I guess the Fourth of July is the perfect day to celebrate a pair of recent Supreme Court decisions that upheld vital principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The first unanimously overturned the Massachusetts law mandating a First Amendment-free “buffer zone” within 35 feet of entrances to “reproductive health” facilities that kill healthy unborn children (if calling that “health care” sounds crazy, that’s because it is).
The ruling could well affect a similar Portland ordinance modeled on the Bay State statute.
And the second, by a narrow 5-4 margin, deep-sixed a rule in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare, but more accurately termed “DemocraticPartyCare,” because only Democrats voted for it) that made “closely held” private companies offer abortion-causing forms of birth control. (That is, people who form family companies don’t give up their freedoms.)
Let’s take the second one first: It applied a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (itself a response to a previous Supreme Court ruling that watered down “strict scrutiny” of restrictions on religious liberties), to two family-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
The court said the companies’ owners do not have to offer benefits that include birth control methods that prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo in the womb.
Since pro-life Americans generally accept the biological proposition that human life begins at fertilization (because all the characteristics that will eventually be found in an adult human being are present in such embryonic life, awaiting only the passage of time), offering such benefits is widely seen as being forced to pay for killing innocent babies.
The ruling is limited, applying only to four forms of contraception included in the benefit packages offered by these companies. Hobby Lobby offers 16 other types, so this is not a “denial” of care.
But the principle is an important one, as it says the ability of government to make people violate their religious beliefs is not infinite, as some on the political left apparently believe it to be.
Therefore, future cases could cite it as a precedent to challenge a number of government restrictions.
For example, when President Obama repeatedly uses the phrase “freedom of worship” where the Constitution says “freedom of religion,” believers see it as an effort to justify restricting their liberties to what occurs in their churches, synagogues and mosques, and regulating anything they do outside of them.
This decision directly refutes that effort, and is worth celebrating for that alone.
The other ruling could apply here because Portland councilors voted to block pro-life protesters from approaching within 39 feet of the entrance to Planned Parenthood’s Congress Street office. They painted a line on the sidewalk that demonstrators could not cross without being arrested.
Yes, on a “public” sidewalk, where in all other instances someone can approach you to panhandle money, ask you to vote for a candidate or just bend your ear without regard for your desire to be left alone.
But abortion is a left-wing cause celebre, and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling wiped out the legal need to respect the right to life that the Declaration of Independence says we fought the Revolutionary War to protect.
Still, what’s so special about Planned Parenthood, a private nonprofit enterprise, that exempts its environs from the Bill of Rights?
Well, follow the money. It is the nation’s largest abortion provider. It performed 327,166 “terminations” in the 122 months covered in its latest annual report (www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/annual-report), while logging income of $1.21 billion.
And though the organization says it promotes adoptions, the report says it sponsored only 2,197 such referrals in that period, a ratio of 149 abortions to each adoption.
Finally, it got $540.2 million from state and federal governments to accomplish its sordid mission.
You can see how a few average-American protesters with homemade signs pose it a real threat.
Regarding both decisions, there are alternatives that could accomplish the ends the laws’ supporters claim to want.
The benefits ruling said the federal government could provide the exempted contraceptives itself (and turn the question over to the political process, where candidates could be asked if they supported or opposed that policy).
And while pro-life protesters just had their right to approach people quietly and politely on a public sidewalk upheld, states or municipalities can continue to ban disorderly conduct, which should cover cases in which clinic patrons are “assaulted” or “harassed.”
What we have now, however, is not “a ban on contraception” (it remains widely available) or “a war on women” (the real war on women means half of aborted babies are female, and it remains legal to kill a girl baby because you wanted a boy instead).
Instead, we have two rulings that let Americans exercise their freedom as moral agents in accordance with constitutional guarantees.
What’s not to like about that?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: