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Court rejects religion, abortion cases

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals of lower-court decisions involving religious liberty and abortion on the first day of its new term.

Among the opinions the justices announced Oct. 1 they would not review were rulings against:

— A Christian ministry that sought to hold worship services in a California public library.

— Catholic Charities and other groups that challenged a New York law that requires religious social service agencies to cover contraceptives as part of their prescription drug benefits.

— Employees of the city of Oakland, Calif., whose advertisement on a bulletin board for an association that would discuss the “natural family” was removed by a supervisor.

— A New Jersey woman who sued a doctor because he refused to tell her having an abortion would kill a child.

The high court issued orders in all four cases without comment.

In the California case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a federal judge’s opinion, deciding the Contra Costa County library in Antioch had the authority to deny the use of a room for services by the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries. Groups such as the Sierra Club and the Democratic Party have used the library’s meeting rooms, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The library permits religious discussions, but not worship, in its rooms, the newspaper reported.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling “treats private religious expression as second-class speech,” said lawyer Jordan Lorence, the Chronicle reported. Lorence is senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented Faith Center.

Catholic Charities complained that a New York law violates its free exercise of religion rights by forcing it to provide coverage for birth control pills and other contraceptives. The Catholic organization considers the use of contraception as morally wrong. There is an exemption to the law for religious organizations, but the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty says it is so narrow it does not include social service agencies.

Two Baptist churches joined Catholic Charities in the lawsuit, but neither is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the Oakland case, two city employees started the Good News Employee Association after other workers had founded the Gay and Lesbian Employee Association, the Chronicle reported. The women posted on a bulletin board an announcement about the establishment of a “forum for people of faith” in which opinions could be expressed regarding “the natural family, marriage and family values.”

A supervisor pulled down the flyer after a complaint, saying it violated the city’s ban on harassment of homosexuals because it included homophobic language, according to the Chronicle.

The Ninth Circuit upheld a federal judge’s decision, ruling the government could limit free speech in the job setting for “the efficient operation of their office,” the newspaper reported.

The opinion permitted the city to participate in “viewpoint discrimination, by excluding perspectives from one group deemed unpopular while allowing unfettered expression of other views,” said Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute, which filed a brief with the Supreme Court in behalf of the two employees, according to the Chronicle.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Rosa Acuna was not entitled to know she was carrying a child or to receive damages for emotional distress or wrongful death in the abortion case. She consented to the abortion of her six- to eight-week-old unborn baby but claimed she did not understand it was a child she was aborting.

Acuna had a kidney disorder, and her doctor, Sheldon Turkish, advised her to have an abortion, LifeNews.com reported. According to her suit, she asked if “the baby was already there,” to which Turkish responded, she said, it is “nothing but some blood,” according to LifeNews. Turkish denied making that statement, saying he might have told her a pregnancy that early is “nothing but some tissue.”

Weeks after the abortion, Acuna was admitted to a hospital, where she learned parts of the child were left within her.

“In essence the [state supreme] court held that while a physician has an obligation to inform a patient about the known (agreed-upon) risks from a particular medical procedure or drug regimen, that same doctor has no obligation to tell a person considering abortion that the ‘thing’ that is to be aborted is a preborn human being, in this case a baby with a beating heart and a functioning brain,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a recent commentary on the ERLC’s website.
Compiled by Tom Strode, the Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.

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