1. DOJ says it’s settled ‘contraception mandate’ cases: Trump’s move to broaden exemption paved way for resolution.

By Tom Howell Jr., The Washington Times, October 24, 2017, Pg. A4

The Trump administration announced Monday it has settled dozens of lawsuits that Catholic universities, charities and others filed over President Obama’s “contraception mandate,” as it defuses a years-long legal saga that had reached the Supreme Court.

President Trump recently issued rules that vastly expanded the universe of employers who can claim an exemption from the mandate, an outgrowth of Obamacare that required employers to insure an array of birth-control drugs and devices as part of their health plans or else pay crippling fines.

The action cleared the way for the Justice Department to announce settlements with 78 organizations that were still battling the rules in court.

The Justice Department said most, though not all, of the plaintiffs who’ve settled so far were represented by Jones Day law firm, which resolved its cases earlier this month.

Many of the groups who’ve settled are Catholic dioceses, schools or colleges — including the University of Notre Dame.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the elderly, has not settled its case yet. That group became the public face of the long-running fight over the mandate. Champions of religious liberty accused the Obama administration of picking on nuns, and Mr. Trump pledged to protect them.


2. Size matters, to these judges.

By The Washington Times, October 24, 2017, Pg. B2, Editorial

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Philadelphia, in its wisdom has ruled that a 40-foot Peace Cross erected 92 years ago to honor the military dead of World War I is “unconstitutional.”

Because it is maintained with public funds, the panel said, the monument “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion because the cross is the core symbol of Christianity, and breaches the wall separating church and state,” and thus violates the First Amendment.

The marble-and-concrete cross was erected in 1925, located at a major intersection in Bladensburg, Md., with funds from the American Legion and the public, and is now maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a state agency, which acquired it from the American Legion in 1961. The Peace Cross specifically commemorates 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County who died in “the war to end wars.”

Judges Stephanie D. Thacker, who wrote the opinion, and Judge James A. Wynn, were both appointed to the appeals court by President Obama in furtherance of his campaign, described in 2008, of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

In her opinion, Judge Thacker rejected the argument that ordering the Bladensburg Peace Cross removed from public land would set a “dangerous precedent” that could threaten other war memorials of a religious nature, even the thousands of crosses that adorn the graves of America’s war dead at Arlington National Cemetery and other national cemeteries across the nation.

“The crosses there are much smaller than the 40-foot-tall monolith at issue here,” she wrote. Size does, too, matter, she held.

Dissenting from his colleagues, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote that the First Amendment “does not require the government ‘to purge from the public sphere’ any reference to religion.” He could not agree, he said, that a monument honoring veterans “violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”

Defending the cross on behalf the American Legion, the First Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford said the decision would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’re not going to stop here,” he said. “If this is the law, everything else is in danger.”

An appeal matters, too, if honoring the 49 soldiers of the county who gave their “last full measure of devotion” is still a worthwhile thing to do.


3. Warring Over the Peace Cross: Atheists chafe at Maryland’s memorial to patriotism.

By Ed Feulner, Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, The Washington Times, October 24, 2017, Pg. B4, Opinion

War memorials can be easy to miss. They’re often tucked away in small parks, virtually invisible to all but those who approach them on foot.

Not so the Peace Cross.

Standing more than 40 feet high, the concrete edifice was dedicated almost a hundred years ago “to the heroes of Prince George’s County, Maryland who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.” Each of the four faces of the cross is inscribed with a word: “valor, endurance, courage, devotion.”

If this strikes you as a fitting and dignified expression of gratitude to those who gave what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion,” consider yourself lucky. After all, you could belong to the American Humanist Association (AHA). The atheist group considers this striking memorial to be not only offensive, but unconstitutional.

The AHA has been rebuffed by the courts before, but on Oct. 18, they finally got their way. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the Peace Cross amounts to a government sponsorship of a particular religion. That would mean it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Except, of course, that it doesn’t.

To understand why, consider why a Maryland federal judge, Deborah Chasanow (a Clinton appointee), threw out the AHA’s case in 2015. In an effort to prove that the Peace Cross somehow violates the Establishment Clause, the group offered a “Washington Post column indicating that there were at least three Sunday religious services held at the Monument in 1931.” And actually, that’s it. They had to go back more than 80 years to make their feeble case.
Judge Chasanow countered this by noting that the “vast majority” of events and gatherings at the Peace Cross have been in “commemoration of Memorial Day or Veterans Day.” In other words, they haven’t been inherently religious at all.

Yes, a cross is “undeniably a religious symbol,” Judge Chasanow noted. But courts have long recognized that “displaying a cross to honor fallen soldiers is a legitimately secular purpose, and does not always promote a religious message.”

Fast forward to today, and it’s a different story — at least according to two of the judges on the 4th Circuit Court. Now the Peace Cross, which is the “core symbol of Christianity,” allegedly “excessively entangles the government in religion” and must come down.

Only one thing may be worse than losing the war — and that’s losing the peace. If the AHA successfully uses the First Amendment to trash a beautiful tribute to the men who died fighting for it, the irony will be rich indeed. Keep the Cross.


4. UK Supreme Court Hears Attempt to Change Northern Ireland Abortion Law.

By Reuters, October 24, 2017, 5:38 AM

An attempt to change the law in Northern Ireland to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or serious malformation of the fetus started in the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday with harrowing accounts of women’s experiences.

A socially conservative province where the Catholic and Protestant faiths exert strong influence, Northern Ireland allows abortion only when a mother’s life is in danger.

A panel of seven Supreme Court judges in London will hear arguments for and against the proposed changes during a three-day hearing. They will give their judgment at a later date.

As well as the parties in the case, the court will hear from organizations that support changing the law, such as Humanists UK, Amnesty International and a United Nations working group on discrimination against women.

It will also hear from groups who oppose any reform, such as Catholic bishops from the province and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which describes the legal action as a “crusade against disabled babies”.