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.

Private Christian School on offense: Football team fights back against prohibited prayer at championship game


Cambridge Christian School appeals to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit     

 ATLANTA, Ga.—Friday, October 21, First Liberty Institute and Greenberg Traurig, P.A. filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of their client, Cambridge Christian School (CCS)—a private Christian school in Tampa, Florida. In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) forbade CCS from praying over the loudspeaker prior to the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game, even though both participating teams were Christian schools and had a tradition of prayer before games. In February, a federal district judge sided with the FHSAA.

 “By banning two private Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a football game while allowing other, non-religious messages to come across the same speaker, the FHSAA is telling high school kids that prayer in public is wrong,” said Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty. “We hope the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: an assault on the First Amendment and the censorship of religious speech—because it is religious—of two private, Christian schools.”  

Prior to the 2015 championship game, CCS asked to continue their tradition of opening the game with prayer over the loudspeaker, a long-standing tradition that allows students on the field and their parents and fans in the stands to unite prior to kickoff.  The FHSAA refused, suggesting that because the stadium was city-owned and the FHSAA a state agency, it would violate the Constitution to allow two private Christian schools to pray over a state-owned microphone for less than a minute.   

“First, they told religious students that if you want to pray in school, then they have to attend a private, religious school.  They did, but even then they have been told they cannot pray in public,” said Dys.  “Where else do these religious students have to go?  Must they now form their own league in order to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution?” 

To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Cambridge.  

### 

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

FEMA tells tall tales in Texas; suggests it will help churches, then pulls rug out from under them


WASHINGTON, D.C. – FEMA invited hurricane-hit houses of worship to apply for aid in Houston, yet new evidence submitted in court yesterday shows that FEMA continues to deny aid to numerous churches across Texas in need of disaster relief. In Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, three small Texas churches are challenging FEMA’s aid policy after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Although FEMA uses churches as staging areas for its relief efforts, it denies them aid grants simply because they are religious.
Last month, Becket filed a lawsuit against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God. In an attempt to delay a court ruling, FEMA claimed that churches are welcome to apply for aid despite its “no churches need apply” policy. But over the past several weeks, these three churches – and many others – have been told that they are not eligible, and one even had a grant application rejected.
Yesterday Becket told the court, “government officials . . . stated that Hi-Way Tabernacle and Harvest Family Church were ‘absolutely not eligible’ for PA grant funds under FEMA’s policy.” Government officials also admitted that they are telling other churches the exact same thing.
Pastor Bruce Frazier of Rockport First Assembly of God told the court: “I have been working on emergency repairs and recovery efforts at the church 10 hours a day, six days a week since the hurricane.” Pastor Frazier explained to the court that he took several hours away from working on repairs to the church in order to apply for the grant he was offered, only to have it denied.
Houses of worship were among the first to respond in Harvey’s aftermath, and they continue to provide aid to their communities. Yet FEMA continues to discriminate against churches while, at the same time, using them for its own relief efforts. Their discriminatory policy stands in defiance of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer that protects the right of religious organizations to participate in widely available programs on equal footing with secular organizations.   
“FEMA isn’t just sending churches to the back of the line, it’s telling them don’t bother lining up,” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket, the non-profit law firm representing the three churches. “FEMA should stop wasting time, do the right thing, and help churches help others.”

Additional Information:

Becket’s Reply Brief (October 12, 2017)

Declaration of Pastor Bruce Frasier (October 12, 2017)

Case Page for Harvest Family Church v. FEMA (all legal docs, press releases, news, images)  

