By God’s grace, the prayers and engagement of many Pennsylvanians has helped to accomplish much this past year through PA Family.
There really are small victories daily, and the impact of our work often comes without headlines. But there were many wins to report this past year, with several garnering state and national attention.
Here are highlights from 2023 that we hope will encourage you as together we head into the new year:
1. Landmark victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 29th, the United States Supreme Court granted a unanimous decision for our client, Gerald Groff, that restored broad religious protections under federal law.
Groff, a Lancaster County postal worker, lost his job after the Post Office forced him to choose between his career and his religious conviction against working on the Sabbath. With the help of the Independence Law Center, and several allies including First Liberty and Cornerstone Law, Groff brought suit.
It was clear we’d have an uphill battle in the lower courts due to a 47-year-old Supreme Court precedent. Thankfully, not only did the United States Supreme Court take this case, but the Court unanimously sided with Groff to bring a new standard when addressing religious protections in the workplace.
Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel – Independence Law Center:
– “This is a landmark win for religious liberty.” (Newsweek)
– “This standard will now bring a balance so that employers and employees are working together trying to come up with a solution that works.” (CBS21)
– “Surely, a nation dedicated to liberty can protect those at large employers like the Post Office when their conscience requires them to stay home on their Sabbath.” (WORLD)
2. Bill Signing: Religious freedom expanded in the classroom.
Our policy and legal team were instrumental in the passage of the Religious Garb bill, SB 84, which removed prohibitions on teachers and educators from wearing any dress or insignia that indicates his or her faith, such as a cross necklace. “We want to see religious freedom flourish in Pennsylvania and this bill helps us achieve that worthy cause.” – PA Family’s Jeremy Samek, who stood with the bill’s prime sponsors at the bill signing.
3. Commonwealth Court victory ends government interference with local ministry.
For over eight years, Joy El Ministries was facing misguided and overreaching government mandates against one of their programs that serves public school students. Joy El runs a “release time” program, which is when students may leave school during the school day to receive religious instruction at an offsite location.
Joy El’s drivers held all the proper licenses and its vehicles met all the required safety inspections, yet a PA State Police officer — and eventually our state Attorney General — attempted to ground Joy El’s buses over disputes with inapplicable state laws.
Thankfully, in a 4-3 decision, the PA Commonwealth Court granted Joy El a victory to allow their buses and drivers to operate their release time program to public school students. The Independence Law Center represents Joy El Ministries along with Cornerstone Law Firm and Smith Bukowski.
“Ministries should be free from arbitrary imposition of inapplicable state laws, and this case will enhance Joy El’s ability to serve school students. It’s a great outcome for a wonderful ministry.” – Randall Wenger, Independence Law Center
4. The largest Pennsylvania March for Life yet!
The 3rd annual Pennsylvania March for Life, hosted by PA Family in partnership with the national March for Life organization, brought together the largest crowd yet, showing growth each year since the first rally and march in 2021.
Also, this latest state march in PA is estimated to have been the largest state march in the nation!
“Amidst this challenging landscape, those with whom we marched in Pennsylvania, including our partner, Pennsylvania Family Institute, continue to be a beacon of hope and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the pro-life movement. The joyful and energetic atmosphere showcased the determination of the pro-life community. This March underlined that we are a powerful force, unwavering in our mission to protect the unborn.” – Jeanne Mancini, President – March for Life
5. School attempting to ban prayer reverses course.
Officials from the West Shore School District in the Harrisburg, PA area emailed Booster club presidents earlier this year, ordering them to “halt prayers at future banquets, and at any other school-sponsored activity.” They even declared that “student-initiated prayers at school events are illegal.” Not only was the district wrong, its directive was illegal.
Independence Law Center quickly wrote district officials, asking them to immediately rescind their unconstitutional directive. What’s more, our legal team offered to help the school draft a new letter and craft policies to ensure the district would not hinder faithful students and staff in the future.
West Shore officials responded within 24 hours, immediately reversed their position and notified their community that student initiated prayer is no longer prohibited!
“Your support of the Independence Law Center is a big part in helping to deliver these day-to-day victories, which make a tremendous difference for everyday Americans, including our school children.” – Jeremy Samek, PA Family
6. School Choice Win: More parents empowered with EITC/OSTC expansion.
School choice is a win-win for students and their families, and we need more of it here in Pennsylvania. A move in the right direction this year was this year the PA General Assembly passing the largest increase in the state’s popular Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.
