By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, August 4, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) filed a friend of the court brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to overturn the U.S. District Court’s decision that restricted the religious liberty of the Alabama based Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in their case Eternal Word Television Network v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Alabama was the lead state in this brief, which was joined by the States of Florida and Georgia.
AG Strange said in a written statement, “I am proud to continue standing with EWTN to oppose this unconscionable mandate against its fundamental religious beliefs and liberties,” said Attorney General Strange. “I am committed to protect freedom of religion, which is our ‘first freedom’ under the U.S. Constitution. This is a basic right that the people of Alabama have enshrined in our own constitution as well. No one can be forced to offer a product that is against one’s religious beliefs or conscience.”
AG Strange has asked the Court to protect the religious liberty of Alabama citizens and religious non-profit ministries by reversing the district court’s ruling requiring EWTN and as a not-for-profit religious organization to comply with the Obamacare HHS mandate to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drug coverage in its employees’ health insurance plans. This appeal is in the wake of the landmark Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court verdict which ruled that the owners of a closely held corporation could not be forced to pay for abortifacient drugs which violate their moral and religious teachings.
Alabama, joined by Florida and Georgia, is asking the appeals court to “follow the Supreme Court’s lead and binding precedent” as set forth in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby “to conclude that the contraception mandate, as enforced through the federal government’s regulations, imposes a substantial burden on EWTN.” The brief asserts that “all three states have strong constitutional and statutory protections for religious freedom,” and “have a strong interest in maintaining the very broad protections for religious liberty in the federal RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act).”
In AG Strange’s statement he says that the brief argues that “religious freedom is a fundamental part of our society” and “states have an interest in creating a climate where diverse businesses and nonprofits, helmed by people of various faiths, thrive and create jobs.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently explained in the Hobby Lobby case that “citizens do not forfeit this freedom by participating in business.” The brief further argues that the district court incorrectly applied (failed to consider) whether the government had a compelling interest and whether it used the least restrictive means to further that interest. Therefore, the States argue, the lower court ruling should be reversed.
In Burwell versus Hobby Lobby the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in a 5 to 4 ruling that forcing Hobby Lobby to provide abortions inducing drugs as part of their employee’s healthcare coverage was illegal because it violated federal statutes guaranteeing the freedom of religion. Following that ruling, EWTN was granted injunctive relief by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The injunction preventing the government from enforcing their controversial Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive services mandate against the Network. The appeals court released its twenty-nine page decision to allow the injunction only hours after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the landmark Hobby Lobby case. The injunction allows EWTN to continue its court challenge of the mandate without incurring the fines of $35,000 per day that would have begun on July 1.
EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Michael P. Warsaw said then, “This has been a very good day for religious liberty in America. The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a great affirmation of the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression. While the Hobby Lobby decision did not directly resolve EWTN’s case, this afternoon’s injunction from the appellate court allows us to press forward without facing the government’s crushing fines.”
Chairman Warsaw said, “As we have said repeatedly, contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and voluntary sterilization are not health care and the government should not force EWTN to provide them as part of our employer-sponsored health plan. The Hobby Lobby decision recognizes that business owners don’t give up their religious freedom when they start a business. The fact that the Supreme Court believes that the government has an obligation to use the least restrictive means of accomplishing its goals is very helpful to the EWTN case. EWTN has raised similar arguments with regard to the government’s ‘accommodation’ scheme for faith-based organizations. We are both relieved and encouraged by the action taken by the courts today and look forward to making our case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming months.”
EWTN the Alabama based Global Catholic Network is a Catholic TV cable network that is available in over 230 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories. EWTN also provides direct broadcast satellite television and radio services on: AM & FM radio networks, short-wave radio, and the internet at www.ewtn.com. EWTN is also the owner of the ‘National Catholic Register’ that is part of its electronic and print news services, and publishing arm. EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world. Despite the non-profit religious evangelical nature of EWTN’s work the U.S. Government has steadfastly maintained that EWTN and similar religious affiliated employers are not exempt from the HHS mandate that all employers provide 20 different forms of contraceptives including abortion inducing drugs. Hobby Lobby only objected to four of the twenty drugs and procedures on that list.
