Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vermont Supreme Court Considers Granting Parental Rights To Unrelated Third Party

Today Liberty Counsel presented oral argument in a case that highlights the conflict between states that recognize same-sex civil unions and those that do not. The case of Miller v. Jenkins involves a conflict between the laws of Virginia and Vermont. David Corry, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, presented the oral argument on behalf of Lisa Miller and her five-year-old daughter, in an attempt to protect Lisa’s parental rights from her former same-sex partner. The court proceedings will be archived on the Court’s web site, http://www.vermontjudiciary.org/audioindex/index.htm.

Lisa is the fit, biological mother of a five-year-old daughter, with whom Janet has neither a biological nor an adoptive relationship. Vermont court granted parental rights to Janet because Lisa and Janet traveled from Virginia to Vermont and entered into a civil union. After Lisa gave birth to her child, the relationship ended when Janet became abusive and Lisa became a Christian. In Virginia, where Lisa and her daughter reside, state law does not recognize same-sex “marriage,” civil unions, or domestic partnerships.

In April, Liberty Counsel will argue the same case before the Virginia Supreme Court. If the Virginia Supreme Court decision conflicts with the Vermont Supreme Court, the case will automatically go to the United States Supreme Court.

Same-sex unions disrupt the traditional family structure and pit one state against another. Children are the collateral damage of those pressing the same-sex union agenda.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Liberty Counsel Argues at Vermont Supreme Court Tomorrow Over Same-Sex Civil Union

Tomorrow, Liberty Counsel is scheduled to present oral argument in defense of Lisa Miller and her five-year-old daughter at the Vermont Supreme Court. The case is Miller v. Jenkins and concerns the right of Lisa Miller to decide that Janet Jenkins, her former same-sex partner, should not be declared a parent to Lisa’s child. This is a precedent-setting legal battle between Virginia and Vermont over same-sex unions and the right of fit, biological parents against unrelated third parties.

Lisa is the fit, biological mother of a five-year-old daughter, with whom Janet Jenkins has neither a biological nor an adoptive relationship. Under the Vermont civil union law, the Vermont Supreme Court granted parental rights to Janet, who continues in her lesbian lifestyle. In 2000, while living in Virginia, Lisa and Janet entered into a Vermont civil union. Lisa gave birth to her child through artificial insemination from an anonymous donor, but the relationship ended when Janet became abusive and Lisa became a Christian. 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 oral argument is scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m. EST and end approximately at 10:55 a.m. EST. The arguments will be recorded and archived at http://www.vermontjudiciary.org/audioindex/index.htm. David Corry, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, will be presenting the argument and will be available for interviews following the Court’s dismissal in the lobby area of the Supreme Court building.

Next month, Liberty Counsel will be arguing a different aspect of the case at the Virginia Supreme Court. If the Virginia Supreme Court decision clashes with the Vermont Supreme Court, the case will go directly to the United States Supreme Court. The Virginia argument will focus on Virginia’s Marriage Affirmation Act and the state constitutional amendment, both of which declare that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and further state that Virginia does not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. That case will also focus on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which is designed to protect one state from being forced to recognize another state’s same-sex union.

This case illustrates that when one state sanctions same-sex unions, other states will be affected. One state should not be allowed to write the marriage policy of another state and export same-sex unions beyond its borders.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mental Health Bill Update

On March 3, we told you about H.R. 1424, the the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. This measure passed the House on March 5 by a vote of 268-148.

A Motion to Recommit the bill to committee was offered by Republicans in an effort to amend the bill “forthwith” by replacing it with the bipartisan Senate-passed Mental Health Parity bill (S.558) and clarifying language on abortion-related coverage.

The Senate mental health parity bill does not include any of the references to the DSM-IV that were included in the House bill and removes the employer mandate regarding coverage. Therefore, the Motion to Recommit would resolve concerns regarding conscience protections for employers and health insurance groups.

