While most attention is focused on the presidential race and Republican hopes to oust President Obama from office, some significant steps were taken last week on issues dear to the hearts of conservatives.
In Texas, a federal appeals court upheld the state's sonogram law, which requires that women seeking abortions view a picture of their baby before having the procedure. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, which had issued an injunction, preventing the law from taking effect. The decision allows the state to begin enforcing the law, mandating doctors to give pregnant women "truthful, non-misleading and relevant" disclosures before they have an abortion.
The appellate court logically said, "The State's interest in respect for life is advanced by the dialogue that better informs the political and legal systems, the medical profession, expectant mothers, and society as a whole of the consequences that follow from a decision to elect a late-term abortion."
Full disclosure for women should be a winning issue for Republican presidential candidates.
Elsewhere on the social issues front, a Marion Superior Court judge in Indiana upheld that state's school voucher law. Judge Michael Keele rejected arguments from opponents that the nation's largest school voucher program is unconstitutional because parents might send their children to religious schools.
Judge Keele ruled that since scholarship vouchers are given to parents, who then decide which school best serves their children, the state does not directly fund private religious schools. About 4,000 children are currently enrolled in Indiana's voucher program.
Then there is the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. At issue was whether a church or religious organization could hire and fire ministers according to their theological beliefs and teachings. The Obama administration had argued that the plaintiff, Cheryl Perich, a teacher, was discriminated against when she tried to get her job back at the church's school in Redford, Mich., following a medical leave. When the school refused to dismiss Perich's temporary replacement and rehire her, she filed an employment discrimination claim, which violated Lutheran doctrine that says, "disputes over ministry should be resolved (internally) ... and not by civil courts."
The Supreme Court did not rule on whether Perich was wrongfully terminated, but instead on whether she had the right to sue at all for employment discrimination. In ruling, the Court upheld what is known as a "ministerial exception," which allows religious bodies to make their own personnel rules in order to promote their religious beliefs without government interference. The Obama administration had argued the church enjoys no special protection under anti-discrimination laws. In its unanimous ruling, the Court rejected that argument as "untenable."
It will be interesting to see if the "ministerial exception" can be extended to the Obama healthcare law in the event it withstands constitutional challenge. A decision is expected this spring. The Health and Human Services Department, under the pro-choice Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is trying to require that health insurance policies include contraceptive and abortion services. Churches will supposedly be exempt from this requirement, but other religious organizations like universities and hospitals will not be.
As Matthew J. Franck wrote last week in the Catholic scholarly publication First Things, "The only "religious exception" offered so far by the Department of Health and Human Services to its contraceptive coverage mandate is an exemption so narrow, for religious organizations that employ and serve only their own co-religionists, that even the ministry of Jesus would not qualify."
There is the potential for further advancement on life and education issues if the Republican presidential candidates talk of informed choice when it comes to abortion and education for children fortunate enough to have been born.
That is, if they are smart enough to do so.