Mississippi v. Ester Mann, Harriet Ashley, and Ron Nederhoed (Miss.)—Sidewalk counselors arrested for obstructing the sidewalk while peacefully praying and holding signs on the public sidewalk outside Mississippi’s last standing abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Jackson Police Department officers claim that the activists’ signs and chairs constitute an obstruction, despite leaving 4 feet of open sidewalk for passersby to traverse. City officials now seek to meet with local counsel to discuss the pending cases and future application of this law.
Respect Life South San Francisco v. City of South San Francisco and Planned Parenthood (Calif.)—Petition for writ of mandate to overturn grant of use permit for Planned Parenthood clinic. Petitioners assert that the City wrongfully exempted the permit from compliance with applicable state environmental impact law and regulations. Decision pending.
Diss v. Portland Public Schools—Bill Diss, a teacher at a Portland, Oregon high school, has had his teaching contract terminated following his request for a religious exemption to excuse his participation in a school program administered by Planned Parenthood. Following his request for accommodation, Mr. Diss was subjected to harassment and retaliation by school administrators throughout the school year, which ultimately culminated in the termination of his employment. LLDF has filed an employment discrimination complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a first step to protect Mr. Diss’ rights under applicable statutes and his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
In re Kline—March 2014: Kline will file a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the Kansas Supreme Court’s many novel applications of legal ethics in the politically charged Kline case. Court denied.
[The case of In re Kline, while familiar to Lifeline readers, is complex and has unfolded gradually over the last nine years. A brief summary of the proceedings is included here for your convenience.—Ed.]
McCullen v. Coakley (Mass.)—The case began in 2007, when Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting “entering or remaining” within 35 feet of abortion clinic entrances. The law contains exceptions for patients, clinic employees, and persons merely passing through the zone to get to another destination. The undisputed target of the bill was pro-life sidewalk counselors who attempt to bring their life-affirming message directly to women seeking abortions. The law was challenged in federal court, but both the District Court and the First Circuit ruled the law constitutional. When the plaintiffs appealed to the United States Supreme Court, LLDF filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and Pastor Walter Hoye urging the Court to review the case. In June 2013, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case. Life Legal Defense Foundation then filed a second amici curiae (friends of the court) brief in the Supreme Court. The brief argues, inter alia, that speech restrictions targeted at abortion clinics are de facto content- and viewpoint-based laws and thus inconsistent with the First Amendment. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 15. Victory! Please see story Give and Take, Supreme Court Style in this issue.
HHS Contraceptive/Abortifacient Mandate Litigation—Following conflicting rulings in the various circuit courts regarding whether for-profit businesses have federal religious freedom rights, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby andConestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. LLDF filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Beverly LaHaye Institute demonstrating that the Government’s argument that contraceptives and abortifacients promote women’s health is based on evidence that is inaccurate, incomplete, irrelevant, and/or biased. For these reasons, the Government cannot meet its burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of showing that the Mandate furthers a compelling governmental interest. Oral argument in the Supreme Court held March 25. On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations enjoyed the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court further held that the HHS contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the religious freedom of business owner forced to pay for abortifacients through their employee health plans. The Court assumed, without deciding that the mandate furthers compelling governmental interests, but held that the Government had other less restrictive means by which it could further those interests. Thus the mandate violated the business owners’ rights under RFRA. It is unclear what effect the decision will have on the challenges to the mandate being brought by religious non-profit institutions, because such institutions have been provided an “accommodation” by the Obama administration which the Government argues removes the burden of actually paying for the drugs.
Pro-life Mississippi v. Jackson: Sidewalk counselors seek to end discriminatory enforcement and misapplication of local laws by Jackson Police Department officers who routinely violate their free speech rights. Civil rights complaint has been drafted and sent to the City Attorney’s office. Local counsel is awaiting a meeting with city officials to discuss future application of city laws and resolution of false arrest claims.
Loren Brown v. Kajal Deepak: Indiana pro-life activist was falsely accused of being convicted of domestic abuse on various online social media sites by Kajal Deepak, a Microsoft employee and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest Board member. A defamation cease and desist letter was sent to Ms. Deepak. Since receiving the letter, Ms. Deepak has ceased accusations against Mr. Brown. Also, the false allegations were reported to the social media site and all posts have been removed. Victory!
This article originally appeared in Lifeline, Summer 2014.