Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo is an operating room nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. When the hospital hired her in 2004 she signed a form indicating her unwillingness to assist in abortions. She alleges that the hospital caused her severe emotional harm by forcing her on May 24, 2009, to assist in a late-term abortion. After she filed a grievance with the hospital, her supervisors allegedly tried to coerce her to sign a form indicating future willingness to assist in emergency abortions.
Cenzon-DeCarlo filed suit against the hospital under the "Church Amendment" (named after its original sponsor, Sen. Frank Church), which prohibits entities that receive federal health funding from discriminating against any healthcare professional for refusing to perform or assist in abortions. But in December the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit barred her suit, finding that the Church Amendment cannot be used to sue the federally funded hospital. The right to file suit must be provided by Congress, and the circuit court's reading of the law failed to find any such right.
Under the New Hampshire School Patriot Act, all public schools must set aside time for students to recite voluntarily the Pledge of Allegiance. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, as well as two Hanover, N.H., parents, challenged this statute as a violation of the First and 14th Amendments. They said the statute forced religion on students, because the pledge contains the words "under God." Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit rejected this claim. The Court found that, despite the pledge's reference to God, the purpose of the statute is to encourage patriotism, not endorse religion. Moreover, students may choose whether to participate in the recitation.
In 2006 the Town of Parker wanted to annex Parker North, a 300-home neighborhood south of Denver. Several residents objected by distributing postcards titled "No Annexation." The group raised less than $1,000 for this outreach effort. Annexation proponents filed suit, claiming the "No" group failed to file as an "issue committee" in accordance with Colorado's campaign finance law. Specifically, the law requires issue committees to register publicly and disclose any contributions greater than $20. (An issue committee is any small group-two or more members-spending more than $200 on yard signs and fliers.) "No" group members challenged this law as a violation of their free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed, finding that Colorado's campaign finance law acts as a silencer, rather than encourager, of free speech. The court found the government's interest in holding fair elections is not sufficient to stifle the free speech rights of small interest groups, such as the homeowners involved here. The court found it "unlikely that the Colorado voters who approved the disclosure requirements . . . were thinking of the No Annexation committee."
Lauren Sneed is a lawyer living in Austin, Texas