Federal Judge Refuses to Grant Relief from Son’s Illegal Emancipation

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, a Federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Minnesota mother whose parental rights were violated by a Minnesota school system, and state and county agencies. Anmarie Calgaro, represented by the Thomas More Society in United States District Court, District of Minnesota, was told that, while she “continues to have sole physical and joint legal custody” of her child, those who refused to respect her parental rights in regard to her son, “cannot be held liable” in this case because they did not act “under color of state law.”

In Anmarie Calgaro v. St. Louis County, et al, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal charged that Calgaro’s parental rights were repeatedly usurped by St. Louis County, St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Director, Fairview Health Services, Park Nicollet Health Services, St. Louis County School District, and the Principal of the Cherry School.

United States District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson wrote that, although Calgaro’s parental rights over her minor son “remain intact,” she has no standing to sue for their violation. This despite the fact that the boy was advised by defendants in the suit that he was emancipated, and was subsequently provided with medical treatment for a sex change from male to female and prescribed narcotics. Calgaro was also denied access to his medical and school records and was refused any input into her son’s educational decision-making.

The judge’s decision bore the following footnote, “Although referred to as J.D.K. in Calgaro’s Complaint, the Court uses the name, initials, and pronouns consistent with E.J.K.’s female gender identity.”

Magnuson’s use of the initials for the boy’s adopted female name is ironic, as the 17 year old was twice denied a name change by St. Louis County District Court, where the judge noted, “the lack of any Minnesota trial court adjudication relative to emancipation.” 

The Memorandum and Order itemized Magnuson’s additional reasons for dismissing Calgaro’s case, which included:

  • Fairview and Park Nicollet, the sex change providers, cannot be held liable in this case “because they did not act under color of state law” and were not “willful participant[s] in joint activity with the state.”
  • The deprivation of Calgaro’s parental rights by the School District was not caused by any School policy or custom. He noted that it is only when “execution of a government’s policy or custom…inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible.”
  • Cherry School Principal Michael Johnson was entitled to qualified immunity, which applies unless his conduct “violated a clearly established constitutional right.”
  • Calgaro “has failed to allege that a St. Louis County policy or custom deprived her of her parental rights without due process…It is the policy of the state of Minnesota, rather than St. Louis County, that allegedly deprived Calgaro of her constitutionally protected parental rights without due process.”

Kaardal remarked, “People left and right in Minnesota agree that emancipation procedures need to be put into a statute so this confusion over parental rights never happens again. The same due process rights Ms. Calgaro pursues are taken for granted in marital dissolution, child custody and child protection proceedings. Unfortunately, the federal court’s decision has added to, not lessened, the legal confusion.”

“In the meantime,” he added, “Anmarie Calgaro is living a parent’s worst nightmare. Her minor child has been piloted by third parties through a life-changing, permanent body altering process by organizations that have no legal authority over him, and that have denied his own mother access.”

Read the Memorandum and Order issued by United States District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson in Anmarie Calgaro v. St. Louis County, et al, on May 23, 2017, here.

The Thomas More Society plans to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.


Abortion Proponents Not “Protected Class” According to Lawsuit Against St. Louis

A home for pregnant women, a group of Catholic grade schools, and a for-profit holding company and its owner have come together to sue the city of St. Louis for violating their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech, among other federal and state laws. Archbishop Robert Carlson, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Sarah Pitlyk, and Peggy Forrest of Our Lady’s Inn spoke at a press conference on Monday, May 22, to address the lawsuit.

The case, filed on May 22, 2017 by the Thomas More Society asserts that the recently enacted city Ordinance 70459 extends protected class status to any person who

Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis speaks with Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society. (Photo credit: Lisa Johnston/St. Louis Review)

advocates or supports abortion – while discriminating against those who seek to promote life or offer pro-life alternatives to abortion.

“The city has taken the protections typically granted to prevent discrimination for ‘race, age, religion, sex or disability’ and applied them to those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decisions,’” explained Sarah Pitlyk, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, “where ‘reproductive health decisions’ is so overbroad as to include any decision that is any way related to contraceptive use or abortion. The law would therefore force nonprofit organizations like Our Lady’s Inn, whose mission is to promote and facilitate abortion alternatives, to hire abortion advocates, despite their opposition to the ministry’s reason for existence.”

