SCOTUS

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

THE QUESTION:

What do U.S. religious groups teach about the contentious abortion issue?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Remarkably, the abortion issue is as contentious as when the U.S. Supreme Court liberalized law 46 years ago, with new state restrictions injecting it into courtrooms and the 2020 campaign. The following scans significant teachings by major religious denominations.

The Catholic Church, the largest religious body in the U.S. (and globally), opposes abortion, without exceptions. A Vatican Council II decree from the world’s bishops declares that “from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care,” and calls  abortions “abominable crimes.” The official Catechism says the same and dates this belief back to Christianity’s first century (Didache 2:2, Epistle of Barnabas 19:5).

Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders have jointly affirmed “our common teaching that life begins at the earliest moments of conception” and is “sacred” through all stages of development. However, America’s 53-member Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops acknowledges “rare but serious medical instances where mother and child may require extraordinary actions.”

A Southern Baptist Convention resolution before the Supreme Court ruling advocated permission in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity” or damage to a mother’s “emotional, mental, and physical health.” The SBC later shifted toward strict conservatism on many matters. A 2018 resolution affirms “the full dignity of every unborn child” and denounces abortion “except to save the mother’s physical life.”

Two United Methodist Church agencies helped establish the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (since renamed Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) to champion women’s unimpeded choice. But the 2016 UMC conference directed the agencies to leave the coalition, and voted to withdraw endorsement, upheld since 1976, of the Supreme Court’s “legal right to abortion.” The UMC recognizes “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify” abortion. It opposes late-term abortion except for danger to the mother’s “physical life” or “severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”

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For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

Following committee approval last week, the House of Representatives will soon vote on the “Equality Act” (H.R. 5, text here),  which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Crucially, the proposal would explicitly ban use of the conscience guarantees in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton. Only two Democratic senators voted against that 1993 act, with names like Biden, Daschle, Feinstein, Kennedy, Kerry and Leahy in the yes column.  

That’s a news story — right there. Journalists should compare such bipartisan unanimity with today’s stark party divide in this First Amendment battle, as on so many other issues. 

The clause states that the religion law “shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

Need a local angle for coverage? Reporters will want to analyze the impact that would have upon federal funding and other benefits for colleges, health facilities and charities that hold to traditional religious teaching. Anticipate years of lawsuits and political infighting. 

The House will pass the Equality Act because it is sponsored by all but one of the majority Democrats. But a narrow defeat looks probable in the Senate, where so far Maine’s Susan Collins is the only member in the Republican majority backing the bill. Adding political fuel, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule next year on parallel questions.  

All that will play out as reporters cover voters pondering whether to re-elect President Donald Trump and keep Republican control of the Senate, thus determining appointments of federal judges and whether the Equality Act becomes law. Among Democratic candidates, Joe Biden backed a similar equality bill in 2015, and the 2019 version is endorsed by the seven others atop polls (Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren). 

The Equality Act would cover a broad array of businesses and agencies that provide goods or services to the public, forbid sexual stereotyping and make bisexuals a protected class. It would require access to rest rooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and presumably women’s shelters, on the basis of self-identified gender rather than biological gender. 

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Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

The day after election day is, of course, a day for political chatter. Let’s face it: In Twitter America, every day is a day for political chatter.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see a few religion ghosts in all of this media fog — hints at the religion/politics stories that will soon return to the headlines. Let me start with a few observations, as a Bible Belt guy who just spent his second straight national election night in New York City.

* I didn’t think that it would be possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to play a larger and more divisive role in American political life than it has post-Roe v. Wade. I was wrong. Do you see big, important compromises coming out of the new U.S. House and Senate?

* Maybe you have doubts about the importance of SCOTUS in politics right now. If so, take a look at the U.S. Senate races in which Democrats sought reelection in culturally “red” states. Ask those Democrats about the heat surrounding Supreme Court slots.

* So right now, leaders of the religious left are praying BIG TIME for the health of 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, to a lesser degree, 80-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer. After two battles with cancer, activists inside the Beltway watch Ginsburg’s every move for signs of trouble. What will conservative religious leaders pray for?

* If Ginsburg or Breyer exit, one way or the other, what will be the central issues that will surround hearings for the next nominee? Do we really need to ask that? It will be abortion and religious liberty — again.