The Obama Administration mandate requires most employers to either provide or facilitate employee insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions. As an organization founded to uphold the Catholic faith, EWTN objected to providing or facilitating these products and practices, which violate the teaching of the Catholic Church. Hundreds of other employers have filed lawsuits across the country charging that the mandate violates federal and constitutional protections of religious freedom.
EWTN initially filed a lawsuit against the mandate in early 2012. That suit was dismissed on technical grounds in March 2013. The current lawsuit was filed in October 2013. On June 17, U.S. District Court Judge Callie V.S. Granade of Mobile, Ala. ruled against EWTN before the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The appeal will be heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
AG Strange said, “As Attorney General of Alabama, I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Hobby Lobby in opposing the contraception coverage mandate which violates the most deeply held religious beliefs of business owners.”
AG Strange continued, “Alabama has a history of safeguarding our freedom of religion. In 1998, we were the first state to amend our constitution through popular referendum to forbid the state from burdening the free exercise of religion unless there was no other way to accomplish a compelling state interest. If the federal government believes free contraception is vital, then surely it can find another way to implement it than by forcing family businesses and religious broadcasters and others to violate their religious beliefs.”
Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case
The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.
Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.
The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.
According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.
Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.
“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”
Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.
Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.
As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.
Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.
According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”
He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”
These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.
Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.
An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.
According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.
During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.
In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.
Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.
Just so y’all know, Gasp made this possible. We were the ones whose presentation was shared by Glenn and Phillips. We paid for the exhibits in PACER so we could piece this story together. We did the leg work and the organizing. We need your support to keep doing it! https://t.co/5ubmIMciEQ
— GASP (@gaspgroup) November 13, 2018
Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.
While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.
Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.
Alabama Constable Association: Amendment 2 could defund constables statewide
Amendment 2, if approved, would delete language protecting how constables are funded statewide.
If Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot is approved by Alabama voters, it could pave the way for an end to an office in Alabama with a history in the U.S. that dates back to the 17th century, according to the Alabama Constable Association.
Chauncey Wood III, president of the Alabama Constables Association, reached by phone Monday, referred a reporter to a pending press release from the association. Jonathan Barbee, constable for Jefferson County and the association’s spokesman, said in the statement Monday that the association is concerned with several aspects of Amendment 2.
If approved, the amendment would process numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the chief justice, to appoint the administrative director of courts.
It would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would allow the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. The amendment would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.
Amendment 2 would also “delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office,” and Barbee, in his statement, explained that the amendment could defund Constables statewide if counties chose to do so.
“Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers,” Barbee said. “The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide.”
In Alabama, constables are elected peace officers and act in many of the same ways as do sheriff’s deputies. They’re able to make arrests, serve court papers and provide security for parades, funerals and the like.
Amendment 2 was sponsored by Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Orr, in a message to APR on Monday, said that the portion of the amendment dealing with constables was drafted by an Alabama Law Institute committee, headed at the time by the institute’s deputy director at the time, Clay Hornsby. Orr referred questions about the matter to Hornsby.
David Kimberley, acting deputy director of the Alabama Legislative Services Agency’s Law Institute, told APR that he took over as acting deputy director since Hornsby’s departure on Aug. 1.
If the amendment is approved by voters, Kimberley said that a county that wants to keep their constable can do so, but that the amendment is an acknowledgement that there are few constables left in the state and it’s approaching becoming “an archaic position or office.”
“It was noted that only 24 out of the 67 counties currently have constables. Most of all the services of constables are duplicated sheriff’s deputies,” Kimberley said. “And it was essentially just an acknowledgement of what seemed to be a gradual phase out of this office in the state of Alabama.”
Read Barbee’s full statement below:
The Alabama Constables Association has joined other law enforcement and conservative groups in urging voters to vote “NO” on Amendment 2 in the general election on November 3rd.
Constable Jonathan Barbee, the Association’s Public Information Officer, said in a statement:
“We’re very concerned about several of the parts of Amendment 2, starting with the overall size and complexity of the Amendment. Typically, proposed constitutional amendments deal with only one or at most a few issues. Amendment 2 proposes SIX different changes to the State Judicial System, some of which drastically change the way we do things in Alabama.