Pitlyk noted that the Missouri legislature continues to fund life affirming programs, including $6.46 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program, and has cut support of Planned Parenthood and other agencies that perform or refer for abortions not necessary to save the life of the mother. She stated, “The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state.”

Our Lady’s Inn, the Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, and Frank Robert O’Brien are seeking judicial review of Ordinance 70459, also known as Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute, because it violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution and various Missouri statutes.

The ordinance, enacted in February, was represented as addressing discrimination in employment, housing and realty against individuals who have had, or were planning to have, abortions. Proponents and sponsors of the ordinance, however, were unable to point to the actual occurrence of any such discrimination in the City of St. Louis. Pitlyk labels it, “a remedy in search of a problem.”

The complaint lists multiple federal constitutional causes of action against the ordinance, including violations of the:

  • Free Speech clause of the First Amendment
  • Right to Expressive Association under the First Amendment
  • Religion clauses of the First Amendment
  • Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

City of St. Louis Ordinance 70459 also violates the following Missouri state laws, according to the filing:

  • Two laws that prohibit mandating employer-provided insurance coverage for abortion (Mo. Rev. Stat. 191.724 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 376.805)
  • Two laws that provide for maternity homes, adoption and pregnancy assistance for low-income women (Mo. Rev. Stat. 188.325 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 135.600)
  • The Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.302 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.307)

The language of the new law creates protections for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even when the abortion is not their own, and even includes legal protections for corporations and all business organizations. It forbids any entity, including Christian organizations and individuals whose teachings hold abortion to be a grave sin, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or corporate organizations that promote or provide abortions. The law’s limited religious exemptions are vague and undefined and do not cover individuals. The ordinance also purports to compel private businesses to include abortion coverage in their employee health plans, despite sincere objections by company owners—a requirement that has already been held unlawful by the Supreme Court of the United States (Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius et al.) and is also unlawful under Missouri law.

“This ordinance does not exempt individuals with sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion from its requirements in any way,” stated Pitlyk, “and even for qualifying religious organizations, the exemption for employment, housing and realty is extremely limited. That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law.” She added: “Ordinance 70459 is unlawful and unenforceable, and we fully expect the court to invalidate it.”

Read the Complaint, Our Lady’s Inn et al. v. The City of St. Louis, filed today by the Thomas More Society in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division here 

Pennsylvania High School Discriminates Against Pro-Life Club

Attorneys from the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to administrators at Parkland High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania on May 17, 2017. The letter charges that the school’s denial of a request by some students to form a pro-life student group is unconstitutional and must be reversed.

Elizabeth Castro, a senior at the Allentown high school, wants to start a pro-life club.

Last fall, two students tried to start a Students for Life group at Parkland. The school’s assistant principal informed the duo that they needed an advisor and that they would also need to submit a club proposal. The girls found an advisor and submitted their proposal in March 2017.

The application was denied, verbally, by the assistant principal, who stated that the group was too “political” and “controversial.” Junior Grace Schairer, one of the club applicants, sent an email to the assistant principal on April 6, requesting to know what steps could be taken to overcome the objections to the student pro-life group. The school permits other clubs, including the Gay Straight Alliance, the Political Science Club, and the Fashion Club. She received no response.

Elizabeth Castro, a senior at the Allentown high school, observed, “We met all of Parkland High School’s requirements for beginning a club at the school. We were denied simply because we are pro-life.” She explained, “As a club, our purpose is to create a life-affirming culture at our school, educate our peers on the issue of life, hold diaper drives to support pregnant and parenting students, and become a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. The school is not only denying our right to start a group but also denying the opportunity for others at our school to learn about the greatest human rights social injustice of our time.”

“There is absolutely no question that the law protects the right of these students to form this club at their high school,” stated Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society special counsel. She noted that the response from Parkland High School administration reflects a common misconception. “However,” she added, “this administration’s denial of a pro-life club is especially surprising, because this district’s policy expressly allows students to form clubs with ‘any lawful objective.’”

“The high school students we work with are passionate defenders of life and, oftentimes, their schools put up unnecessary and unconstitutional obstacles when they try to start Students for Life clubs,” said Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins. “The school’s baseless claim that the club would be too ‘controversial’ and ‘political’ is a common excuse we hear – and it’s always infringing on the First Amendment rights of pro-life students, treating them as second-class citizens because they happen to want to educate their peers on the horrors of abortion and help pregnant and parenting students at their school.”