* If the next nominee is Judge Amy Coney Barrett (a likely choice with GOP gains in the U.S. Senate), does anyone doubt that her Catholic faith (“The dogma lives loudly in you”) will be at the heart of the media warfare that results?

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Location, location, location: Where a Supreme Court nominee kneels matters in DC life

Location, location, location: Where a Supreme Court nominee kneels matters in DC life

Greetings from Prague, in the Czech Republic. It's kind of interesting to visit a part of the world where the World Cup matters more than the latest tweets of Donald Trump. Needless to say, people do have strong opinions about what Trump is up to, in terms of England, Russia and beyond.

That open U.S. Supreme Court seat? Not so much. The assumption is that Trump has nominated a Trump candidate to please Trump people.

That's bad, of course. It also misses some of the most interesting angles in the Brett Kavanaugh story -- some of which are linked to religion and culture. So once you get past this man's love of charging baseball tickets on his credit card, and his ability to serve mac and cheese to the homeless, what kinds of picture is emerging for Americans who read major newspapers?

I was really intrigued, the other day, by the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: "The elite world of Brett Kavanaugh."

"Elite" is an interesting world in this case. This really is one of the cases in which, in D.C. Beltway culture, the word "elite" actually means rich, powerful and liberal.

On one level, this is a real estate story -- it's all about location, location, location. Before we get the Kavanaugh's church, let's look at the opening anecdote about his local bar.

The Chevy Chase Lounge is a neighborhood joint where bartender Tim Higgins is accustomed to bantering with long-standing patrons, including a middle-aged guy named Brett who likes to pop in for a Budweiser and a burger after coaching his daughters’ basketball games.

As he watched the news recently, Higgins learned something else about Brett Kavanaugh: He was among the judges whom President Trump was considering to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Most people in Washington tell you what they do,” Higgins said from behind the bar Tuesday, the day after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. “I never knew Brett was a lawyer. I expect we’ll be seeing him in here a lot less.”

Note: Not only did Kavanaugh not talk politics with his bar crowd, he wasn't even talking about what he does for a living -- on the second most powerful court in America. Maybe that's because he is a mainstream Republican living in one of greater DC's most prominent nests of liberal Democrats?

Location, location, location. How about education and church?

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Tick, tick, tick: Will Donald Trump play the 'handmaiden' card, lighting a SCOTUS fuse?

Tick, tick, tick: Will Donald Trump play the 'handmaiden' card, lighting a SCOTUS fuse?

The clock is ticking and the news coverage is heating up. At this point, for religion-beat pros, there's only one question that matters: Will Donald Trump GO THERE? Will he nominate the "loud dogma" candidate who will make heads explode in the liberal Catholic and secular politicos camps? We are, of course, talking about Judge Amy Coney Barrett. 

However, there is a rather cynical possibility linked to this story, an angle explored in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

You see, Trump needs to fire up voters for the midterm elections. In particular, he needs evangelical Protestants and pro-Catechism Catholics to turn out in droves, to help rescue the GOP from, well, Trump's unique ability in infuriate half of America (especially in elite zip codes and newsrooms).

So what if he nominated Barrett and let the blue-culture masses go crazy?

What if he unleashed that storm, knowing that the moral, cultural and religious left will not be able to restrain itself?

What a scene! Remember the hearings long ago for Justice Robert Bork -- the SCOTUS seat eventually taken by one Judge Anthony Kennedy -- and this famous speech by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, speaking for the Catholic left and cultural liberals everywhere?

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

So what would that sound like today, if Barrett has to face her critics once again?

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has already prepared that script, in a piece for The New Yorker, describing this future nightmare court:

It will overrule Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortions and to criminally prosecute any physicians and nurses who perform them. It will allow shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and hotel owners to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds.

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Previewing SCOTUS term, New York Times views wedding cakes through familiar Kellerism lens

Previewing SCOTUS term, New York Times views wedding cakes through familiar Kellerism lens

Hmmm, let's see now. It's the first Monday in October, and that means the Supreme Court of the United States, popularly known as SCOTUS, is back in session. It's as predictable as clockwork.

