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Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 2023


WORLD Radio - Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 2023

Highs and lows from reporting on abortion, religious liberty, and from the sexuality, marriage, and family beat

U.S. Supreme Court building Associated Press Photo by Mariam Zuhaib (file)

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 26th of December, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

First up: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With 2023 almost in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to talk about some of the biggest stories of the year, and what they mean going into 2024.

REICHARD: Joining us now are three of our beat reporters: Leah Savas, who covers life, Steve West who covers religious liberty, and Juliana Chan Erickson who covers marriage, family, and sexuality.

So let’s start with the headlines. Now, it’s hard to pick one story as the biggest of the year, but if you had to, what would it be? Leah, let’s start with you on the life beat.

LEAH SAVAS: Sure. I guess this could just be coming to my mind because it was pretty recent. But I would say the biggest story of the year was the Kate Cox case. And that’s the that’s the woman who sued Texas for permission to abort her baby, after doctors diagnosed the baby with trisomy 18. So I just think it was an especially big story because it’s a first of its kind lawsuit. In post-Roe America, women have sued their state since Dobbs over past pregnancy experiences and they’re arguing, you know, that they should have been allowed to get abortions because of pregnancy complications or a poor diagnosis for the baby. But the Cox case was a little different in that it was one woman going to court while she was pregnant, looking for permission to abort the babies she was currently pregnant with and she wasn’t one of those women who faced legitimate threats to her health. So we got to see the pro-abortion argument that the normal risks of pregnancy and of labor and delivery should be reason enough for a woman to be able to get an abortion. And I think we’ll probably see more lawsuits like this one.

REICHARD: Alright. How about you, Steve on the religious liberty beat?

STEVE WEST: Well I really found that was a tough assignment, Mary! Because you know normally, I’d go with a US Supreme Court ruling. And I really can’t help but mention 303 Creative versus Elenis. And that was that case about Lorie Smith who’s a website designer in Colorado, and the court said that she couldn’t be compelled under a Colorado anti discrimination law to create websites that celebrated same sex weddings. So that’s a big ruling and means a lot nationwide for anyone who offers creative services.

But you know the case that really struck me this month, in fact, came down from the Virginia Supreme Court. And I think it could have just as big an impact as a Supreme Court case because of the way it was written. Peter Vlaming was a high school French teacher fired from his job in 2018, five years ago, because he couldn’t in good conscience address a female student with male pronouns. And so a unanimous court, seven justices, just last week overturned a lower court ruling dismissing his case. But, it really is better than that because a court majority interpreted the Virginia Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty as one that was even greater than that of the US Constitution. So now in Virginia, the only way to overcome a religious liberty interest is by showing that not doing so, not following a policy or a law, would endanger peace or good order. So that’s quite a strong standard and it even implied the way the first amendment should be interpreted in a similar way. It’ll likely influence other state courts in interpreting their own state constitutions. So that’s a big case.

REICHARD: That was a difficult one to pick. I know. So how about you Juliana, on the marriage, family, and sexuality beat?

JULIANA CHAN ERIKSON: I’m going to cheat here and pick one story that happened 20 times this year. In 2023, that many states passed laws protecting children from cross sex hormones and surgeries. And it seemed like when one state did it, neighboring states just jumped on the bandwagon too. And as you know, the laws didn’t pass uneventfully you’ll remember in Nebraska, a state legislator staged a weeks long filibuster back in April to stop her state from voting on it. And in Montana, a male lawmaker who identifies as female accused colleagues of having “blood on their hands” if they voted to ban transgender treatments for children. Despite all of that the bills in those states passed. There are still legal challenges in at least five other states and about a dozen others haven’t made any decisions yet. So I think the story is far from over.

REICHARD: This is my next question. What was the most encouraging story you got to cover this year? And we’ll go in the same order. Leah Savas you start.

SAVAS: Yeah, this is not really a news story, but it’s a just, you know, some everyday person kind of dealing with these issues that we’re reporting on in the abortion beat. And I’d say it’s the profile I did for the podcast of the Tennessee mom named Ashley Gilmore. She’s the one who faced pregnancy complications last year, that really could have cost her her life, but she’s still pushed back when a doctor encouraged her to get an abortion. She wasn’t even expecting to survive and knew that her baby might not either, but she still trusted God to determine the outcome of her story. And I was so encouraged and personally challenged by that story, especially after we see, you know, women after women suing their state, saying I need to be able to get an abortion to save my life. Seeing this mother who is willing to lay down her life for her child was just so impactful for me.

REICHARD: Steve we’ll turn to you now. Most encouraging story.

WEST: Well, that was an easier question for me. You know it was a September ruling by an appeals court out in California giving a huge, long overdue victory to some courageous high school students in San Jose, California. These were students that had a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group in the school, high school, and the court said that they could require that the group’s leaders affirmed FCA’s biblical beliefs. It said that constitutional guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion trump anti-discrimination policies that the school was trying to enforce. That’s really important. You know, I was just encouraged by high school students who had the temerity to endure name-calling and intimidation not only by some students in the school, but even teachers.

REICHARD: And then Juliana.

ERIKSON: What really encouraged me is seeing marriage rates rebounding back to pre pandemic levels, and divorce rates, also remaining among the lowest we’ve seen on record. And this is all data from 2022. Marriage, as you know, still isn’t as popular as it was a generation ago. But I can see the stats are telling us a story. And that story seems to be people are waiting longer and being choosier about who they pick for their mate. But when they do tie that knot, they’re sticking to it.