The communication to Parkland administration from the Thomas More Society states that the denial of the pro-life club violates the First Amendment, the Federal Equal Access Act, and Parkland School District’s own policies. The letter demands that Parkland’s administration immediately approve the application for the Students for Life club at Parkland High School.

Read the demand letter here.

Thomas More Society on Hand as Iowa Governor Signs Abortion Ban

Thomas More Society attorney Martin Cannon (pictured far right, front row) was on hand as Iowa Governor Branstad signed a 20-week abortion ban into law

Thomas More Society attorney Martin Cannon was on hand Friday, May 5, 2017 with other members of the Iowa Coalition for Life when Governor Terry Branstad signed a ban on late-term abortions into law. Also known as the fetal pain bill, the law was passed in April by both the Iowa House and Senate. It bans abortions once a baby reaches 20 weeks in utero and establishes a three-day waiting period for women who seek an abortion.

Cannon and his colleagues at the Thomas More Society have been invested in the bill since its introduction, advising legislators, testifying at committees, formulating public commentary and assisting in drafting the bill. “This is very much central to our mission,” Cannon explained. “Science supports the facts. Babies in utero are alive and feel pain. Ignoring those facts would be a disgrace.  It is heartening to see Governor Branstad and the Iowa Legislature protect women and their children from the atrocity of late term abortion – and restore an understanding of innate human dignity to the laws of the state.”

Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society, added, “Our attorneys will be on hand to help Iowa in defending this bill that they have responsibly put into effect.” He noted that abortion provider Planned Parenthood along with The American Civil Liberties Union, is already challenging the waiting-period portion of the law in the Iowa Supreme Court, after being denied an injunction in a lower court.

Iowa joins the 24 states that currently impose prohibitions on abortions after a certain number of weeks. Seventeen of these states, like Iowa, ban abortion at around 20 weeks.

Thomas More Society Receives Assurance from Fort Wayne School Board that Rights Will Be Protected

No Repeat of Principal’s Rampage as Pro-Life Activists Revisit Indiana High School

In April 2017, a group of pro-life advocates brought pro-life signs to the public walkway outside South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They talked to students after school dismissed for the day…and nothing happened. Attorneys at the Thomas More Society and Mark Harrington, National Director of Created Equal, are claiming the non-event as a victory. The peaceful April interaction outside the secondary school was in stark contrast to what happened the previous fall. On November 18, 2016, South Side High School Principal Carlton Mable verbally assaulted pro-life advocates who were legally and peacefully holding pro-life signs on the public right of way.

Mable’s tirade, caught on video and amassing over 50,000 views on YouTube, shows the Indiana principal screaming at participants to “get off my property,” grabbing their pro-life signs and hurling them into the street.

Attorney Thomas Dixon, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, wrote a letter to the City of Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Community School Corporation demanding that they respect the constitutional rights of Created Equal’s pro-life advocates. In response, lawyers for both the City and the School Corporation indicated that they will respect the rights of the pro-life advocates and that the police department told Mable his actions will not be tolerated again.  

Harrington was happy to report that the participants in a pro-life witness outside the school on April 21, 2017, told Created Equal that they received no challenge to their presence. “We set up in the same place we did last time about 5 minutes before school got out,” stated one participant. “When school let out we talked about the horror of abortion to students as they came out. We didn’t see any school administrators during the outreach. Thanks to the Thomas More Society’s legal intervention, we were able to share our message without being harassed.”

Read the December 2, 2016, letter sent by Attorney Thomas M. Dixon to Fort Wayne School Board here.

View the video documenting South Side High School Principal Carlton Mable’s actions against peaceful pro-life advocates on the public right of way here.

March for Life’s Jeanne Mancini Joins Thomas More Society in Annual Celebration of Life

Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society President and Chief Counsel with Andy Bath, Thomas More Society General Counsel

On Monday, April 24, 2017, Thomas More Society hosted the annual Celebration of Life benefit in Naples, Florida to support their mission to restore respect in the law for life, family, and religious liberty. Guests had the opportunity to mingle along the Marina Bay waterfront of the Bayfront Inn during the hour long cocktail hour before enjoying a buffet dinner. Guests, including students from Ave Maria School of Law, Paul Lodato from CTN TV in Fort Myers, and representatives of the Sunlight Maternity Home in Naples and the Southside Pregnancy Center, were told the latest news from Thomas More Society President and Chief Counsel, Thomas Brejcha, and General Counsel, Andrew Bath. The night also featured Father Michael Orsi from the television show Action for Life, David Bereit founder of 40 Days for Life, and special guest speaker and President of March for Life, Jeanne Mancini.


