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Body and Soul: the Growing Intersection of Life and Conscience Concerns

Body and Soul: the Growing Intersection of Life and Conscience Concerns

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

Among the most dangerous phenomena in American law today?  The push – gaining power, gaining momentum – to force individuals to separate what they do from who they are.

From its beginnings, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has focused on three crucial areas of law and culture: promoting and protecting the sanctity of life, the primacy of marriage and the family, and the priority of religious freedom. More and more, though, we are seeing these three legal battlefields merging, converging into one massive front: the struggle for rights of conscience.

Coast to coast, we are defending clients whose thoughtful determination to operate their businesses according to their faith – in ways that promote life, support marriage between a man and a woman, or allow people of faith to live out their religious beliefs in the public square – is being suppressed / constrained / censored by courts who hold our clients’ civil rights hostage to their willingness to give up that faith.

In Detroit, for instance, a federal court will hear arguments on May 2 to decide whether or not to dismiss an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Trinity Health, a Michigan-based not-for-profit Catholic health system operating 90 hospitals in 21 states. The ACLU is asking the court to force Trinity hospitals to commit abortions – despite the organization’s Catholic character and the personal and religious objections of many of its staff.

(Last week, the court agreed to allow several pro-life doctor groups – all represented by ADF – to intervene in the case.)

 “Those who doubt that anyone would ever try to force someone to commit an abortion need only look at this case,” says ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman. “This is precisely what the ACLU is seeking to do. But forcing Catholic hospitals to perform abortions is not only against the law – it makes no sense at all. Patients should always have the freedom to choose a health care facility that respects life and to choose doctors who do not commit abortions.”

“Forcing health care workers to act contrary to the very faith and ethical convictions that led them into the medical profession – to serve, help, and bring healing to people – is counterproductive, unnecessary, and against the law,” he says.

“Unnecessary” is a word that comes easily to mind in the case of the Stormans family of  Olympia, Washington, who’ve owned a small local grocery store and pharmacy, Ralph’s Thriftway, in that community for four generations.

Their business is sorely threatened by Washington State officials, who have ordered the Stormans to dispense two abortion pills (Plan B and ella) – in spite of the fact that a) the Stormans’ faith forbids their participating in the deliberate destruction of human life, and b) the two pills are widely and readily available elsewhere – at 30 other pharmacies just within a five-mile radius of Ralph’s.

ADF attorneys are representing the Stormans and two Christian pharmacists, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, who work elsewhere in the state. All of them are willing to refer their customers to other nearby stores for the pills, and such “conscience-based referrals” are legally recognized in all 49 other states.

Washington officials, while allowing referrals for almost any other reason, say religious motivations are prohibited. The case has gone back and forth through the courts for nearly a decade, and ADF has now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Stormans’ case.

The state’s prejudice against rights of conscience (Washington is also where florist Barronelle Stutzman is facing the loss of her business and savings for not being willing to use her talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding) is so blatant that 14 briefs in support of the Stormans’ case have been filed with the High Court, with signatories including 43 members of Congress; 13 state attorneys general; 29 notable legal scholars; more than 4,600 individual health care professionals; and 38 professional pharmacy associations, including the nation’s largest, the American Pharmacists Association.

“No one should be forced to choose between following their deepest religious beliefs and following an unjust, unneeded government mandate that targets only people of faith,” says ADF Senior Vice President of Legal Services Kristen Waggoner. “The briefs filed with the Supreme Court agree that this kind of hostility to religion isn’t constitutional or the least bit necessary.”

What is necessary is the freedom of every person to follow the convictions of their conscience – and that’s a freedom increasingly endangered, as medical professionals, artists and photographers, cake bakers and florists, bed-and-breakfast owners, Christian university and ministry leaders are being ordered to yield their deepest faith beliefs to the politically correct dictates of an aggressively secular culture.

You’ve worked hard to craft and discipline the conscience of your children and grandchildren – please be in prayer for our attorneys, as they defend this most important work of your life.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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