Cultural Issues in the Courts: September 2018 Update

Courthouse with the year 2018 overlayed

Executive Briefing: Judicial Update ― September 14, 2018

Abortion regulations, "In God We Trust," legislative prayer, and free speech are all subjects of this issue of the Executive Briefing Judicial Update.

Life, Abortion Regulation – Alabama

Alabama's law prohibiting dismemberment abortions is unconstitutional, according to a unanimous, but reluctant, 3-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, because it creates an "undue burden" on the "right" to abortion. Two of the three judges however, criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's abortion decisions in Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, calling the creation of the "right" to abortion an "aberration" of constitutional law. No word yet on whether the state of Alabama intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Life, Ultrasound Laws – Indiana

An Indiana law requiring an ultrasound test and a second trip to an abortion seller's offices before undergoing an abortion places an "undue burden" on the right to abortion and is therefore unconstitutional, says the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Such laws have been upheld in other jurisdictions around the country. The state of Indiana has announced it will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"In God We Trust" – U.S.

Yet another federal circuit court of appeals has determined that the inscription of "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency does not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, the Free Speech Clause, or other constitutional and statutory provisions. The judges relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway which held that all Establishment Clause challenges must be interpreted in light of historical practices and understandings.

Legislative Prayer, Non-theists – Pennsylvania        

A guest chaplain prayer policy of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that allows only those who believe in "God" or a "divine" or "higher" power to offer invocations is unconstitutional, a federal court has ruled. The non-theist applicants who were denied an opportunity to offer invocations would have invoked authorities or principles such as the Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution, democracy, equality, inclusion, fairness and justice.

Free Speech, Cheerleading Banners – Texas

"Run-through" banners bearing Bible verses, created by a high school cheerleading squad for use at the school's football games, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Texas Supreme Court held the banners' "speech" belonged to the cheerleaders as private citizens, and therefore protected under the First Amendment. The school argued, unconvincingly, that the cheerleaders were speaking for the school, and thus could not promote religion through the use of the Bible verses on the banners.