Monday, January 21, 2019

Artistic freedom at heart of case Arizona Supreme Court will hear Tuesday

Phoenix, AZ - January 21, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Under threat of up to six months jail time, two artists will be at the Arizona Supreme Court Tuesday seeking to stop a sweeping Phoenix criminal law that forces them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs. Artists Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, and their attorney who will argue before the court on their behalf, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, will hold a press conference following the oral arguments.

The civil liberties lawsuit, Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, challenges the ordinance because Phoenix interprets its law in a way that illegally controls artistic expression and disregards religious liberty—violating the freedom of Duka and Koski to choose which messages they will convey and refrain from conveying consistent with their beliefs.

“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create art that violates their beliefs,” said Scruggs. “Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don’t promote all messages. They, like all creative professionals, should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment. Instead, government must protect the freedom of artists to choose which messages to express through their own creations. Because the Arizona Constitution protects the freedom of creative professionals to choose for themselves what art they will create, we are asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Joanna and Breanna. If we want to have freedom and tolerance for ourselves, we need to extend it to others.”

“Courts have long recognized individuals’ right ‘to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster…an idea they find morally objectionable…,” the most recent brief ADF attorneys filed with the Arizona Supreme Court explains. “Yet Phoenix tramples that right when it requires a calligrapher to pick up her pen and a painter her brush, and then, under threat of jail and crippling fines, forces them to conceive and then create original artwork expressing messages that violate their core religious convictions. Such government compulsion violates the fundamental liberty ‘to refrain from speaking….’”

“Phoenix says this liberty is novel and dangerous; it is actually narrow and unexceptional…,” the brief continues. “And Joanna and Breanna, the artists and owners of Brush & Nib Studio, are entitled to exercise it. These women of deep religious faith gladly serve everyone, including those in the LGBT community; their faith simply prevents them from expressing certain messages for anyone. So this case is not about whether businesses can decline to serve an entire class of people. It is about whether artists can freely choose which messages their own art conveys.”

Duka and Koski specialize in creating custom artwork using hand painting, hand lettering, and calligraphy to celebrate weddings and other events. The women’s religious convictions guide them in determining which messages they can and cannot promote through their custom artwork.

Phoenix interprets its ordinance, City Code Section 18-4(B), in a way that forces artists, like Duka and Koski, to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs, even when they decide what art they create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics. It also bans them from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and cannot create consistent with their faith. The law threatens up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that there is a violation.

Numerous state attorneys general, Arizona lawmakers, various scholars, and a diverse array of business, artistic, and faith-based groups last month filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Arizona Supreme Court in support of Duka and Koski and preserving artistic and religious freedom.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

Bipartisan Legislation To Protect Privacy of Consumers’ Online Data Introduced

Washington, D.C. - January 21, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Social Media Privacy and Consumer Rights Act, bipartisan legislation that will protect the privacy of consumers’ online data. The legislation will improve transparency, strengthen consumers’ recourse options when a breach of data occurs and ensure companies are compliant with privacy policies that protect consumers.

“I don’t want to regulate Facebook or any private social media company, but these platforms continue to compromise their users’ private data,” Kennedy said. “Our legislation reinforces data privacy standards and requires these companies to be transparent with how they are using our private information. In today’s world, private data is the equivalent of our personal identities, and companies need to know that they’ll be held accountable when they violate the public’s trust and compromise our private information. Our legislation does just that.”

“Every day, companies profit off of the data they’re collecting from Americans, yet leave consumers completely in the dark about how their personal information, online behavior and private messages are being used. Consumers should have the right to control their personal data,” Klobuchar said. “Our legislation would ensure that companies use plain language to explain to consumers how their data is being used, allow consumers to opt out of certain data tracking and collection, and require companies to notify consumers of privacy violations within 72 hours of a breach.”

Social media and other online platforms routinely capture users’ behavior and personal information, which is then used to help advertisers or other third parties target those users. Kennedy and Klobuchar’s legislation would protect the privacy of consumers’ online data. Specifically, the Social Media Privacy and Consumer Rights Act would:

  • Give consumers the right to opt out and keep their information private by disabling data tracking and collection,
  • Provide users greater access to and control over their data,
  • Require terms of service agreements to be in plain language,
  • Ensure users have the ability to see what information about them has already been collected and shared,
  • Mandate that users be notified of a breach of their information within 72 hours,
  • Offer remedies for users when a breach occurs,
  • Require that online platforms have a privacy program in place.

