By Dave Andrusko
A nonprofit maternity home, a Catholic elementary school, and a businessman filed a lawsuit against St. Louis Ordinance 70459, which prohibits any organization, church or business from hiring or firing employees—even excluding from membership in the case of churches—on the bases of what the Ordinance refers to as “reproductive health decisions or pregnancy status.” That requirement, opponents maintained, amounted to forcing pro-life entities to support and even fund abortions of their own employees.
Over the weekend Our Lady’s Inn Maternity Homes, the Archdiocese of St. Louis Elementary Schools, and business owner Frank O’Brien were vindicated. On September 30, Federal District Judge Audrey Fleissig held that First Amendment and state religious freedom rights were violated when the city passed Ordinance 70459.
Judge Flessig “found that the ordinance violated the First Amendment rights of Our Lady’s Inn and the Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis by compelling the pregnant women’s home and the group of Catholic grade schools ‘to employ or house individuals who advocate for or perform abortions,’ practices that are contrary to the missions of both organizations,” according to the Thomas More Society which represented all of the litigants.
“Additionally, Judge Fleissig found that the ordinance was unlawful as applied to Frank O’Brien, CEO of O’Brien Industrial Holdings, because it interfered with his ‘exercise of religion’ under the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the Thomas More Society said in a press release.
Proponents of 70459 argued that the Ordinance was needed to protect abortion advocates from discrimination. “This law that claims to protect abortion supporters from discrimination is actually an attempt to suppress the viewpoint of those who believe that abortion is harmful or wrong by making it impossible for them to operate in accordance with their beliefs within the City of St. Louis,” said Thomas More Society special counsel Sarah Pitlyk.
“We are especially pleased with the Court’s acknowledgement that there is no evidence whatsoever of the kind of discrimination that this ordinance purports to address, because it exposes the law for the sham that it is. It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to vindicate the fundamental rights of St. Louis citizens, but the St. Louis Board of Aldermen has now been made aware that it is unconstitutional to require pro-life organizations to hire or rent property to abortion proponents, and that it is illegal to require pro-life employers to include abortion coverage in their employee health plans.”