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Supreme Court Tackles Gay Rights and Religious Liberty

 

Should a business owner be free to turn down certain work based on his or her religious convictions? Or should gay and lesbian individuals be protected by law from business owners who discriminate against them?

These are the questions at play in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this term.

 

At issue is a Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception. The owner cited his religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado commission that enforces that state’s law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. After a court fight, the Colorado Supreme Court decided against the bakers, concluding that he did discriminate against the gay couple. The court held that forcing a baker to make a cake infringed neither upon his free speech nor upon the exercise of his religion.

 

There is no nation-wide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, twenty-one states (including Colorado) have such laws. The heart of this case is when laws protecting homosexual individuals from discrimination conflict with the religious-based beliefs of business owners who disapprove of homosexuality or gay marriage.

 

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the baker contends that the state law forcing him to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage theme would be a mandate that he condone an activity his religion teaches him to condemn. Those on the other side of the issue say that if a business owner can cite a religious belief to circumvent anti-discrimination laws, these laws will become toothless.

 

The Justice Department has filed a legal brief supporting the baker’s position. This brief backs anti-discrimination laws, but says that these laws cannot be used to force people to advocate for beliefs that they do not hold. Some observers contend that this brief is part of the Trump Administration’s wider agenda that is hostile to gay rights.

 

Arguments for this case will be held at some point during the Supreme Court’s 2017 term, with a decision expected in late spring of next year.

 

Do you think that a business owner has a right to refuse service on the basis of religious beliefs? Or do you think that it is important to ban discrimination regardless of someone’s motives?

 

Nevada Senate Bill 201

 

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Senate Bill 201, Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors: Passed 31 to 8 in the state Senate on May 9, 2017.

 

To prohibit psychotherapists from providing conversion therapy, generally described as counseling designed to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, to a person who is under 18 years of age.

 

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Missouri Senate Bill 5

 

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Senate Bill 5, Expand Regulation of Abortion: Passed 20 to 8 in the state Senate on June 15, 2017.

 

To modify several provisions of state law relating to abortion, including: (1) requirements for post-abortion tissue reports; (2) giving the attorney general jurisdiction over abortion laws; (3) preempting local government abortion regulations; (4) whistle-blower protections for reporting violations of abortion laws; (5) the definition of abortion facilities and licensure of doctors in those facilities; and (6) requirements for regular inspections of abortion facilities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 5!

 

 

Arizona House Bill 2022

 

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House Bill 2022, Legalize Rat-Shot and Snake-Shot Ammunition: Passed 35 to 25 in the state House on February 1, 2017. 

 

To permit the use of rat-shot or snake-shot ammunition within a municipality by exempting it from laws against discharge of firearms.

 

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Nevada Assembly Bill 99

 

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Assembly Bill 99, Accommodating LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System: Passed 18 to 2 in the state Assembly on April 4, 2017.

 

To revise statutes and require new regulations pertaining to the Nevada foster care system to require that  youth in out-of-home placements must be treated, in all respects, in accordance with the child's gender identity or expression, regardless of their assigned sex at birth.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 99!

 

 

North Carolina House Bill 746

 

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House Bill 746, Allow Concealed Carry of Handguns Without a Permit: Passed 64 to 51 in the state House on June 8, 2017.

 

To relax several state laws concerning handguns, especially to allow lawful handgun owners, with certain restrictions, to carry openly or concealed without a permit.

 

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New Hampshire House Bill 350

 

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House Bill 350, Kill Bill to Ban Guns in Polling Places: Passed 203 to 144 in the state House on 15 February, 2017.

 

To end consideration of a bill that would prohibit possession of a firearm at a polling place during a federal, state, or municipal election. A yes vote kills the bill for the legislative year.

 

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Missouri Senate Bill 5

 

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Senate Bill 5, Expand Regulation of Abortion: Passed 20 to 8 in the state Senate on June 15, 2017.

 

To modify several provisions of state law relating to abortion, including: (1) requirements for post-abortion tissue reports; (2) giving the attorney general jurisdiction over abortion laws; (3) preempting local government abortion regulations; (4) whistle-blower protections for reporting violations of abortion laws; (5) the definition of abortion facilities and licensure of doctors in those facilities; and (6) requirements for regular inspections of abortion facilities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 5!

 

 

Iowa Senate Bill 524

 

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Senate Bill 524, To Allow the Production and Distribution of Cannabis Oil on a Limited Basis: Passed 33 to 7 in the state Senate on April 21, 2017.

 

Under current law, Iowans can possess cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy (though its production is prohibited). This bill allows for two companies to make the oil and five to distribute it, and allows its use for a number of ailments including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and a terminal illness.

 

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Colorado House Bill 1367

 

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House Bill 1367, Authorize Marijuana Clinical Research: Passed 35 to 30 in the state House on May 10, 2017.

 

Create a marijuana research program. The bill would create multiple licenses governing possession of marijuana for research purposes and growing marijuana for research. The bill makes appropriations of $226,000 for enforcement and legal compliance.

 

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Tennessee House Bill 1291

 

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House Bill 1291, Remove Marijuana Jurisdiction From ABC: Passed 30 to 0 in the state Senate on May 4, 2017.

 

To remove the Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s jurisdiction to enforce criminal offenses involving marijuana.

 

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Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383

 

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Senate Bill 383, Allow Some School Employees to Carry Firearms: Passed 28 to 22 in the state Senate on June 28, 2017.

