Monday, April 30, 2007

Supreme Court Sidesteps Conflict Between States Over Same-Sex Unions

Washington, DC - Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take one of the many facets of a complicated legal battle between Virginia and Vermont over same-sex unions and the right of fit, biological parents against unrelated third parties. The case is Miller v. Jenkins. Liberty Counsel represents Lisa Miller.
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins entered into a Vermont civil union while residents of Virginia. Lisa gave birth to her minor child through artificial insemination from an anonymous donor, but the relationship ended when Janet became abusive and Lisa became a Christian. The Vermont Supreme Court granted parental rights to Janet, who continues in her lesbian lifestyle. However, in Virginia, where Lisa resides, the state law and constitutional amendment do not recognize any rights associated with same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The Court was asked to review one of the rulings in the battle between Vermont and Virginia. Specifically, the Court was asked to review a Vermont Supreme Court decision that extended parental rights to Janet Jenkins over the objections of Lisa Miller, the fit, biological parent.
In deciding not to take the matter, the Court did not rule on the merits of the case. The case is still pending at the Vermont trial court, following the ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court. Once the trial court rules on visitation and custody, the case will go back to the Vermont Supreme Court and another petition will then be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the High Court also has before it another petition of a ruling from the Virginia Court of Appeals. At the same time, the case is also currently pending before the Virginia Supreme Court.
The clash between Vermont and Virginia illustrates the need for protection, so that one state is not forced to accept same-sex unions from another state. This case will soon return to the High Court. Same-sex advocates are using children to further their agenda. The agenda is self-centered. That is sad, because children are not political fodder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

School Agrees To Let Third Grader Perform Christian Song In Talent Show

Portland, OR - The administration at Mount Scott Elementary School has allowed third grader Kelli Bobst to perform a Christian song she selected for a school talent show, after initially denying her request. A letter to school officials from Liberty Counsel quickly resolved the issue after Kelli's mother, Karen Bobst, asked for assistance.
The situation arose when Kelli chose the song "God's Love Is For You" to audition for the talent show scheduled for April 19. The music teacher said that Kelli was not permitted to sing a Christian song unless other religions were also represented. Kelli's mother confirmed the statement with the music teacher and learned that other students had also been told that the principal would not allow them to sing Christian songs.
Karen contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the principal and to the superintendent of the North Clackamas School District, advising the school district of the constitutional principles governing student religious expression in public schools. The letter pointed out that that when the school conducts events such as talent shows, where students choose their own material, the school cannot restrict the material on the basis of the religious content. Restrictions based on religious content violate the students' constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.

After receiving the letter, the principal notified Kelli's mother that Kelli would be permitted to sing the song she had selected and that other students could also sing Christian songs.
At the talent show on April 19, Kelli entertained the audience with "God's Love Is For You." Another student sang "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands."
Student-initiated speech endorsing religion is fully protected by the Constitution. It is unconstitutional to eliminate Christian viewpoints from a school talent show or any other time where secular viewpoints are permitted. The free speech right of students is not that difficult to understand. Common sense and the Constitution both compel equal treatment of Christian viewpoints.

Monday, April 23, 2007

County Detention Center Avoids Lawsuit By Allowing Inmate Baptisms

In Clovis, NM after a demand letter and threat of a federal lawsuit from Liberty Counsel, the Curry County Detention Center administration reversed its position and allowed a local prison ministry to baptize six inmates in a portable baptismal pool. The warden has also agreed to allow a portable baptismal pool to be used for monthly baptisms at the detention center.
The prison ministry of the Sixteenth & Pile Church of Christ contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance after Warden Leslie Johnson and county officials refused to permit baptism by immersion at the local detention center. The ministry offered to provide a mobile baptismal tank in a secure area of the facility and to pay any additional security costs. Ministry leaders also advised the warden that a prison ministry in neighboring Portales, New Mexico, had utilized a similar procedure without incident.
Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the warden and the county explaining that failure to allow the baptisms violated the inmates' constitutional right to free exercise of religion and also violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The county continued to emphatically refuse to allow the baptisms, until the prison ministry warned the warden that it was serious about pursuing the matter further and advised the county that a federal lawsuit by Liberty Counsel was unavoidable.
With the high rate of recidivism, prisons are in desperate need of better ways to rehabilitate inmates and make them productive citizens. Christian conversion and faith play a key role in transforming broken lives into new beginnings. Rather than throwing up roadblocks to Christian faith and worship, prisons should welcome the positive changes that the Christian conversion brings and the role that baptism plays in the inmates making a public confession of burying the old life and being resurrected to a new life in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Practical Impact of the Supreme Court's Decision on Partial-Birth Abortion

