FLORIDA FAITH LEADERS FILE NEW LAWSUIT SEEKING TO OVERTURN STATE’S 15-WEEK ABORTION BAN

Clergy Representing Five Different Religions Assert that HB 5 Violates Freedom of Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act

 

A diverse array of seven Florida-based faith leaders filed a lawsuit on August 1, 2022 in Florida court in Miami-Dade County seeking to overturn Florida’s controversial law, HB 5 – which restricts abortion after 15 weeks and provides no exception for incest, rape, or trafficking. 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. They are being represented by Marci Hamilton, Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and law and religion expert and attorneys Adlai Small, Danielle Moriber and David Harrison at Spiro Harrison; and Vivek Jayaram and Liz Austermuehle at Jayaram Law.

 

The lawsuit follows the decision by the United States Supreme Court in June 2022 overturning the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which paved the way for HB 5 to take effect in Florida. The plaintiffs assert that their deeply held religious beliefs protecting women’s reproductive health are violated by HB 5, and are seeking for an immediate stay in the state’s enforcement of HB 5 and for the law to be ruled unconstitutional.

 

“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,” said Prof. Marci Hamilton. “Freedom of religion must protect the religious rights and beliefs of all citizens – not just those opposed to women’s right to choose.”

 

“Spiro Harrison is thrilled to represent this group of diverse religious minorities standing up for their religious rights,” said Spiro Harrison partner, Danielle Moriber. “We are inspired by their courage and proud to have the opportunity to rely on our deep South Florida ties and to apply our unique set of litigation skills and experience to this vital cause.”

 

“We’re a minority-owned, female-majority law firm that celebrates and champions people’s fundamental rights. It’s at the core of who we are and the absolute right thing to do. It also makes us stronger as lawyers. We’re compelled to be at the forefront of change, seizing opportunities to help swing the pendulum of justice in favor of what is right; upholding and reinstating laws that protect marginalized groups and fundamental rights for all,” said Vivek Jayaram, Founder, Jayaram Law. “The lawsuits presented by us stand for the rule of law and for the protection of everyone’s right to freely exercise their religion in the United States.”

The full complaint can be found: here

Coverage of the case can be found here:

The Washington Post, Clergy sue over Florida abortion law, say it violates religious freedom, August 1, 2022

Florida Politics, Five more faith-based lawsuits filed to overturn Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, August 2, 2022

The Sun Sentinel, Religious leaders file lawsuit challenging Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, August 2, 2022

 

About the Plaintiffs

Buddhist Lama Karma Chotso, educator at Open Awareness Buddhist Center in Miami

Lama Karma Chötso has studied and practiced Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition for forty years and has been teaching in South Florida at the Open Awareness Buddhist Center in Miami and prior to that in Hollywood, Florida, for the past twenty-five years. Lama teaches at other U.S. Dharma Centers and in Peru where she and her students have built a Tibetan stupa in the Amazon Basin. Lama’s training includes completing a three-year, three-month meditation retreat in strict seclusion, making pilgrimages in Asia, and studying in India, Nepal and Tibet. Her studies included Tibetan language and Tibetan tangka painting.

 

Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz, Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL

Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz is the third Senior Rabbi in Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL. She has served the congregation since 1994 and was the first woman rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom. Prior to coming to Temple Beth Sholom, she served as assistant rabbi of Temple Emanu-El of San Francisco and as rabbinic intern at Central Synagogue in New York City. Rabbi Pomerantz was the first female president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Miami in 1998, and she currently serves as Vice Chair of the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) National Commission on Social Action and the Chair of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Peace, Justice and Civil Liberties Committee. Rabbi Pomerantz graduated from Brandeis University Magna Cum Laude with High Honors and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1989. In May 2014, Rabbi Pomerantz received a Doctor of Divinity degree, marking twenty-five years in the rabbinate.

 

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg, Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, FL

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, FL. Prior to coming to Congregation Beth Am, Rabbi Rosenberg has served as an Associate Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada, starting in 2001. A past chair of the Tampa Rabbinical Association, Rabbi Rosenberg has served on the board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the national organization of Reform Rabbis) and the Tampa Jewish Federation, and currently serves on the Ethics Committee of the CCAR, the Executive Committee of RAC-FL (the Reform Movement’s political advocacy wing) as well as on the Boards of Faith In Florida and Faith In Florida’s Hillsborough County Chapter. Rabbi Rosenberg was ordained by the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in May 2001. He majored in computer science at Brown University and worked for several years as a software engineer before entering rabbinical school.

 

Rabbi Robyn Fisher, Beth Or Miami

Rabbi Robyn Fisher is the Spiritual leader of Beth Or in South Dade. She is committed to creating deep social impact through her involvement in PACT (People Acting in Community Together), serving on the Housing and Environment Steering committee, as a Co-Chair of the Multi-faith Coalition of Miami, empowering local clergy to act together for social good, and the Multifaith Neighbor’s Network. Robyn is also a fellow with JOIN for Justice as well as the Clergy Leadership Institute. Prior to joining Beth Or, she served for 10 years as the Hillel Director of Student Engagement and as the Jewish Chaplain on campus at the University of Miami, where she also attended graduate school and received her Juris Doctor Degree.

 

Rev. Laurinda “Laurie” Hafner, Coral Gables United Church of Christ

Reverend Laurinda “Laurie” Hafner is the Senior Pastor of Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ. Prior to coming to Coral Gables, Rev. Hafner served congregations for twenty-eight years, among them as senior pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, where she served for eighteen years. She is presently a board member of the Collective Empowerment Group of South Florida, has served as chair and co-chair of the Miami Coalition for Christians and Jews Clergy Dialogue, is president of P.A.C.T. (People Acting for Community Together) and is probably best known as the pastor who goes up into the Church Tower each year and stays there until at least five tons of food is collected. Rev. Hafner has a political science degree from Elon University. She received her Master of Divinity Degree from Christian Theological Seminary and was awarded a Doctor of Ministry Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

 

Rev. Tom Capo, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami

Reverend Tom Capo (he, him, his) is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami. Rev. Capo was a private psychotherapist before coming to the UU ministry, during which time he served as a Clinical Coordinator of an Inpatient and Outpatient Eating Disorders Program and a mental health consultant for universities, hospitals, and corporations. He has served on the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, was a Board member of Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa and a Board member of the Iowa Abortion Access Fund. In Chicago, he served as a Board member of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.