PA Family operates as one of the state’s scholarship organizations, helping families find the best educational opportunity for their child. We talk with parents regularly who express their need for assistance in order to give their children a better educational opportunity. We’re thankful to know more students, and their families, will be helped through these school choice programs.
For more about our scholarship organization, the Family Choice Scholarship Program, visit MyFamilyChoice.org.
7. Victory for 6th-grader sharing Bibles in school.
A sixth grader who wanted to share about Jesus with his classmates by offering Bibles during non-instructional time was being unconstitutionally blocked by misguided school officials.
Thanks to our team, we connected with the boy’s father to defend his son’s First Amendment freedoms. As a result, the boy’s freedom was restored! (We pray God will bless his effort to share the Gospel with his classmates.)
Several years ago, the Independence Law Center was involved with students from a Bible Club in Mechanicsburg, PA who were facing similar challenges with school officials. In this instance, it took going to court to have these students’ freedoms restored, and the court victory led to not just this school’s policy being improved but in other districts as well.
8. Crisis Averted: Harmful marijuana amendment withdrawn.
In November, a 139-page amendment was filed to a proposed bill that would have forced marijuana legalization for recreational use upon Pennsylvania families – even forcing your local municipality to allow for retail sales of industrialized, high-potency THC marijuana products.
Thankfully, after thousands of families took swift action by contacting their elected State Representative, the amendment was withdrawn! (Stay tuned, as this threat is one that we expect to face in 2024.)
9. Uncovering Pennsylvania’s taxpayer-funded “sex-change” procedures on minors makes national headlines.
PA Family’s work in exposing taxpayer funding of “sex reassignment” drugs and surgeries on minor children is making national news, and for good reason. Our investigation reveals that our state government has spent more than $20 million on these life-altering, disfiguring procedures on those 18 and younger since 2015.
“The first step in bringing positive change is exposing wrongdoing, and that’s what we’re doing,” states Dan Bartkowiak, PA Family Director of Communications. “Mutilating the healthy bodies of teens is terribly wrong, and funding it with tax dollars makes it even worse. Our children need support and guidance – not the false promises of a destructive ideology.”
10. Voter Guide covers school board races for the first time.
Tens of thousands of Pennsylvania voters used our online voter guide in both the primary and general elections. And for the first time, along with judicial candidates, this guide included candidates for school board.
PA Family continues to provide an annual educational voter guide to help identify candidates and where they stand on critical issues. Look for our 2024 Presidential Election voter guide this spring at PaFamilyVoter.com.
Extra Highlight: Pro-Life Efforts in PA
The first anniversary of the overturn of Roe was on June 24, 2023 in celebration of the Dobbs SCOTUS decision. Early estimates show that over 32,000 babies have been saved from abortion as a result of this decision. Many states and many pregnancy centers are finding more ways to serve women and families in need.
Here in PA, our state laws continue to permit abortion up to six months in pregnancy. As far as that is, the abortion industry is actively lobbying to remove that limit so they can profit from abortions through all nine months of pregnancy.
This abhorrent greed is also fueling their lobby of the removal of any type of limit on abortion, as well as their all-out smear campaign against pregnancy centers that has led to their state contract with alternatives to abortion funding being removed. Planned Parenthood brags that their top achievement for 2023 was defunding pregnancy centers.
PA Family continues to actively support pregnancy centers and to be a counter-voice to the misinformation spread by the abortion industry:
1. We called out the hypocrisy of Gov. Shapiro’s administration with a complaint form against pregnancy centers, when half of abortion facilities failed a health inspection this year.
2. We helped sound the alarm when Gov. Shapiro announced his cut in funding to pregnancy centers through Real Alternatives.
3. We supported a legislative committee hearing which invited testimony from directors of pregnancy centers.
4. We created a four-part blog series: The State of Abortion in PA
A Look Ahead into 2024:
- Church Ambassador Network’s First-Ever Capitol Prayer Rally: Tuesday, January 16, 2024.
- Fourth Annual Pennsylvania March for Life: Monday, September 23, 2024.
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