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    Washington, D.C. - January 21, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., have helped introduce the Protect Medicaid Act (S.131), which would prevent states from using federal resources to expand Medicaid services to illegal immigrants.

    Wicker and Hyde-Smith are original cosponsors of the legislation (S.131), which was authored by Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.).

    “American taxpayers should not be responsible for providing health care to those who are in our country illegally,” Wicker said. “If states like New York or California want to provide their own funds to support unauthorized immigrants, they should shoulder the full administrative cost of providing these services.”

    “The law is the law, and this bill would stop states from circumventing the law to offer Medicaid benefits to illegal immigrants,” Hyde-Smith said. “This is a matter of fairness to states, like Mississippi, that follow the law and dedicate Medicaid resources to their citizens.”

    Federal law already bars illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid, but states like New York and California have attracted attention in recent months for using state funds to expand Medicaid coverage to unauthorized immigrants. These states effectively subsidize their programs with federal dollars by not counting the high administrative costs of providing Medicaid to millions of additional individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for support.

    The legislation also requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General to produce a report addressing:

  • Whether states that provide Medicaid services to illegal immigrants separate federal and state dollars;
  • Whether states providing health benefits to illegal immigrants use methods of financing their state programs that would violate federal law; and
  • The extent to which unauthorized immigrants benefit from covered outpatient drugs purchased under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program and the 340B program, and whether this impacts the prices American citizens pay.

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    Grassley, Ernst, Colleagues Reintroduce 20-Week Abortion Ban

    Washington, D.C. - January 21, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Iowa’s U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst today joined colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee in reintroducing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

    The legislation would provide commonsense protections for unborn children at 20 weeks after fertilization, a point at which there is significant scientific evidence that abortion inflicts tremendous pain on the unborn.

    Earlier this week, Grassley and Ernst joined colleagues in an effort to end taxpayer funding for abortions.

    The Pain-Capable legislation has been introduced in the last three Congresses.

    “Science tells us that an unborn child has many of the neural connections needed to feel pain perhaps as early as eight weeks and most certainly by 20 weeks fetal age. And the American people overwhelmingly support restrictions on late-term abortions. That’s for good reason. One Iowan, Micah Pickering, was born early at 20 weeks. Today Micah is living proof that just 20 weeks can create a beautiful human life. This bill will help make sure that other human lives also have a chance,” Grassley said.

    “At five months, we know that babies can yawn, make faces, wiggle their ten fingers and ten toes and feel pain. Sadly, the United States is only one of a handful of countries around the world—including North Korea and China—where on-demand abortions after the five month mark are legal. This isn’t right. I am committed to defending these innocent lives,” Ernst said.

    Background on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act:

    At the age of 20 weeks post-fertilization, scientific evidence demonstrates that an unborn child can feel pain. Anesthesia is administered directly to the unborn child in second-trimester fetal surgery. The unborn child shows physical, chemical, brain and stress responses demonstrating pain at this stage of development.

    The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based in science, has overwhelming public support, and is necessary to protect unborn children from painful and untimely deaths. Advances in modern medicine help babies born at 20, 21 and 22 weeks post-fertilization survive outside the womb. The pain these babies feel outside the womb gives evidence to the pain their unborn counterparts feel while in utero.

    The United States is one of only seven countries that allows on-demand abortions past 20 weeks. The other six are North Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Canada and the Netherlands. Pain-Capable legislation has already passed in South Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Arizona.

    Ultrasounds show unborn babies at 20 weeks sucking their thumb, yawning, stretching and making faces.

    Summary of Provisions:

    The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would make it illegal for any person to perform, or attempt to perform, an abortion without first making a determination of the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child.