Jeanne Mancini, March for Life President, and Andy Bath, Thomas More Society General Counsel

Michael Hartnett, Thomas More Society Development Coordinator, David Bereit, former 40 Days for Life CEO, and Andy Bath

Thomas Brejcha and wife Debbie with Thomas More Society attorney Joan Mannix and husband, Rudy

Thomas More Society – In the News – May 2017

  • The Chicago Tribune’s headline announcing that the sisters in Melrose Park, IL, who have been battling a strip club next door, “may be victorious” is one of the positive stories that feature the Thomas More Society and their clients. The Tribune story, in which attorney Joan Mannix says “I’m happy for us, I’m happy for them,” can be read here
  • In the Christian Post, TMS attorney Peter Breen says “By revealing the truth of the baby body parts trafficking that was going on in the industry, David [Daleiden] and his team have caused more harm to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry in one fell swoop than possibly anyone since Roe v. Wade. For that reason, the other side desperately wants to discredit him.”
    Read the rest of the story here
  • Peter Breen also talked to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) News about the “major damage” that Daleiden caused to abortion “Goliath” Planned Parenthood. Read the story here 
  • Attorney Matt Heffron explained how the charges against Daleiden are “totally bogus” in LifeNews. Read his opinion piece here 
  • The celebration of Easter on government property was also featured in the media. The Easter sunrise prayer service that the Thomas More Society helped sponsor in Chicago’s Daley Plaza has become an annual event, according to ABC 7 News. See the video here 
  • Thomas More Society President and Chief Counsel, Thomas Brejcha, told CNS News that “The Easter cross and the image of the risen Jesus Christ represent a constitutionally protected expression of faith…” Read the rest of the story here 

Thomas More Society to be Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio’s Legal Counsel

New Statewide Right To Life Group Attracts National Support

Since the announcement in March 2017, of a new statewide Right to Life organization in Ohio, Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, the newly formed organization has made enormous strides towards redefining the abortion and family-first strategy for this battleground state.  The group has already held two of five regional informational meetings to roll out their policy and guiding principles.

Ed Sitter, President of the organization, stressed the focus of a bottom up approach, where the grassroots will have access to decision making when it comes to legislative initiatives and dictate the education emphasis for the organization’s outreach programs. Sitter stated, “After working extensively with the pro-life grassroots since 2012, it became increasingly evident that there was a strong desire among pro-life Ohioans to have more meaningful representation in policy and strategy decision making, and this is what the new organization will allow.” This will be made possible through the corporate structure of the organization which will have delegates from each region and these delegates will have the opportunity to influence the direction of the organization through discussion, regular communication with the board of directors, and use of their votes to set direction.

In an exciting development, the vision of the new organization has been embraced by a leading national group, the Thomas More Society. The not-for-profit public interest law firm is dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. The law firm has generously offered their legal service, pro-bono, to the newly formed group and is working with the group to revamp and update their corporate documents.

“The defense of life is an honorable pursuit, and a road which we travel in tandem with the selfless souls at Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio.  Together we will guard the lives of the pre-born, disabled and elderly, as we preserve and shield the Constitutionally granted liberties of those who speak out on their behalf,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.

Molly Smith, an executive committee board member noted that during two recent regional meetings, Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio met with over 50 Christian, pro-life/pro-family leaders who represent 33 organization.  Smith said, “This 21st century approach has already taken root in several parts of the state.  Over the summer we will be meeting with pro-life and pro-family groups who have expressed an interest in participating with us in actions that will end abortion, strengthen families, and restore religious freedom.”

Thomas More Society’s vice president and general counsel Andrew Bath noted, “We are pleased to now be working with Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, whose mission is to promote and defend the right to life of all innocent human beings, from the time of fertilization until natural death. As legal counsel of record, the Thomas More Society will endeavor to protect their First Amendment rights and freedoms.”