A conference will be held on both the Senate and House versions in order to resolve differences between the bills. Members must be aware that the language in the House version is dangerous. Not only does it cover such mental disorders as gender identity disorder and pedophilia, but it does not include a conscience clause. Further, abortion proponents have asserted there can be "therapeutic abortions" done to "preserve women's mental health."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mat Staver Argued Key First Amendment Case At Florida Supreme Court Today

Today, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Rapp v. Jews for Jesus, a case which will have a broad impact on the ability of churches, nonprofit groups, individuals and the media to publish without fear of retribution for offending the subject of the report. Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, presented oral argument on behalf of Jews for Jesus.

Today’s arguments were presented before the Florida Supreme Court to address the sole question of whether the tort of "false light invasion of privacy" should be recognized in Florida. Staver argued on behalf of Jews for Jesus that such claims have never been allowed in Florida, suppress too much First Amendment speech by having a chilling effect, and that defamation claims (where published statements must be false) are sufficient to protect persons from injury by media reports. False light claims by definition are not defamatory and may involve true statements. The seven justices asked many questions. They clearly expressed concerns that false light invasion of privacy could seriously impair free speech.

Staver argued that the key consideration for the Court is to assess the need for new tort versus its risk of censoring speech. Staver argued that existing defamation torts protect people from harm to their reputation. Thus there is no need for a new tort. He also argued that the common law, statutes, and the state and federal constitutions protect freedom of speech. He stated that a new tort of false light invasion of privacy is unnecessary and will throttle free speech.

Under a false light invasion of privacy, the statement made would not be defamatory, would not injure a person’s reputation and may be true, but if the statement caused the subject of the statement to be highly offended, the person could bring suit. Such a tort would have a chilling effect on the media and publication.

The Rapp v. Jews for Jesus case involves a lawsuit over a newsletter report that a stepmother of Bruce Rapp, a Jews for Jesus missionary, had "repeated the sinner’s prayer." The newsletter also requested prayer for "new Jewish believer Edie and salvation for her husband, Marty." After Bruce’s father (Marty) died, Edith Rapp (Edie) sued Jews for Jesus for printing the information about her. The lawsuit read like a polemic against Christianity. The case was dismissed several times at the trial court. On appeal, the court upheld the dismissal but then certified to the Florida Supreme Court whether Florida law recognizes the tort of false light invasion of privacy.

The First Amendment needs breathing room. Whatever is added to the field of speech restrictions to protect individuals takes away from free debate. To permit ‘false light invasion of privacy’ would smother free speech. The First Amendment recognizes that speech may be robust and protects speech that may offend.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Liberty Counsel Will Argue Major Free Speech Case At The Florida Supreme Court

Tomorrow, the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Rapp v. Jews for Jesus, a case which will have a broad impact on First Amendment rights. Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, will be presenting oral argument on behalf of Jews for Jesus.

The issue before the Court is one of first impression – whether Florida courts will allow lawsuits claiming “false light invasion of privacy” which is similar to the claim of defamation, a tort recognized in Florida. While truth is a defense to defamation, it is not a defense to false light invasion of privacy, where someone can face liability for reporting even truthful information about a person if it offends that person. Some states do not recognize false light invasion of privacy because of its detrimental impact on freedom of speech and of the press.

In July 2002, Jews for Jesus sent a newsletter to its supporters and friends in which Bruce Rapp, a Jews for Jesus missionary, wrote in a “Praise Report” that his Jewish stepmother had “repeated the sinner’s prayer with me – praise God!” The newsletter also contained a prayer request for “grace and strength for new Jewish believer Edie and salvation for her husband, Marty.” After her husband’s death, Edith Rapp (Edie) sued Jews for Jesus for printing the information about her.
The lower court dismissed all of the claims raised in the lawsuit against Jews for Jesus, including the defamation and false light claims. Rapp appealed and the appeals court asked the Florida Supreme Court to answer the question of whether false light invasion of privacy is recognized in Florida. If such a claim is recognized, it will have a chilling effect on free speech, whether spoken or printed. Ministries and media outlets will be afraid of publicizing any news about any person that might possibly offend that person.

Major media organizations, including the New York Times Company, Orlando Sentinel, Sun Sentinel, Florida Press Association, ABC, Inc., ESPN, Inc., Scripps, Association of American Publishers, and Cox Enterprises, have submitted briefs to the Court in support of Liberty Counsel’s position. A brief opposing Liberty Counsel was submitted on behalf of a man who wants millions of dollars in damages from a newspaper that printed an article about him. The newspaper stated that the man killed his wife with a shotgun but did not mention until two sentences later that the shooting was ruled an accident.