Washington, D.C. - Roe v. Wade is on its last leg. The Supreme Court has given a roadmap for abortion regulation. First, states can pass laws requiring abortion doctors to give explicit information to potential clients about how the abortion is performed. Second, health and safety regulations that apply to other doctors need not exempt abortion doctors. Third, this case gives a shot of adrenaline to the pro-life movement which will impact the Presidential election.
The Supreme Court recognized that lack of informed consent harms women. "[S]ome women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. . . . Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow."
In a decision so fraught with emotional consequences some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the means that will be used, confining themselves to the required statement of risks the procedure entails . . . . It is, however, precisely this lack of information concerning the way in which the fetus will be killed that is of legitimate concern to the State. . . . The State has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed.
The Court has provided states with a unique opportunity to enact informed consent laws to protect the unborn and also to protect women from hasty and uninformed decisions. The abortion rate will decline when doctors are required to accurately describe the procedure to women.
The opinion also states that "the law need not give abortion doctors unfettered choice in the course of their medical practice, nor should it elevate their status above other physicians in the medical community." States are now free to pass and enforce clinic regulations matching those of other medical facilities. Oftentimes abortion clinics have been subject to fewer regulations because of the fear that such restrictions constitute an "undue burden" on the "right" to abortion.
The most important effect of the Supreme Court's partial-birth abortion decision could be the most lasting. What a difference one Justice makes! This 5-4 victory underscores the importance of electing a President who will appoint judges who uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. The pro-life community must take advantage of the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the future of this nation. If we miss this chance of a lifetime, we will die with the blood of the unborn on our hands. But if we act decisively, we will witness the demise of Roe v. Wade.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Partial-Birth Ban Upheld!

Today the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Justices Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas voted to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and Justice Ginsberg wrote the dissent, joined by Souter, Breyer and Stevens. The Court upheld the ban, stating, "The government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman." Justice Thomas added in a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia: "I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Casey and Roe v. Wade, has no basis in the Constitution."
Liberty Counsel filed amicus briefs in the cases considered by the Court, Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart, pointing out that Congress rightly determined that the procedure is not medically necessary to preserve the health of the mother. The Court recognized that the ban protects women from harm that can occur, stating: "It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form."
The tide is turning and the culture of life is being restored at the highest levels. What a difference one Justice can make in the battle for life! This case involves the same doctor and the same law that the Court considered several years ago, but now we have a different Court that has come to the right decision on the side of life.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Church Challenges Constitutionality of Property Tax Assessment

Panama City, FL - Circuit Court Judge Glenn Hess held a hearing this morning in a case involving the constitutionality of assessing property taxes on church property used as a pastor's residence and for other church uses. Several months after Faith Christian Family Church filed a lawsuit against Bay County Property Appraiser Rick Barnett to contest the tax assessment, Pastor Marcus Bishop retained Liberty Counsel to take over the case.
During today's hearing, Judge Hess granted Liberty Counsel's request to file an amended complaint on behalf of the church. The amended complaint points out that assessing a tax on the church parsonage violates several provisions of the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other state statutes.
Amending a complaint is a routine matter, typically accomplished with consent of the parties. Barnett is using a private attorney to defend this case. The attorney refused to agree that the church"s complaint could be amended, forcing Liberty Counsel to litigate the motion to amend at today"s hearing.
Church property used as a parsonage is eligible for a tax exemption throughout Florida. Bay County"s property appraiser has developed a new and unique standard for determining whether to grant tax exemptions to church property. Barnett is alone among Florida property appraisers in refusing to exempt church parsonages that are not adjacent to houses of worship. Barnett denied the church"s application for a tax exemption on its parsonage and has assessed property taxes on the property since 2004.
The church uses the parsonage not only as a residence for the pastor, but also as an extension of the church's ministry. The parsonage is used as an office for church business, for Bible study and sermon preparation, pastoral counseling sessions, church staff, committee and board meetings, church leadership training classes, church fellowship events and dinners, prayer groups and Bible studies, storage of church records, production and storage of sets and materials for its television productions and as housing for visiting ministers, speakers and out-of-town board members.
Erik Stanley, Chief Counsel of Liberty Counsel, commented: "Churches should to be able to focus on their mission, rather than worrying about the next move of their local property appraiser. This battle has broad implications for all churches in Florida. If property appraisers are allowed to decide which church property is taxable, then churches will gain exemptions only at the whim of government officials seeking more revenue. The power to tax is the power to censor, to control and ultimately to destroy."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Gideon Bible Distribution in Public Schools