Thomas More Society Joins Illinois Right to Life’s Annual Celebration of Leaders

Preston Noell, Illinois Right to Life’s Rosemary Hackett, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, and Thomas More Society’s President and Chief Counsel Tom Brejcha

On Thursday, April 20, 2017, Thomas More Society joined Illinois Right to Life in celebrating its 49th Annual Leaders for Life Banquet in Glen Ellyn, IL. Thomas More Society attorney and State Representative, Peter Breen, proudly served on this year’s Host Committee and was joined by Thomas Brejcha, Thomas More Society’s President and Chief Counsel, and fellow Thomas More Society attorneys Thomas Olp and Andrew Bath.

Emceed by Dan Proft, radio talk show host for AM 560 WIND, highlights of the night included the prayer lead by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield and the keynote speaker, Congressman Marsha Blackburn, Chairman of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives who spoke on the year-long investigation into the abortion industry by Thomas More Society client and 2016 Leaders for Life Banquet keynote speaker, David Daleiden.

Thomas More Society attorney Andy Bath and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn

Thomas More Society attorney Andy Bath with Bishop Paprocki and Bob Gilligan, Executive Director, Catholic Conference of Illinois

Legal War Against Catholic, Christian Hospitals In Hands of United States Supreme Court

Thomas More Society Urges Justices to Uphold Religious Rights

Thomas More Society chief counsel, Thomas Brejcha, has responded to the March 27, 2017 United States Supreme Court hearing of arguments in the cases of Advocate Health Care Network, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, and Dignity Health, each of which was determined by a lower court to be ineligible for an ERISA exemption as a church plan.

“A decision against these religiously affiliated charities would be catastrophic,” stated Brejcha. “To have their pension plans suddenly deemed in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) after years and years of contrary treatment would subject them to ruinous retroactive penalties. This is not Wall Street. These are charitable, religious organizations doing good for children, the elderly, and the poor. Finding these plans to be non-exempt would affect the beneficial mission of these organizations and harm those they help. According to the petitioners, literally billions of dollars in penalties are being sought by the class action lawyers behind these cases.”

The issue to be decided is whether the ERISA church-plan exemption applies in circumstances where a pension plan is not “established and maintained for its employees by a church,” but rather is “maintained by an organization…controlled by or associated with a church.” For years, plans maintained by such church-affiliated organizations have been held to be exempt church plans by the IRS, which has issued many private letter rulings to that effect. Recently, however, a split in federal circuit decisions has forced plans, which often operate in multiple states, to confront different and conflicting pension rules in those states. In states where ERISA applies, state laws are preempted. In others, state regulation must be complied with.

“Our amicus brief pointed out the conflict in the circuits, the billions of dollars of penalties the plans would potentially incur in circuits where the exemption has been rejected, and the consequent need for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to settle the issue once and for all,” said Brejcha. “We are pleased that the highest court in the land is intervening in the legal campaign against faith-based hospitals. Since 2013, almost 100 lawsuits have been filed against hospital systems owned and operated by religious-affiliated entities, in an effort to end or prevent their participation in denominational church pension plans, costing them many billions of dollars.”

The Thomas More Society got involved in the ERISA issue in 2015 when it filed an amicus brief supporting exemption in Rollins v. Dignity Health, before the 9th Circuit. In 2016 that circuit found that an ERISA church plan exemption would not be granted to the religiously affiliated hospital system’s pension plan.

The Thomas More Society then filed an amicus brief urging that this case, and two others previously decided in other circuits, be accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The amicus brief supporting the petition for writ of certiorari was authored by Washington D.C.-based attorney, Alan E. Untereiner. It highlighted the split in circuit authority, the ruinous potential financial liability posed by the decisions, and the decisions’ contradiction of a consistent 30-year-old interpretation of the law exempting such plans by all three of the federal agencies (DOL, PBGC, and IRS) responsible for administering and enforcing ERISA. “Mr. Untereiner’s work helped the Court focus on the importance of this issue for faith-based organizations, which are guaranteed the right to freely exercise their religious-based mission,” Brejcha said.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on December 2, 2016. In January 2017, the Thomas More Society, along with the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed an amicus brief on the merits, urging reversal of the lower court decisions. Oral argument was held on March 27, 2017. A decision is expected by June.

View the Thomas More Society’s January 2017 amicus brief urging that the lower court decisions on review be reversed in Advocate Health Care Network, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, and Dignity Health here.

View the Thomas More Society’s August 2016 amicus brief urging that certiorari be granted in Advocate Health Care Network and Saint Peter’s Healthcare System here 

View the Thomas More Society’s July 2015 amicus brief supporting Catholic hospital organization, Dignity Health, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here