##
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).

Church leaders celebrate administration’s action on religious liberty


The government has finally stopped trying to make religious employers violate their faith.
Over five years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate as a part of the Affordable Care Act that required all employers to pay for things like abortion drugs in their healthcare plans. Two Supreme Court cases later, and charitable organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and schools like Notre Dame were still fighting for their religious rights in court. They and other religious groups faced billions of dollars in fines for refusing to comply.
Last Friday, all of that ended.
The new administration lived up to its campaign promise and created a sweeping religious exemption to the regulation. Countless Catholic and other Christian charities breathed a collective sigh of relief. 
Until recently, religious liberty has been a bipartisan rallying point in this country. We have long understood that our rights come from God, and the government has no authority to take away those rights.
The HHS mandate made no sense for America. We cherish religious liberty here, and we value our ability to live together peacefully despite our differences. In trying to force nuns like the Little Sisters, who provide dignified end of life care for the destitute, to provide things like abortion pills was not just unconstitutional, it was un-American.
As Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote this week:
“[It] is easy to forget what a shock that mandate was when it was first instituted. It represented a major departure from the consistent practice of the federal government to respect the conscience rights of everyone with religious or moral objections to controversial medical interventions.” 
The Catholic Church felt the sting of the mandate in a particular way. As the nation’s largest non-governmental provider of healthcare, education, and charitable services to the poor, the mandate impacted dozens of Church institution.
Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum for all executive departments and agencies on the subject of “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty”.  Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has offered the following statement in response.
“The Attorney General’s guidance helpfully reaffirms that the law protects the freedom of faith-based organizations to conduct their operations in accordance with their religious mission.  The guidance also reaffirms that the federal government should never exclude religious organizations from competing on an equal footing for government grants or contracts, and religious entities should never be forced to change their religious character in order to participate in such programs.  We appreciate the Attorney General’s clarification of these matters, which will protect faith-based organizations’ freedom to serve all those in need, including the homeless, immigrants, refugees, and students attending religious schools.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NEW SURVEY: Majority of college students self-censor, support disinvitations, don’t know hate speech is protected by First Amendment

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 11, 2017 — A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education finds a majority of students on college campuses self-censor in class, support disinviting some guest speakers with whom they disagree, and don’t know that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. The study also finds that Republican and Democratic students have different opinions on campus protests, disinvitations, and hate speech protections.

In the most comprehensive survey on students’ attitudes about free speech to date, FIRE measured student responses to questions about self expression, reactions to expression of other students, guest speakers, and hate speech. Some key findings include:
46 percent of students recognize that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, and 48 percent of students think the First Amendment should not protect hate speech.
Most students (56 percent) support disinviting some guest speakers. Democratic students are 19 percentage points more likely than their Republican peers to agree that there are times a speaker should be disinvited.
58 percent of college students think it’s important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.
Very few students report that they would participate in actions that would prevent a guest speaker event from taking place (2 percent). Even fewer said they would use violence to disrupt an event (1 percent).
In open-ended questions, almost half of students (45 percent) identify speech with a racist component as hate speech, and 13 percent of students associate hate speech with violence.
In class, 30 percent of students have self-censored because they thought their words would be offensive to others. A majority of students (54 percent) report self-censoring in the classroom at some point since the beginning of college.
FIRE’s survey also found ideological differences in how students feel about free expression, both inside and outside the classroom. Very liberal students are 14 percentage points more likely than their very conservative peers to feel comfortable expressing their opinions in the classroom. Additionally, 60 percent of Republican students think they should not have to walk past a protest on campus, while only 28 percent of Democratic students think the same.
“There is clearly a partisan divide in how students perceive free speech on college campuses,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This further solidifies the importance of FIRE’s mission. Free expression is too important to become a partisan issue in higher education.”
Additionally, FIRE’s survey found that a majority of students want their schools to invite a variety of guest speakers to campus (93 percent), and 64 percent report changing an attitude or opinion after listening to a guest speaker.
FIRE contracted with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan polling and research firm, to survey 1,250 American undergraduate students between May 25 and June 8. YouGov calculated weights for each response based on the respondent’s gender, race, and age. A copy of the full report, an FAQ, and the toplines and tabulations from YouGov can be accessed here.
The survey project was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct polling on campus attitudes, engage in legal and social science research, and mobilize a wider audience on and off campus in the fight for student and faculty rights.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.