Appeals court strikes down Baltimore law targeting disclaimers at pregnancy centers
January 5, 2018
A federal appeals court unanimously found Baltimore’s ordinance to make pregnancy centers post signs about abortion is unconstitutional.
The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the ordinance, which requires pregnancy care centers run by anti-abortion groups to post notices that they don’t provide abortions in their waiting rooms, violates the First Amendment.
The three-judge panel ruled that the ordinance compelled a “politically and religiously motivated group to convey a message fundamentally at odds with its core belief and mission,” according to the opinion written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a President Ronald Reagan appointee.
He was joined by Judges Allyson Duncan and G. Steven Agee, both appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The case centered on the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a nonprofit Christian organization that aims to deter women from getting abortions.
The center offers counseling, pregnancy tests and sonograms as well as other services. It doesn’t expressly say that it is religiously opposed to abortion in its advertising.
Baltimore’s ordinance addresses a concern that women seeking abortions could be misled in visiting such a pregnancy center and not get an abortion or have it delayed.
Read the article HERE.
4th Circuit Court
Judge Wilkerson’s Opinion
“The abortion debate in our country has a long and bitter history. Vast disagreement on the merits has led both sides to retributive speech restrictions and compulsions. See, e.g., Stuart, 774 F.3d at 242. To be sure, states must have room for reasonable regulation. But there is a limit to how much they can dictate core beliefs.
This court has in the past struck down attempts to compel speech from abortion providers. And today we do the same with regard to compelling speech from abortion foes.
We do so in belief that earnest advocates on all sides of this issue should not be forced by the state into a corner and required essentially to renounce and forswear what they have come as a matter of deepest conviction to believe.
Weaponizing the means of government against ideological foes risks a grave violation of one of our nation’s dearest principles: “that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Barnette, 319 U.S. at 642.
It may be too much to hope that despite their disagreement, pro-choice and pro-life advocates can respect each other’s dedication and principle. But, at least in this case, as in Stuart, it is not too much to ask that they lay down the arms of compelled speech and wield only the tools of persuasion. The First Amendment requires it.”
In their opinion notations, the 4th Circuit added this “Our holding does not conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Harris. See 839 F.3d 823, cert. granted, No. 16-1140 (U.S. Nov. 13, 2017).”
Finally, we are seeing that the courts are beginning to consider our rights and deeply held beliefs as outside government control. This is not the only appeals court case to submit a similar opinion in the last four years. Unfortunately, prior to the end of the last administration, it was however discouraged and ignored by those why sided against pro-life.
Determining that government cannot interfere with firmly held religious beliefs can be a two-edged sword though as we are aware. Where there are real laws on the books for murder, corruption, child abuse, marriage etc. then every faith which is in the boundaries of the United States and their tenets or core beliefs are subject to those laws just as they apply to all citizens.
Some of the opinions in the last twenty years have been done with an eye to forcing earnestly held Christian beliefs to be eroded, criminalized, and delegitimized in a push to tear down the bedrock and core of our country. We have been increasingly made to “apologize” for writing, speaking, or demonstrating any words or ideas such as the Ten Commandments on a monument or a simple prayer before an event. It should have not been allowed and yet there are currently many laws on the books where less than ten percent of the nation has forced their ideas and ideology on the everyone else.
Thankfully at least for now, we can begin to feel better about ourselves and our country’s founding principles.