“Amendment 2 could harm small communities by allowing county district courts to discontinue having municipal courts in cities with populations of less than 1,000. Municipal courts are typically held at night, making it easier for working people to attend. Without these small municipal courts, residents would have to spend most of a day at the county seat, losing a day of work or being forced to burn a vacation day for something that now is usually settled in an evening. It also indirectly attacks and defunds the Police departments of these towns, because their city courts are a significant source of revenue to help keep Officers on patrol. This part of Amendment 2 strikes at our small communities, drawing power to the larger county seats.
“Amendment 2 also removes the ability of the Legislature to impeach Judges, making the unelected, unaccountable to the people, Court of the Judiciary as the only body that can remove a Judge from the bench. Every citizen in Alabama should be concerned about this, because it effectively takes away their ability, acting through their elected representatives in the Legislature, to remove a bad Judge from their position.
“Amendment 2 allows Judges to continue working when complaints are filed against them with the Judicial Inquiry Commission. We understand that automatically removing a Judge just because a complaint has been filed can lead to problems and abuses of the system, but these can be settled in a timely manner by the JIC. The alternative, which Amendment 2 will create, would allow Judges who need to be removed to continue hearing cases, and give them a legal basis for fighting their removal. We believe this has the potential for much more serious problems to arise within our courts.
“Amendment 2 could also defund Constables by removing our ability to serve as Constables while also working in another position with the State or County. Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers. The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide. This could effectively defund the Office of Constable statewide, which removes the protection and services Constables provide in their communities at no cost to the taxpayers of Alabama. Over the last year, at least two Constables were responsible for saving several lives during medical emergencies, Constables in Jefferson County have been helping with traffic control and schools, and one Constable assisted with a large drug interdiction arrest. We feel this is an unnecessary and unwarranted attack on the oldest elected law enforcement position in the nation.
“There are other problems with this Amendment. Amendment 2 mandates that the entire Alabama Supreme Court, instead of the Chief Justice, appoint the Administrative Director of Courts. It would be a change from having a single elected, accountable official being responsible for this appointment to having it done by committee. Once the Administrator is appointed they could, in fact, serve a lifetime appointment. Amendment #2 would also remove the ability of Alabama’s elected Lieutenant Governor to appoint one member of the Court of the Judiciary, giving that ability and more control to the Governor, who already appoints two members.
“Many of these points are not easy to find, because the forces behind this Amendment have purposefully omitted them from the official documentation provided to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. If for no other reason than this deliberate obfuscation of the true contents of this Amendment, it should be voted down. The people of Alabama deserve better than this attempt by special interests to radically change how our state’s Judicial system works, mostly as a smokescreen to hide how they will use it to protect bad Judges, inconvenience small-town residents, and make citizens across the state less safe.
“We urge the voters of Alabama to vote ‘NO’ on Amendment 2.”
Tropical Storm Zeta keeps tracking toward the Gulf Coast
Its present forecast track takes it into the northern Gulf of Mexico to impact the Louisiana gulf coast as a category one hurricane.
Tropical Storm Zeta is currently in the Gulf after impacting the Yucatán Peninsula. It is currently forecast to impact the Gulf Coast on Wednesday. Currently, the maximum sustained winds are 70 miles per hour.
Zeta is moving to the northwest at 14 miles per hour. Its present forecasted track takes it into the northern Gulf of Mexico and impacts the Louisiana gulf coast near Grand Isle, Louisiana, as a category one hurricane. It will continue on to Mississippi and Alabama, bringing rainfall and isolated severe weather to much of the state.
While Zeta is not currently forecast to come ashore on the Alabama Gulf Coast, hurricanes do move and take different routes, and that is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Residents of Baldwin and Mobile Counties are advised to watch the weather very closely and have their hurricane plan updated and handy.
ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann said, “Most of the rain is displaced to the north and east of the center once inland, and the risk of isolated tornadoes is south of the track.”
Mobile and Baldwin counties are under a tropical storm watch. The tropical storm watch extends east to the Walton-Okaloosa county line in the Florida Panhandle.
Spann warned that winds could gust to 50 miles per hour along the Alabama coast on Wednesday and Wednesday night, and to 45 miles per hour at places like Pensacola and Navarre Beach. Inland, winds up to 45 miles per hour are possible across parts of Southwest and Central Alabama Wednesday night.