St. Louis, MO - This morning the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument involving Gideon Bible distribution in public schools. In Doe v. South Iron R-1 School District, federal district Judge Catherine Perry issued a preliminary injunction barring the school from allowing any outside group to offer Bibles to willing students at any time on school property, including noninstructional time. Liberty Counsel represents the District in Annapolis, Missouri, and has appealed the injunction, arguing the injunction is unconstitutional because it requires the District to discriminate only against a particular religious message - the Bible.
The South Iron R-1 School District has had a long-standing open access policy that allows many groups to present literature and information to students at District schools. The many diverse groups include the Army Corps of Engineers, Red Cross, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Iron County Health Department, Missouri Water Patrol, Missouri Highland Healthcare, and Union Pacific Railroad. In 2006, the District passed a written policy setting forth its long-standing open access policy. This policy confirms the District's intent to create a limited public forum during noninstructional time outside of the classroom.
The ACLU filed suit, seeking to prohibit the Gideons from distributing Bibles under the policy. Judge Perry issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the distribution of the Bible, which she described as an "instrument of religion." Judge Perry also ruled the open access policy unconstitutional under a novel (and unconstitutional) theory that it must allow a private third party the opportunity to veto the distribution request of the private applicant.
Erik W. Stanley, Chief Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated, "There is no violation of the Establishment Clause when a school creates a neutral policy and allows a wide variety of groups to give literature to students. Singling out the Bible for censorship is patently unconstitutional."
The First Amendment provides that community groups must receive equal treatment under an open access policy. The Bible is not a radioactive device that harms children. Religious viewpoints are clearly protected. The ACLU might not like the fact that equal access means equal access for religious speech, but equal treatment is required by the Constitution.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Defense of State Marriage Laws Continues Before California Supreme Court

San Francisco, CA - Yesterday Liberty Counsel filed its opening brief in the California Supreme Court in the ongoing consolidated same-sex marriage cases which address the constitutionality of California's marriage laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The cases originated in February 2004 when Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of Campaign for California Families and its executive director, Randy Thomasson, to stop San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The California Attorney General asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether Mayor Newsom's actions were lawful, and the Court ruled that he mayor did not have the authority to issue the licenses based upon his personal belief that the marriage laws were unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, several same-sex couples and the City of San Francisco filed four separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the marriage laws. Those four lawsuits and Liberty Counsel's action were consolidated and heard by a Superior Court judge in San Francisco, who found the laws unconstitutional. The California Court of Appeal reversed the judge, ruling that the marriage laws are constitutional and refusing to create a new right "changing the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage." The matter was then appealed to the California Supreme Court where briefing is now underway. The City is arguing that preserving marriage as an institution involving the union of one man and one woman discriminates against homosexuals who want to marry.
The City's argument that marriage discriminates against homosexual relationships misunderstands the purpose of marriage which is to promote stable relationships between men and women, which is the only union where national procreation can occur. It also misunderstands the importance gender in families. Gender makes a significant difference in the well being of children. The City isn't arguing for a minor change in marriage, but for a deconstruction of the institution of marriage. The essence of marriage rooted in our history has always been union of one man and one woman. We have never allowed, for good reason, a myriad of diverse human relationships united under the banner of marriage.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Federal Court Strikes Down School Policy

Syracuse, NY - On Friday a federal district court issued an opinion finding that school officials had violated a fourth grader's free speech rights by denying her request to distribute religious flyers during noninstructional time. The court also ruled that the school's literature distribution policy is unconstitutional. The student, Michaela Bloodgood, is represented by Liberty Counsel.
In 2004, when Michaela was a student at Nate Perry Elementary School in Liverpool, New York, she asked permission to give a flyer that she wrote to her friends and classmates during non-instructional time. The flyer stated: "Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one. I asked Him to come into my heart and save me from my sins. This is what He has done for me. 1) Jesus Christ helped my parents decide to get remarried in November and then I will get to see my Dad everyday. 2) He helped me memorize Bible verses and say them in front of my church. 3) He helped me learn piano and play psalms and hymns and sing with grace in my heart to the Lord. 4) God cared enough for me that He gave me victory over thinking about something bad that happened to me. 5) Now that I am saved, God gave me peace in my heart and the truth that I am going to heaven instead of the other place. Praise the Lord."
School officials insisted that Michaela could not distribute the flyers because of the potential for divisiveness, litter and that students might believe the school was endorsing a religious message. The school banned all literature distribution by students. Liberty Counsel's lawsuit contended that the school cannot totally ban literature distribution by students during noninstructional time, any more than it can ban verbal communication, without violating the First Amendment.
The district court opinion stated that "none of the reasons the District articulated for denying [Michaela's] request indicate more than undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance, which is not enough to overcome the right of freedom of expression." The opinion also stated that "the Court cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward religion as a result of the District's denial of [Michaela's] request to distribute her flyers."

Religious speech is constitutionally protected, even in the public schools. School officials had no right to silence Michaela's personal Christian testimony. Michaela was simply attempting to express to her friends how Jesus changed her life. She has every right to express her religious views at school, and that right has been vindicated.