In California, churches aren’t the only groups facing government efforts to force them into complicity in abortion.
Under a law that took effect Jan. 1, pro-life pregnancy-resource centers in the state are required to prominently post or deliver to clients information on where they can get abortions—and on how to find out if they qualify for state aid to pay for it. A first violation of the law can bring a fine of $500; then $1,000 for every other refusal.
Alliance Defending Freedom is among the legal groups representing pregnancy-resource centers fighting the law in court. At press time, none had yet succeeded in getting courts to put the law on hold pending the resolution of the cases. But ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman, who’s seeking to have the law overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
“It’s bad enough if the government engages in censorship and tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous,” he explains. “Other courts around the country have halted these kinds of measures because they have found them to be unconstitutional.”
Indeed they have. ADF has won several of those cases in recent years against New York City (Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York), Austin, Texas (Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin) and Montgomery County, Md. (Centro Tepeyac v. Mongomery County).
Outside California’s borders, efforts to coerce pro-lifers into violating their consciences also are picking up. The American Civil Liberties Union recently sued a large Catholic medical chain, Trinity Health—which operates 93 hospitals and 120 continuing-care facilities in 22 states—for refusing to perform abortions on babies the ACLU alleges were near death.
The suit was thrown out in April by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, which held that the case was not “ripe for review” because the ACLU hadn’t demonstrated that Trinity’s policies had harmed anyone. But that doesn’t mean a similar case won’t arise elsewhere. In May, the ACLU issued a report signaling that it may target religious hospitals in areas where there are no secular alternatives, essentially arguing that religious convictions must be sacrificed in those cases.
ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus thinks it’s all part of broader trends that increasingly are being played out in courtrooms, legislative chambers and bureaucratic agencies.
“As our culture gets more secular, there’s not only a lack of appreciation for religious freedom, but a lack of understanding of what it means to be religious,” he says. “There are efforts to confine faith to the thoughts in your head: ‘You’re free to believe whatever you want, but you can’t act on it.’ But having religious beliefs involves action—what you do in every aspect of your life. That’s something people of faith can’t sacrifice.”
Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Citizen magazine.