REICHARD: Alright, well, we’ll be keeping an eye on those statistics for sure. Let’s let’s take a look behind the scenes now. For each of you what was the most challenging, or maybe surprising story that you covered emotionally or logistically? And Leah on the life beat let’s start with you.

SAVAS: This one’s kind of silly. It’s a logistic issue. It’s my fault. But I thought it would kind of be fun to share. I think most the most logistically challenging story to cover this year was actually the August vote in Ohio on the ballot measure that would have increased the percentage of votes required to pass a constitutional amendment. So I’m three hours from Toledo. I’m in Michigan. So I thought it would work to just drive down in the morning, do some reporting for the day and then drive back that night and write a piece once I got home. But in hindsight, it was a bad idea. I got home later than I thought and then ended up being up until probably like 3am working on my article. And, and that was even when I when I was in college that’s late for me. So I was really tired and thought, Okay, I’m not doing that again.

REICHARD: Hopefully you’re rested up by now.

SAVAS: Yeah.

REICHARD: Okay, turning to our legal reporter. Steve, most challenging or surprising story you covered.

WEST: Listening to Leah, I was reminded that one of my most challenging things this past year was failing to press record when I interviewed someone for a story, resulting in having to do it all over again. But here as an adoptive parent, I found the attempt by some states to shut out Christian parents from fostering or adopting kids the most heart wrenching story. As one example, Oregon says that Jessica Bates, a mother of five already is unfit to foster or adopt because she will not agree to support the gender choice of a child placed with her. You know, the number of kids in the foster care system is overwhelming. And yet because of this unBiblical view of sexuality and gender, some of the best homes for these kids, loving, supportive homes are excluded from consideration. That’s just not right.

REICHARD: Juliana.

ERIKSON: I’ve got a lot of single friends. And what I found surprising was an article I did about the world of online dating. Did you guys know that it’s like the most popular way for couples to meet? Well, I guess I didn’t. And there are concerns about it’s safety, particularly for women as I found. A few months ago, I wrote about how Australia requested online dating platforms set up stricter regulations in their country, after a woman there was murdered by her date, someone she’d had met online. Here in the US, there are no such protections on the books. And yet it’s not uncommon to read about women being harassed, or stalked, or assaulted, by dates they met online. When I talked to single women who used these apps, they told me it is a sketchy place. But one they also felt they needed to be on to find that special someone. So they take precautions. One woman told me she would not touch her drink again, if she walked away from a date, for fear that someone might add something to it. And another woman I talked to said she uses an app to mask her phone number, and even carries a gun on some dates. I can’t say I did any of those things when I was single.

REICHARD: Neither did I. Next question here, what stories are you expecting to be covering in the new year? And again, we’ll start with Leah.

SAVAS: This is hard because I feel like there’s a lot that’s going to be happening that we can expect, but also things that will come out of the blue. But it’s just a few stories on my mind. There’s going to be a trial of pro life activists who did a sit in at an abortion facility in 2021 in Tennessee, and they face the possibility of up to 11 years in prison. So we’ll be watching that. There’s also a big abortion pill case headed to the US Supreme Court. And there will be several State Supreme Court abortion rulings to keep an eye out for, including cases involving women suing their states over past pregnancy experiences. And then also, abortion will be a big issue in the 2024 elections. There are already two states that have abortion amendments on the ballots, and there are efforts in almost a dozen other states to get either you know, pro life or pro abortion amendments on ballots. So we’ll be watching that for sure.

REICHARD: Steve West legal beat.

While I’m watching two areas this coming year. One is the whole area of parental rights, the constitutional right of parents to control the education and upbringing of their children. That’s come into play in conflicts with school districts over whether parents can opt their kids out of objectionable sex education material, as has come up in Montgomery County, Maryland. But it also comes up in disputes over whether sexually explicit materials should be available to kids in libraries and classrooms, and whether schools can secretly transition a child to a gender not matching their sex. Unlike the first amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, the Supreme Court really hasn’t explored the parameters of this 14th amendment right.

Now the other area is the right of Christian organizations to maintain their integrity by hiring only like minded persons, those who can affirm that organization’s statement of faith and abide by its standards of conduct. Recently, Christian relief agency World Vision lost a battle over just this point. But it may be appealed. And there are other cases out there.

REICHARD: Juliana, what stories are you expecting to cover in the new year?

ERIKSON: This will venture into Steve’s territory. But the battle over puberty blockers and cross sex hormones for kids has divided the country. And I think it will only be a matter of time before the Supreme Court will take a case on this. The other story worth watching is one that made headlines last week but has been percolating for months and some would say years. And that’s the announcement that priests within the Roman Catholic Church can now say blessings over same sex couples. Earlier this year, the Church of England made a very similar announcement. In both of those churches, homosexuality is still considered a sin. And the Vatican said explicitly that these blessings that they have allowed should not be construed as approval for homosexuality or have the look or feel of a wedding. But I think next year, we will see more debate about this and those blessings are gonna start to look more and more like weddings.

REICHARD: Well, Leah, Steve, Juliana and I have a whole lot to cover here. It’s a reminder we have plenty of work to do. So job security there. Thanks to all of you.

WEST: Thank you, Mary.

ERIKSON: Thank you.

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