Equally predictable is having journalists at The New York Times view a controversial issue involving the First Amendment and deeply held religious beliefs through the lens of Kellerism. That's the GetReligion term for news coverage that says some issues are settled, hence airing both sides of an issue is unnecessary. We all know the Earth isn't flat, right? (That's a rhetorical question, gentle reader. I know the planet isn't flat, but thank you for asking.)

The lens-deployment comes in the matter of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In a long story on the new term, we get a lengthy, chunky section on this case. It's worth wading through the details contained in this long excerpt:

The court will re-enter the culture wars in a case concerning a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, saying it would violate his Christian faith and his right to free speech.
The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111, involves a clash between laws that prohibit businesses open to the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation and claims of religious freedom.
On one side are religious people and companies that say the government should not force them to choose between the requirements of their faiths and their livelihoods. On the other are gay and lesbian couples who say they are entitled to equal treatment from businesses that choose to serve the general public.
The Supreme Court’s earlier decisions and Justice [Anthony] Kennedy’s conflicting impulses about gay rights and free speech make the outcome hard to predict.

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Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Unlike so many towns, Salt Lake City is blessed with two dailies under separate ownership. Better yet, they’re continually sharp-eyed on the news of religion. The Salt Lake Tribune has deservedly piled up many an award, but faces strong competition from The Deseret News (owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

The News’s Kelsey Dallas came through earlier in August with a must-read survey headlined “Serving God by Suing Others: Inside the Christian Conservative Legal Movement.” Her 2,000-worder, with carefully-balanced pro and con views  (Professor Douglas Laycock’s criticisms are especially noteworthy), was quickly uppicked by Religion News Service and then via RNS by National Catholic Reporter.

Litigation by religious interest groups is hardly new, of course, but the action has gotten so red-hot that leftists put the very phrase “religious liberty” within scare quotes. Conservative religious advocates lost big on gay marriage but scored on e.g. state funding for a Lutheran school playground and on Hobby Lobby’s gain of religious exemption from the Obamacare contraception mandate.In coming weeks, reporters will be monitoring the indispensable scotusblog.com to read the briefs and learn the date for oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s big case on Masterpiece Cakeshop’s refusal in conscience to bake a gay wedding cake (docket #16-111).

Dallas drew from the new book “Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement” by political scientist Daniel Bennett of John Brown University. (The publisher is University Press of Kansas, again demonstrating the value for journalists to monitor releases by collegiate book houses.)  Bennett studied 10 public interest law firms that reporters should be familiar with. The largest players by 2014 revenues:

* Alliance Defending Freedom ($48.3 million). In January, Michael Farris, noted homeschool champion and president of Patrick Henry College, succeeded founder Alan Sears as ADF president.

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When politics shatter relationships: Does anyone else sense a religion ghost in Reuters report?

When politics shatter relationships: Does anyone else sense a religion ghost in Reuters report?

It's a story that, in one form or another, has become a mainstream news staple during the media meltdown after the election of Donald Trump as president. I am talking about the Wars On Facebook phenomenon, the whole idea that this election has driven painful, emotional wedges into families and circles of friends, severing the ties that bind.

It's a hot story because, for many people, it's absolutely true. This is really happening out there in social-media land and in the real world or real people. The question, of course, is "Why?" What are these divisions really about?

In most of the coverage the key issue is Trump himself -- period.

For journalists, it appears, Americans are either for Trump or against him. However, anyone who has read deeper into the coverage -- especially polls focusing on religious voters -- knows that millions of voters did not vote for Trump because they wanted Trump. They voted against Hillary Clinton, in part because of their concerns about moral and social issues (think religious liberty, as well) and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thus, at the very least, there are three divisions at the heart of the Wars On Facebook phenomenon. Anyone -- oh, like me -- who was #NeverTrump #NeverHillary knows that.

So what are these highly personal social-media spats really about? Yes, might there -- if "pew wars" principles remain in effect -- be a religion ghost or two haunting these faith-free stories?

The other day, Mark "KMark" Kellner sent out a perfect example of this phenomenon, care of Reuters. I call this story it perfect because it contains absolutely zero content about religion and/or moral and social issues. The headline: "From disputes to a breakup: wounds still raw after U.S. election." Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Burning passions over Donald Trump's presidency are taking a personal toll on both sides of the political divide. For Gayle McCormick, it is particularly wrenching: she has separated from her husband of 22 years.

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Polyamory, pessimism and other same-sex marriage ink

After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

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