those who might see it, and she offered to discuss “less harmful” ways the group could express its pro-life views.

Under the settlement agreement, Miami University of Ohio has disavowed one policy officials used to impose the warning sign requirement, a policy that also created a complex, burdensome permit system for speech activities. It agreed to revise a second policy used to justify the warning signs so that other student groups will not face similar mistreatment. And it agreed to revise a third policy so officials cannot stifle speech simply because it could “cause alarm, annoyance, or nuisance.” The university has also agreed to pay Students for Life’s damages and attorneys’ fees.

“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students. Miami University has shown it wants to do that by taking quick corrective action in agreeing to revise their policies to protect free speech.”

“Tolerance is a two-way street,” added Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. “Just like any other student group seeking to promote its message, Students for Life members should be free to share their love and concern for mothers and their children without government censorship. These policy changes will protect the views of all students, not just those favored by a few administrators.”

In light of the settlement agreement reached in Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio, ADF attorneys dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday.

Thomas W. Kidd, Jr. one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the Students for Life chapter. Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves more than 1,200 groups in colleges, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S. 

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference chairmen urge support for the ‘First Amendment Defense Act’

WASHINGTON—Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave their strong support for the First Amendment Defense Act, which was recently introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in the U.S. Senate: 

“We welcome and applaud the recent reintroduction of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). The USCCB has been vocal in support of the legislation since its inception. FADA is a modest and important measure that protects the rights of faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. For example, in a pluralistic society, faith-based charitable agencies, and schools should not be excluded from participation in public life by loss of licenses, accreditation, or tax-exempt status because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government’s view. 

The leadership of the Catholic Church will continue to promote and protect the natural truth of marriage as foundational to the common good. The Church will also continue to stand for the ability of all to exercise their religious beliefs and moral convictions in public life without fear of government discrimination. 

We are pleased to support the First Amendment Defense Act, and we urge Congress to pass this important legislation.” 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Christian student group out in cold at Michigan University


Wayne State University boots group because it asks its leaders to share its faith

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Christian student group is fighting for its right to continue serving at the same campus it has been on for over 75 years. In InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. Wayne State University, an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student group, represented by Becket, sued Michigan-based Wayne State University after school officials stripped them of official recognition just because the group requires its leaders to affirm their faith. Wayne State has over 400 student groups that contribute to its intellectual and cultural diversity, all of which are free to select leaders who embrace their missions—except, suddenly, one Christian student group.
InterVarsity welcomes all students to its meetings and to join as members. It requires only that its leaders believe in and live out its faith. Yet in 2017, Wayne State rejected the group’s constitution, derecognized InterVarsity, and cancelled all of InterVarsity reserved meetings. Wayne State’s reason?  After 75 years, Wayne State decided that InterVarsity’s religious leadership requirements violated school policy. Meanwhile Wayne State actively violates its own policy in many of its programs, and allows dozens of other larger student groups do the same.
“Don’t Michigan universities have bigger problems than who leads Bible studies?” said Lori Windham, Senior Legal Counsel at Becket, which represents InterVarsity. “Wayne State should focus on educating students instead of playing belief police.”
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Wayne State is one of the oldest InterVarsity chapters in the country, and has held weekly Bible studies, meetings, and organized service opportunities on campus for over 75 years. For instance, in 2009 the group sponsored a series of campus events that raised awareness regarding human trafficking. And the group regularly hosts discussions of important issues, like the intersection between faith, race, and social justice.
Now InterVarsity is given second-class status, forced to rent tables like outside vendors if it wants to host discussions or reach out to new students. It can no longer reserve meeting rooms for free like other student groups.
“Asking religious leaders to practice what they preach isn’t discrimination, it’s integrity,” said Windham. “Targeting one Christian group that’s served the campus for over 75 years, while giving itself and dozens of larger groups a pass is truly discriminatory.” 

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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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Edina Minnesota School Board settles lawsuit with conservative students, denies wrongdoing

By Jon Miltimore

Jon Miltimore
A school board in Minnesota settled a federal lawsuit filed last week that had accused the district of violating the First Amendment rights of conservative students.
Edina High School, which has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the Minnesota’s best schools, came under scrutiny last year after it was revealed the school had implemented an ideologically-driven curriculum (first reported by Intellectual Takeout here and here).
The controversy reached a crescendo last fall when a group of conservative students sued the school district after claiming their organization, the Young Conservative Club, was terminated after club members took to social media to criticize a student-led protest of the U.S. flag and the National Anthem. (The district denies terminating the club.)
Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing the students, had called the school’s action “a clear case of discrimination against students with conservative beliefs by a school whose policies have been documented as promoting an extreme ideological agenda.”
According to attorneys representing the students, Edina High School agreed to the following:
  • U.S. flags will hang in every classroom.
  • The Young Conservatives Club can be reinstated as a school-sponsored club, or a non-sponsored club…with the ability to exercise free speech without consequence.
  • USA Day is restored to Spirit Week, and district administration cannot object to the theme.
  • District Policy 628 (Education Programs, Student Activities Program) and the EHS Club Guidelines and Responsibilities policies were amended to include language that respects students’ right to free speech, and that revocation may not be based on the exercise of free speech or free association rights.
“The result of the settlement for the students is First Amendment freedom—something they did not have before the settlement,” Kaardal said. “Now and forevermore, the Young Conservatives Club will be able to criticize Edina Public Schools’ ideology in a First Amendment-protected way.”
Though the district agreed to tweak its free speech policies, officials denied wrongdoing and pointed out no monetary damages or fees were paid. 
Officials also said the absence of U.S. flags in many classrooms was the result a two-year construction project, during which flags were removed so they would not be damaged.
You can read Edina School District's entire statement here.
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Jon Miltimore is the Director of Digital Media of IntellectualTakeout.org where this article was originally published.

USCCB chairmen call faithful to prayer and action urging Congress to enact the Conscience Protection Act

WASHINGTON–Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty urge the faithful to flood Congress with emails and calls asking for enactment of the Conscience Protection Act as part of the 2018 funding bill and to pray for this outcome. Congress is currently considering whether to include the Conscience Protection Act in must-pass government funding legislation, and a decision on the Conscience Protection Act’s inclusion will be made prior to March 23, 2018.

The joint statement follows:

“Increasing and fierce attacks on conscience rights regarding abortion cry out for an immediate remedy. Nurses and other health care providers and institutions are being forced to choose between participating in abortions or leaving health care altogether. Churches and pro-life Americans are being forced to provide coverage for elective abortions—including late-term abortions—in their health care plans. Opponents and supporters of abortion should be able to agree that no one should be forced to participate in abortion. Congress must remedy this problem by enacting the Conscience Protection Act now as part of the FY 2018 funding bill.

We call on all the faithful to pray and to act by emailing and calling Congress in the coming week especially on Monday, March 12 with the message that enacting the Conscience Protection Act is urgently needed to protect Americans from being forced to violate their deeply held convictions about respect for human life. Your calls and emails to your Members of Congress really do make a difference, so please act now to protect conscience rights!”

Members of Congress can be reached by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking to be connected with your representative or senator.  Or you can email and call your Members of Congress quickly and easily at https://www.humanlifeaction.org/take-action?vvsrc=/campaigns/49865/respond.

The USCCB has also created a video available on its YouTube channel and Facebook.com/USCCB.

For additional information and videos featuring nurses who were forced by their employers to choose between their jobs and participating in abortions go to www.usccb.org/conscience