 

To permit local boards of education to allow some school employees to carry firearms. These employees must be licensed to carry firearms and undergo a psychological examination.

 

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Tennessee Senate Bill 921

 

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Senate Bill 921, Legalize silencers: Passed 28 to 1 in the state Senate on April 3, 2017 and 74 to 18 in the state House on May 1, 2017

 

To remove the prohibition in state law on possessing a firearms silencer.

 

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Will the Feds Crack Down on Medical Marijuana?

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to go after your medical marijuana.

 

At least, he wants the discretion to do so. Currently, there is a restriction that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money from interfering with medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Congress placed this prohibition on the annual spending bill that funds the Department of Justice, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

 

According to a letter sent by Attorney General Sessions to members of Congress, the Trump Administration wants Congress to remove this restriction:

 

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein echoed his boss’s views. According to his recent testimony to Congress, “We follow the law and the science. From a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana it is an unlawful drug.”

 

There is also a policy within the Justice Department that gives guidelines on the steps that states can take to avoid federal prosecution of medical marijuana operations within their borders. However, the attorney general can revoke this guidance at any time.

 

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit medicinal use of marijuana. During past years, there has been strong bipartisan support in Congress for the prohibition on the Justice Department’s efforts to interfere with medical marijuana. There is no indication on what Congress will do this year, however.

 

Do you think that the federal government should refrain from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal? Or do you think that the Justice Department should enforce the federal marijuana prohibition, regardless of what state laws say?

 

Sanctuary Cities for Abortion?



The notion of “sanctuary cities,” where local officials do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, is well-known, if controversial. Now St. Louis is trying to set itself up as a sanctuary city for abortion. That has prompted a lot of controversy in Missouri.

 

Earlier this year, St. Louis passed an ordinance that prohibited an employer or a housing provider from discriminating against women for their “reproductive choices.” This means that an employer could not fire an employee because she got an abortion, but it also means that a pro-life family planning clinic would be forced to hire an applicant who was intending to have an abortion.

 

During their regular session this year, legislators attempted to pass a law that would have overturned the St. Louis ordinance. Such a bill cleared the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate. Governor Eric Greitens has called a special session of the legislature in another attempt to get a pre-emption law passed.

 

This special session has undertaken a wider agenda than just dealing with the St. Louis ordinance, however. Lawmakers are also considering bills that would impose a variety of restrictions on abortions, such as unannounced inspections of clinics and providing the attorney general power to prosecute abortion law violations.

 

It is unclear what, if any, legislation will come from the special session.

 

Do you support the concept of a “sanctuary city” for abortion? Or do you think that Missouri legislators are on the right track by imposing more restrictions on abortion?

 

Tennessee Senate Bill 1180

 

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Senate Bill 1180, Ban post-viability abortions: Passed 27 to 3 in the state Senate and 38 to 0 in the state House on May 3, 2017

 

To ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a doctor certifies that a fetus is not viable or that the procedure is necessary for the life or health of the mother.

 

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Nevada Assembly Bill 99

 

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Assembly Bill 99: Accommodating LGBTQ youth in the foster care system: Passed 26 to 15 in the state Assembly on March 9, 2017 and 18 to 2 in the state Senate on April 4, 2017

 

To revise statutes and require new regulations pertaining to the Nevada foster care system to require that  youth in out-of-home placements must be treated, in all respects, in accordance with the child's gender identity or expression, regardless of their assigned sex at birth.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 99!

 

Missouri House Bill 174

 

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House Bill 174, Protect pro-life speech and rights of conscience: Passed 105 to 44 in the state House on March 30, 2017

 

To prevent municipalities from limiting the rights of speech afforded to abortion-alternative providers, or requiring support of or participation in programs, services, or activities related to abortion if such participation is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such person.

 

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Michigan House Bill 4416

 

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House Bill 4416, Allow law-abiding citizens to carry pistol without special permit: Passed 59 to 49 in the state House on May 7, 2017

 

To establish that a law-abiding citizen may carry a concealed pistol in public. In other words, the bill would eliminate the requirement that an individual who is not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm must get a special permit to carry a concealed pistol.

 

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A Right to Try Experimental Drugs

 

If you have a terminal illness, what types of drugs should be available to you? Should you have the right to try medicine that has proven to be safe, but has not yet met federal standards of effectiveness?

 

That is the question that is behind the debate over “right to try laws.” These laws would allow patients with a terminal illness to have access to experimental medication, as long as their use is supervised by a doctor.

 

Thirty-three states have passed “right to try” laws. The Alaska House of Representatives passed legislation this year, as did both houses in the Iowa legislature. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island, are considering similar bills.

 

Supporters of this legislation say that patients who are facing death should have the right to try any medication that could possibly cure their disease or prolong their life. Critics contend that these laws give patients false hope and could possibly interfere with drug trials.

 

Congress is also considering federal legislation that would have more impact than state bills. As a federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration is not subject to state authority. That means that state laws do not have a direct impact on whether or not patients can obtain this medication.

 

President Trump has expressed support for this effort. When he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence signed a “right to try” bill into law.

 

Regardless of the controversy in the medical community or the practical impact, “right to try” laws garner strong bipartisan support in the states where they are considered. With health care a hot topic in Washington, D.C., we could see action on a national bill this year.

 

Do you support “right to try” legislation?

 

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