    If the post-fertilization age of the unborn child is determined to be 20 weeks or greater, an abortion shall not be performed, unless –

  • It is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman;
  • The pregnancy is a result of rape and the woman has received medical treatment or counseling at least 48 hours prior to the abortion; or if she chooses to do so, has made a report to law enforcement; or
  • The pregnancy is a result of rape or incest against a minor and the abuse is reported to either social services or law enforcement.

  • In the case of the exceptions –

  • The abortion may only proceed in a manner that provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive unless that would pose a greater risk of death or serious bodily injury to the pregnant woman; and
  • The abortion provider must receive informed consent from the pregnant woman, certifying that she has been provided the child’s gestational age, a description of the law, and her rights under the law.
  • A woman on whom an abortion was performed in violation of this Act may bring a civil action against the abortion provider in court to recover damages.

  • Abortion doctors are required to submit annual data to the National Center for Health and Statistics providing statistical information about abortions carried out after 20 weeks post-fertilization age.

    The criminal punishment for a violation of this Act by a provider is imprisonment of up to five years, fines, or both.

    The bill makes clear that a woman who receives an illegal abortion in violation of this act may not be prosecuted.

    The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Cornyn of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, James Risch of Idaho, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rob Portman of Ohio, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Mike Braun of Indiana, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Boozman of Arkansas, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, David Perdue of Georgia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Steve Daines of Montana, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and John Thune of South Dakota.

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    Ernst: A bipartisan plan that includes a secure border will not only reopen the government, but also put the wellbeing of American citizens first

    Washington, D.C. - January 21, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Following President Trump’s proposed compromise to end the partial government shutdown, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) issued the following statement:

    “Hardworking Iowans, and Americans across the country, are sick of government shutdowns and dysfunction in Washington. Americans want their elected officials to work together to solve the toughest problems facing our country – from our border security and immigration challenges to our broken budget and appropriations process.

    “Our lack of border security has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of illegal and inadmissible immigrants on our southern border every month. At the same time, many young, undocumented children were brought here by parents, caretakers, and so forth through no fault of their own. We should show compassion toward these now young men and women and pursue a measured approach that addresses their unique situation, while also respecting our immigration laws and discouraging future illegal immigration.

    “I agree with President Trump and many of my colleagues that securing our southern border is a key part of a system to discourage illegal immigration and curb human trafficking and the transport of illegal weapons and drugs – in addition to the ability of gangs and terrorists to exploit the holes in our system.

    “We have an opportunity to pass a bipartisan immigration bill. The deal President Trump has put on the table is one that both Democrats and Republicans can support. A bipartisan plan that includes a secure border will not only reopen the government, but also put the wellbeing of American citizens first.”

    U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) released the following statement after President Donald Trump announced his proposal to secure the border and end the partial government shutdown:

    “I appreciate the president putting forward a reasonable proposal containing bipartisan ideas to secure our border and reopen government. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will take the time to review the details of it before rushing to judgment and I look forward to debating it on the Senate floor next week.”

    Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) made the following statement regarding President Trump’s plan:

    “The government must be reopened. This proposal recognizes that need and is an offshoot of earlier efforts to tie border security funding to immigration reform, but on a smaller scale for both. This is a reasonable proposal – no one gets everything they want. No one gets as much as they wanted. More than anything, though, this proposal does open the government and boost border security. While some may be tempted to stay crouched in their partisan corners, I hope a majority in Congress realize that compromise is a keystone of government and accept this offer.”

    Other statements include:

    Senator John Hoeven (R - ND) -- “The President outlined a common-sense proposal to strengthen border security and reopen the government. The President’s plan provides vital resources to secure the border, including funding for the wall, as well as technology and additional border patrol agents and security professionals. At the same time, it would address the humanitarian crisis at the border and provide temporary relief for DACA recipients. These are provisions that our colleagues across the aisle have supported in the past. Congress should pass this proposal as soon as possible.”

    Senator James M. Inhofe (R - OK) -- “President Trump has put forward a reasonable plan that prioritizes border security, including a wall, addresses the growing humanitarian crisis at our border and makes real reforms to our broken immigration system and abused asylum process. I look forward to supporting this legislation that includes bipartisan priorities to reopen the government quickly. Democrats are once again faced with a choice—to continue to play politics and block real solutions or to finally work with us to secure our border.”

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