The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the opposition that killed a Texas Ten Commandments-in-the-schools bill, deplores the passage of yet another six-week abortion ban and notes the shocking revelations in Illinois’ investigation of pedophile priests.
First the good news: Ding dong, the bill is dead. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had announced its readiness to challenge a Texas legislative proposal requiring every public school classroom to display a large Ten Commandments poster. The state/church watchdog had started to identify FFRF parents to serve as plaintiffs and was an official part of a litigation coalition preparing to sue had the bill in question passed. It’s alarming that the unconstitutional, un-American proposal had been approved by the Senate and would have passed the House had a floor vote taken place. We congratulate Texas state Rep. James Talarico and others who fought behind the scenes last night to let the clock run out and prevent that floor vote.
The First Commandment alone shows why Texas has no business telling school children which gods to have, or whether to have any gods at all. Nor has Texas the right to codify which of varying and contradictory versions of the “Ten Commandments” in the bible is the true one, and forcing children to read this version for 13 years of public schooling. FFRF will continue its vigilance.
Now the bad news: The South has fallen to zealous anti-abortionists. While a bullet was dodged with regard to the Texas bill, unfortunately the South Carolina Senate passed a six-week abortion ban last night, which Gov. Henry McMaster has already promised to sign into law. Most women do not realize they are pregnant until after six weeks. Physicians face fines, civil suits and felony charges that could be punished by imprisonment for two years. Egregiously, the bill also requires child support payments to date from the moment of conception. As abortion observer Jessica Valenti puts it, this “isn’t an interest in helping pregnant women as much as it is an opportunity to try to enshrine personhood in the state’s law.” She also points out: “Like so many abortion bans, the medical exceptions in the bill are particularly cruel. For example, if a woman needs an abortion to save her life and the fetus still has a heartbeat, the bill states that the doctor ‘must make all reasonable efforts to deliver and save the life of an unborn child during the process of separating the unborn child from the pregnant woman, to the extent that it does not adversely affect the life or physical health of the pregnant woman.’” This will endanger the lives of pregnant women by precluding the fastest, safest medical emergency method or delaying its use by physicians fearful of imprisonment.
This ban follows passage on May 7 of North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban, after the Legislature there overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. This goes into effect July 1. Calling it a 12-week ban is a misnomer, since the new law requires physicians to ensure the gestational age is less than 10 weeks in cases of medication abortion, which are sought by 60 percent of early abortion patients. The bill requires such patients to have three office appointments even though it could medically be handled via telehealth. Patients having a surgical abortion have to meet in-person with a physician at least three days before the procedure.
The 12-week ban in North Carolina inspired the theocrats in Nebraska’s unicameral Senate to amend a bill to ban gender-affirming care for those 19 years or younger to include a 12-week abortion ban. The bill with both bans passed on Friday and was signed on Monday — a bitter blow to those in the Senate who had fought so hard against a ban earlier this spring that had been defeated by one vote. Nebraska’s ban makes no exception for fetal anomalies, most of which are detected after the 12th week. Sadly, at least 17 states have enacted bans against gender-affirming care, the handiwork of the religiously motivated Do No Harm and Family Research Council.
Mandatory motherhood is now the operative name of the game in the South, added to the Midwestern and Great Plains prohibition states of Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota (plus Idaho). There are now at least 17 states with full or six-week bans— including virtually every Southern state with the exception of Virginia. Some of these bans are under litigation, such as in Florida, where the new six-week ban will not go into effect until a court resolves a challenge of its previous 15-week ban.
All five of South Carolina’s only female senators, including the three Republicans, voted against the bill, and had helped filibuster a near-total ban last month. These “Senate Sisters” were told they are not “true Christians” for voting this way.
"We in the South Carolina Legislature are not God,” responded Republican state Sen. Katrina Shealy. “We do not know what’s going on in somebody else’s life. We do not have the right to make decisions for someone else.”
Meanwhile, the judicial assault against mifepristone continues. The increasing abortion bans by states makes the “judicial assault” by a “nonexpert court” advancing “a relentless one-sided narrative” against the abortion pill mifepristone all the more perilous. The phrases quoted above were made by attorney Jessica Ellsworth, litigating against the ban, in reference to the decision by U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of Amarillo, Texas, who issued a draconian national ban on mifepristone in April that is now temporarily on hold. Ellsworth represented Danco, one of the litigants against the ban, during the oral arguments held on May 17 before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during which Judge Jennifer Elrod chided Ellsworth for such wording, asking: “Do you think it’s appropriate to attack the district court personally?” The conclusion by that panel unfortunately looks foregone.
Once again, a ban on abortion affecting the entire nation will soon be back before the religious extremists on the Supreme Court who overturned Roe v. Wade less than a year ago. Maybe the corporate rights of pharmacy companies will give pause to the high court majority, which certainly cares nothing for women’s reproductive liberties.
Now the ugly news. The Illinois attorney general has just issued a 696-page report finding that more than 450 credibly accused child sex abusers in the Catholic Church have abused at least 1,997 children since 1950 in the state’s six dioceses. What is shocking about that report is that it lists many more abusers than the church had publicly disclosed before 2018, the time the state investigation began. Attorney General Kwame Raoul and his investigators interviewed hundreds of victims, then reviewed diocesan records in order to be able to discover many more abusers and their victims. The laudable Illinois report joins several others, including the investigation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore last month, and the major 2018 report in Pennsylvania.
FFRF urges attorneys general in all remaining states to undertake similar investigations, including FFRF’s home state of Wisconsin, and has repeatedly urged the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, most recently Attorney General Merrick Garland, to undertake a national study on Catholic hierarchy sex crimes and cover-ups against minors.
All in all, these developments demonstrate why those of us who treasure our secular government must continue to speak out, march and lobby for the foundational separation between government and religion that protects our freedoms.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.