The oral arguments will begin at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. Florida State University will show the proceedings live online at http://www.wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/index.php.

False light invasion of privacy claims simply serve to fuel unnecessary litigation and will have a chilling affect on free speech and on the press. Determining what might be offensive to someone, even if truthful, would be a daunting task for a publisher. Recognizing false light claims would disproportionately impact independent media outlets and small ministries, which would lack the funds to defend themselves from even frivolous claims.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The California Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument In A Most Significant Marriage Case

Today’s oral argument at the California Supreme Court has considerable implications regarding marriage. Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, presented the oral argument on behalf of the Campaign for California Families (CCF). The court hearing lasted approximately three hours. A decision is expected within the next 90 days.

This case involves a four-year-old dispute over the constitutionality of California’s marriage laws. In February 2004, Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of CCF and its executive director, Randy Thomasson, to stop San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court eventually ruled that the mayor did not have authority to issue licenses to same-sex couples. Meanwhile, several same-sex couples and the City and County of San Francisco filed several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the marriage laws. Those lawsuits and Liberty Counsel’s original action were consolidated and have gone through several court hearings and appeals, until finally reaching the California Supreme Court.

Liberty Counsel argues that the fundamental constitutional right to marry includes rights and obligations that cannot be eliminated, because they come from the inherent nature of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Marriage is more than a private relationship between two people who love each other. While it is a private relationship, marriage serves a public purpose to preserve society’s interest in procreation and to provide the optimal environment for children. The state has an interest in protecting an institution that predates government in order to encourage responsible procreation among opposite-sex couples. Among opposite-sex couples, procreation is sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned. Children are thus the natural consequence of opposite-sex relationships. Providing for the next generation is essential to any society, but providing an environment that encourages stable relationships for the well-being of children is critically important. Marriage thus provides encouragement for opposite-sex couples to unite for the sake of children. Same-sex couples do not need marriage to encourage their unions, because such relationships never produce unplanned children.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Mental Health Legislation

On March 9, 2007, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) introduced H.R. 1424, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. This bill would incorporate into federal law the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) classification definitions as parameters of mental health treatment for health plans. Further, this legislation mandates that employers offering mental health benefits cover all diagnoses under the DSM-IV. Under the current language of the bill, there is no exemption for groups to exclude coverage of mental disorders, particularly psycho-sexual disorders, for which they have religious or moral objections.

The DSM-IV is published by the American Psychiatric Association and covers all mental health disorders for both children and adults. Examples of such disorders include, gender identity disorder, pedophilia, and transvestic fetishism. A complete list of mental disorders can be found online at http://allpsych.com/disorders/disorders_alpha.html.

Currently, this bill has 273 co-sponsors and is scheduled to be on the House floor either Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Of these 273 co-sponsors, 29 members voted against hate crimes legislation on May 3, 2007, yet they are supporting this bill. H.R. 1424 could easily be used as a stepping stone in order to pass hate crimes legislation. These members must be held accountable for their decision to co-sponsor this dangerous bill. Please contact the following 29 members of the House of Representatives and ask them not to support H.R. 1424:

Rodney Alexander (R-LA)
Spencer Bachus (R-AL)
Marion Berry (D-AR)
Jo Bonner (R-AL)
Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
Christopher Carney (D-PA)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Brad Ellsworth (D-IN)
Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO)
Paul Gillmor (R-OH)
Bart Gordon (D-TN)
Ric Keller (R-FL)
Steven LaTourette (R-OH)
John McHugh (R-NY)
Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
Charlie Melancon (D-La)
John Mica (R-FL)
Patrick Murphy (R-PA)
Collin Peterson (D-MN)
Charles Pickering (R-MS)
Jim Ramstad (R-MN)
Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
Heath Shuler (D-NC)
Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
John Sullivan (R-OK)
Fred Upton (R-MI)
Zach Wamp (R-TN)
Frank Wolf (R-VA)
Don Young (R-AK)