Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San Jose Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit vacated its August 2022 decision which had found for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and ordered that the case be reheard en banc. In this case, the school had revoked the status of a Christian student group because the school objected to a policy that allegedly discriminated against LGBTQ students.
  • In Firewalker-Fields v. Lee, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate’s First Amendment Free Exercise claim. The court wrote that the jail’s policy of not allowing the plaintiff access to Friday Islamic prayers was reasonably related to security and resource allocation.
  • Thirteen Christian and Jewish leaders filed for a permanent injunction in the Missouri Circuit Court in Blackmon v. State of Missouri. The complaint seeks to bar the State of Missouri from enforcing its abortion ban, claiming that the ban violates the Missouri Constitution by failing to protect the free exercise of religion.
  • In Ference v Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, a federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Pennsylvania recommended denying a motion to dismiss filed by the Catholic Diocese in response to a Title VII sex-discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit was made by a Lutheran sixth-grade teacher in a Catholic school who was fired shortly after being hired when the school discovered that he was in a same-sex marriage.
  • A nurse practitioner filed suit in a Texas federal district court after being fired for refusing to prescribe contraceptives. The complaint in Strader v. CVS Health Corp alleges that CVS’s firing amounted to religious discrimination in violation of Title VII.
  • On January 11, 2023, the US House of Representatives passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill states that any infant born alive after an attempted abortion is a “legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States.” Doctors would be required to care for those infants as they would any other child who was born alive.
  • Dr. Erika Lopez Prater, an art professor at Hamline University, is suing the University for religious discrimination and defamation after she was fired for showing an image of Muhammad to her Islamic art class.

Williams, “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade”

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade” by Daniel K. Williams (University of West Georgia). The publisher’s description follows:

On April 16, 1972, ten thousand people gathered in Central Park to protest New York’s liberal abortion law. Emotions ran high, reflecting the nation’s extreme polarization over abortion. Yet the divisions did not fall neatly along partisan or religious lines-the assembled protesters were far from a bunch of fire-breathing culture warriors. In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams reveals the hidden history of the pro-life movement in America, showing that a cause that many see as reactionary and anti-feminist began as a liberal crusade for human rights.

For decades, the media portrayed the pro-life movement as a Catholic cause, but by the time of the Central Park rally, that stereotype was already hopelessly outdated. The kinds of people in attendance at pro-life rallies ranged from white Protestant physicians, to young mothers, to African American Democratic legislators-even the occasional member of Planned Parenthood. One of New York City’s most vocal pro-life advocates was a liberal Lutheran minister who was best known for his civil rights activism and his protests against the Vietnam War. The language with which pro-lifers championed their cause was not that of conservative Catholic theology, infused with attacks on contraception and women’s sexual freedom. Rather, they saw themselves as civil rights crusaders, defending the inalienable right to life of a defenseless minority: the unborn fetus. It was because of this grounding in human rights, Williams argues, that the right-to-life movement gained such momentum in the early 1960s. Indeed, pro-lifers were winning the battle before Roe v. Wade changed the course of history.

Through a deep investigation of previously untapped archives, Williams presents the untold story of New Deal-era liberals who forged alliances with a diverse array of activists, Republican and Democrat alike, to fight for what they saw as a human rights cause. Provocative and insightful, Defenders of the Unborn is a must-read for anyone who craves a deeper understanding of a highly-charged issue.

The Personhood Amendment and Pragmatism

From the New York Times, a report on a proposed constitutional amendment in Mississippi that would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person. As the Times points out, the Personhood Amendment would effectively make abortion, as well as contraceptive methods like the morning-after pill that prevent the uterine implantation of a fertilized egg, a form of murder under state law. According to the Times, the amendment’s supporters speak in frankly religious terms. One is quoted as saying that the Amendment is “an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God.”

A couple of points. First, notwithstanding the Rawlsian critique, theological arguments like this are actually fairly rare in American politics, for understandable reasons. As a practical matter, if you want to persuade people in a pluralistic society, you’ve got to make arguments that appeal to different religious and ideological commitments; you’ve got to speak in an idiom that includes rather than excludes. (This may not be the case in Mississippi, concededly, where the amendment is popular and has the support of both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates). This explains why the right-to-life movement in America tends not to speak in strictly theological terms, but to rely on arguments from reason and, lately, embryonic Read more