Spann said that a few trees could be blown down, but major tree and power line damage is not expected. A few isolated tornadoes are possible over the southern half of Alabama Wednesday night. A “marginal risk” has been defined.
Stay away from the water, because dangerous rip currents are likely along the coast from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The rain amounts will be the heaviest across Southwest Alabama, where three to four inches are expected. Most other parts of Alabama will see one to three inches. Major flooding issues are not expected since Zeta is expected to move along quickly out of the state.
Spann said that for most of Alabama, the significant rain will be over by mid-morning Thursday. The Alabama Gulf Coast is still recovering from Hurricane Sally, which came ashore near Gulf Shores in September.
Opinion | Want to reduce abortions? Vote for Democrats
As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. But better health care can.
With polls last week showing the race between incumbent Sen. Doug Jones and Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville tightening a bit, and with continued long lines outside voting precincts in heavily Democratic areas, the Alabama GOP, and its paid mouthpieces, have turned to their favorite talking point: abortion.
By the end of last week, to hear them tell it, Jones would be sacrificing live babies on Nancy Pelosi’s gold-plated kitchen table as Chuck Schumer looked on and AOC sharpened the knives.
In ad after ad and planted story after planted story and social media post after social media post, they went on and on about “live birth abortions” — as if there is such a thing — and accusations that Jones supports abortion “up to the point of birth.”
It’s so silly and childish that it’s hard to envision such gibberish actually affecting the way any sane adult would vote, but then, that’s the beauty of the abortion issue — sanity, reason and facts took a hike a long, long time ago, and we’re now left with only raw emotion.
The fact is the Alabama GOP — and the national Republican Party — has been responsible for millions more abortions and baby deaths than any Democrat or any Democratic policy.
Jones, and his policies, would prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions in this state going forward.
No, that’s not an opinion. That’s a fact that I can support with actual data.
As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. This has been proven over and over again in country after country, where full bans have been implemented.
Instead, when bans are implemented, desperate women turn to unsafe, back-alley abortions that often lead to the deaths of both mother and fetus. Findings from a 30-year Guttmacher Institute, released in July, show that abortion rates remain steady in countries where the procedures are legal and in the countries where they are banned or partially banned.
In fact, the rates were often higher in countries with a ban in place.
But you know where the rates aren’t steady? America.
You know why? Obamacare.
Over the last 10 years, abortion rates have dipped to historic lows. That decline can be traced directly to Obamacare, which allows women to receive covered contraceptive care, which prevent pregnancies in the first place.
A study from the University of Michigan in 2017 found that abortion rates dropped more than 10 percent among college-aged women following the passage of Obamacare, which, in addition to the contraceptive coverage, also allowed young people to remain on their parents’ health insurance longer.
Overall, across the county, abortions decreased by more than 200,000 between 2010 and 2017. The abortion rate plummeted to its lowest level since the procedure was legalized in 1973.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. They decreased across the country except for four states — North Carolina, Mississippi, Wyoming and Georgia. Care to guess what happened in those states? They each implemented some level of an abortion ban during that time period.
But Obamacare isn’t the only Democratic policy that has reduced abortions.
In Colorado, where state officials began a push to market free contraceptive care and also allowed pharmacists in the state to write prescriptions for birth control, abortion rate declines have exceeded the national average.
Teen birth rates in Colorado are down a whopping 59 percent over the last 10 years. And teen abortion rates are down more than 60 percent in that span.
Know where else they’re not down? Alabama.
We’re top five in teen pregnancy and teen birth rates in the country. We’re also top five for births by unwed mothers, low birth weights, pre-term births and infant mortality.
Yet, these same Republicans who line up to talk about the sanctity of life have resisted both Obamacare implementation — refusing to participate in the marketplace and make care more affordable for citizens — and Medicaid expansion, which would provide coverage for about 200,000 poor, working Alabamians.
They have resisted better sex education programs in schools — we still require abstinence-only programs — and refused to fund programs that would make contraceptives free and widely available.
These programs and policies have proven to reduce abortions and save lives. They’ve proven to provide women with decent care and support, instead of shame and ridicule.
These are the policies that Jones and Alabama Democrats support. They’re the policies that the GOP have tried repeatedly to kill or block. Which means, if it’s the reduction of abortions and saving human lives that you care about, there’s one obvious choice to make. Vote for Democrats.