June 29, 2018
Supreme Court recently issued its ruling in
NIFLA v. Becerra holding that pro-life pregnancy centers are likely to
succeed in their challenge to a California law that forced them to advertise
and refer for abortion. The Court held that the centers were entitled to a
preliminary injunction halting the law's enforcement.
so-called "Reproductive FACT Act" required medically-licensed pregnancy support
centers to provide information to clients about publicly funded abortion, in
direct opposition to their mission and purpose. The National Institute of
Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), an advocacy group for pregnancy resource
centers, challenged the law, asserting that it violated the centers' First
Amendment right to free speech. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed.
Court found that the government was wrong to compel pro-life groups and
individuals to express a message that conflicts with their beliefs. To maintain
a truly free society, the government cannot compel speech that violates a
person's or organization's convictions, especially on controversial topics like
a statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan,
Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities noted that this was "an
important victory for the free speech rights of pro-life organizations." He
celebrated that the Court's vote allows "pro-life pregnancy care centers to
continue providing life-affirming support to both mother and child without
being forced by governments to provide free advertising for the violent act of
abortion in direct violation of the center's pro-life convictions."
Supreme Court has consistently held that government hostility toward people of
faith is unconstitutional and has no place in our society. As Justice Thomas
wrote in the Court opinion, the California law "targets speakers, not speech,
and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their
care centers provide free practical resources, information, and emotional
support to the women who walk through their doors. Unjust laws like the
California "FACT Act" unfairly burden those who wish to serve their
communities, threatening the welfare of thousands of women, children and
families who depend on the care and resources provided by these centers.
the Supreme Court recognized that government cannot compel speech that violates
one's deeply held beliefs. Justice Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion,
"This law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when
government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech,
thought, and expression."
that governments are increasingly trying to coerce institutions of faith to
endorse secular ideas that directly oppose their religious beliefs, it is fitting
that the Court's ruling was announced during Religious Freedom Week—a time in which the bishops have asked
the Church to pray and act for the protection of religious liberty in the
United States and abroad. The Court's decision was most welcome and reinvigorates
our united efforts for this purpose.
USCCB's amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of
NIFLA highlighted that this case was
not principally about abortion, but rather about the First Amendment right of
all religious organizations to choose for themselves not only what to say, but
"what not to say." As we look forward to the celebration of Independence Day on
July 4, we thank our Lord for a country whose Constitution upholds the right to
free speech and exercise of religion and pray for the courage to always defend
that right when it is challenged.
Chelsy Gomez is Program Associate for the Secretariat
of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. For
more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.