How state government regulates religious freedom

By Erick Erickson

Every town in America should be so lucky as to have a grocery store like Ralph’s Thriftway. When Kevin Stormans’ grandfather Ralph started the family business in 1944, such stores were the hub of every community in America.
 
Even today, in an era of impersonal mega-superstores, the two family-owned stores in Olympia, Washington, still thrive as part of the fabric of the local economy. Visitors to Ralph’s Thriftway find the original one-stop shopping experience with everything from sushi to Starbucks, from Subway to seafood, from a pharmacy to a full-service deli.
 
They find organic produce from local growers, the sweetest treats from local bakers, and the best products from local vendors. Shoppers can even mail letters or have a license renewed while picking up Chinese for dinner.
 
They always find a friendly face and a warm, family atmosphere so typical of the family businesses that once formed the backbone of the American economy.
 
But what they won’t find are abortion-inducing drugs in the store’s pharmacy. And for that sin of omission, the Stormans are being made to care. 
 
It started back in 2006 when a customer visited the pharmacy and asked for “Plan B” birth-control medication. Kevin Stormans recalls, “We talked about it as a family and said that’s not something we can support … that’s not a product we’re going to carry.”
 
Kevin and his family made the decision never to stock Plan B or any other medication with abortion-inducing properties in their pharmacy.
 
When the angry customer called again, Kevin cited his religious beliefs as the reason his pharmacy would not carry the product. Hate mail, picketing, and angry phone calls ensued.
 
The governor of Washington even joined in the boycott, canceling her long-standing account with the store. At one point, business dropped by 30 percent because of the bullying.
 
Then the Washington state Board of Pharmacy told Kevin that the regulations governing referrals had recently changed. They insisted the pharmacy carry the drugs or close. The Stormans chose a third option and sued to defend their freedom to live consistent with their beliefs.
 
What they didn’t know at the time was how Planned Parenthood had collaborated with the governor to change the regulations to discriminate against people of faith. But they were going to find out.
 
Under the new regulations, a pharmacist could no longer refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious reasons. And yet the state allowed pharmacies to refer customers for any other reason—religion alone was singled out for discrimination. 
 
The Stormans’ case finally came to trial in federal court in 2012. Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president for Legal Services for the Alliance Defending Freedom describes what happened next:
 
After a 12-day trial, the court found that the regulations were intended “primarily if not solely, to target religious objectors” to Plan B and Ella…. The trial court entered over a hundred pages of detailed findings on the evidence. 
 
The court sifted through all of the evidence in great detail and held that there is no problem with access to any drug anywhere in the state. The trial court heard from twenty-two witnesses, most of whom were with the Board of Pharmacy, and reviewed thousands and thousands of documents. 
 
It concluded that the sole purpose of the regulations was to force pharmacists with religious objections to plan B out of pharmacy. 
 
Planned Parenthood, the same organization that profits from the dissecting of unborn children, insisted that religious referrals must be banned.
 
They appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Incredibly, the Ninth Circuit overturned the initial trial court decision despite the fact that no new evidence was presented. 
 
The fate of the Stormans’ multi-generational business now hangs in the balance, as their last legal hope is the United States Supreme Court. 
 
Two other pharmacists in Washington who have also suffered at the hands of these secularist priests joined their case. One of them, Margo Thelen, already lost her job. Her employer had allowed her to refer the few Plan B customers, as she has done for years, until the regulation became effective.

Another pharmacist, Rhonda Messler, the sole breadwinner for her family, has been told by her employer that she will lose her job or need to transfer to another state if the latest ruling stands.
 
It wasn’t so long ago that people crossed oceans to come to America so they could exercise their religious beliefs freely. Now they’re having to leave their homes in America behind if they refuse to aid in the taking of human life.
 
Kevin, Margo, and Rhonda have been brought before the secular Inquisition. Their beliefs have been declared heretical by the secular clergy in flowing black robes.
 
They must bow or be excommunicated from civil society.
 
The creed of the Left is clear: convert or be destroyed.

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