TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Legal challenges to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban continue to spring up. The latest set comes from seven Florida faith leaders from across the Sunshine State, including one in Tampa.
The bill was signed into law in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis and immediately faced legal challenges on privacy and freedom of religion grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Palm Beach have all filed suit to block HB 5.
Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa is suing the state of Florida to block implementation of House Bill 5, the state’s latest restriction against abortion rights.
Rosenberg is one of seven more Florida faith leaders are “seeking to overturn” the new law, which they call controversial.
According to a statement sent to the press regarding the lawsuits, “the plaintiffs – representing Reform Judaism, Buddhism, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalist Church – assert that HB 5 violates their constitutional rights of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, the constitutional separation of Church and State, and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Rosenberg’s specific complaint is joined by two other Florida rabbis, Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, and Rabbi Robyn Fisher of Beth Or in South Dade.
The court filing itself starts out expressing the position of the three rabbis, saying their “religious beliefs, speech, and conduct are severely burdened by the state of Florida’s criminalization of abortion in many circumstances where the Jewish faith supports the decision to obtain an abortion on religious grounds.”
As a result, the three rabbis complaint said they are “seeking to invalidate House Bill 5,” due to how it violates their rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, as well as the protections given to residents by the Florida Constitution, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and their rights as “guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments” of the U.S. Constitution. The rabbinical plaintiffs argue that under HB 5 and Florida’s criminal law, “Plaintiffs are at risk of prosecution for counseling women, girls, and families to obtain an abortion beyond the narrow bounds of HB 5 as someone who aids and abets the crime. Under Florida’s aiding and abetting law, they commit the crime itself by counseling in favor of it.”
According to their Jewish beliefs, the lawsuit says, all human life is sacred and holy. The plaintiffs say in their roles as religious leaders, they sometimes offer counsel on life decisions, including pregnancy and abortion. “The relationship between a clergy member and their congregants and community represents a sacred trust,” the lawsuit reads.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say HB 5 has allowed state officials to “insert themselves” into the “alliance” of clergy and congregants, which they say “until now” was “protected, revered, and respected as sacrosanct and inviolable.”
Additionally, by not providing religious exemptions and “no exceptions for the psychological health of the pregnant woman or girl, incest, rape, or trafficking, non-fatal fetal abnormalities, or psychological disease or impairment,” the government officials named as defendants are imposing criminal penalties on not just those who seek abortions, but those who counsel or assist in getting one after the fifteen week restriction.
The rabbis say the new law “tramples” upon the First Amendment and state constitutional free speech rights and religious rights created by federal law and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The other four complaints filed on behalf of religious plaintiffs make similar arguments to the three rabbis, saying the state has placed itself in a position to interfere with religious counsel and practice of faith, as related to beliefs about pregnancy and abortion.
The other plaintiffs include an Episcopal Church priest, who remains anonymous, from Miami-Dade County, Karma Chotso, a Buddhist Lama, Rev. Tom Capo of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and Laurinda Hafner of the United Church of Christ, all of whose congregations are in Miami-Dade County.
The plaintiffs are represented by Prof. Marci Hamilton of the University of Pennsylvania, a professor of practice in political science, as well as “law and religion experts and attorneys” from Spiro Harrison and Jayaram Law.
“It is an honor to represent these brave leaders of their faiths in fighting for their bedrock constitutional rights to free speech and religious liberty, which are now being suppressed by HB 5. For decades, the Catholic bishops and the Evangelical right wing have claimed a singular religious high ground on the issue of abortion rights, and tried to label anyone opposed to their views as ‘secularists.’ Yet there are millions of Americans whose deeply held religious beliefs, speech, and conduct are being substantially burdened by restrictive abortion bans like HB 5,” Hamilton said in a statement. “Freedom of religion must protect the religious rights and beliefs of all citizens – not just those opposed to women’s right to choose.”