The Week in Good News

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

At a time when Black girls continue to go missing, people are being killed because of their religion, queer kids are dying by bullying-coerced suicides, and Trump wants to charge refugees and migrants a fee to process their asylum cases, let’s remember the importance of celebrating the wins.

A bunch of good stuff happened last week. Here are three of the most celebratory:

1. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said no to churches trying to play politics with foster kids.

Background: Touting religious liberty, taxpayer-funded faith-based foster agencies around the country are refusing to place children in the care of qualified applicants who are LGBTQ, not the “right” religion, or both. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, these organizations are being supported by the Trump administration via a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) policy that relies on an overreaching interpretation of RFRA. Our allies at Americans United are just one of the groups who have filed a lawsuit to fight this bigoted policy. Simply put, taxpayer-funded foster agencies must put the best interests of children first. And that includes placing children with qualified LGBTQ or Catholic or Jewish or evangelical or humanist foster homes.

The city of Philadelphia, based on the city’s anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation, terminated its contract with foster agency Catholic Social Services due to the agency’s refusal to place children with LGBTQ couples. And in a 3-0 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with the city’s decision.

Why it’s worth celebrating: The church’s case relied on the argument that it was treated differently because of its religious beliefs—religious beliefs that ought to allow it to discriminate. That argument was shut down, and it was shut down hard.

What’s next: Pay attention to other cases working their way through the courts, like the Americans United case in South Carolina. Unlike in Pennsylvania, the state and the federal government support the foster agency.

2. The mayor of San Francisco lifted all 88,000 current driver’s license holds, providing tangible relief to real people.

Background: California has ridiculously high traffic ticket fines—averaging hundreds of dollars. A lot of people can’t pay these exorbitant fees but require cars to get around (insert cliché about California highways here). If you get a ticket and don’t show up to traffic court, a hold is placed on your driver’s license. A working group that’s part of the San Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force found that most people miss their court date because they can’t afford to pay the fees.  And, surprise, surprise, Black residents are disproportionately affected. In one predominantly Black area of the city, residents’ licenses were being suspended at three times the state average. Two years ago San Francisco became the first municipality in the country to end this punitive practice, because (duh) taking away someone’s driver’s license makes it harder for them to keep or get a job and therefore pay the fees that put them in this position in the first place. However, at the time the city couldn’t lift holds that had already been logged. Last week the mayor announced that all 88,000 holds on driver’s licenses will be lifted.

Why it’s worth celebrating: Per James Baldwin, it’s expensive to be poor, but cycles of poverty don’t fizzle out on their own. It takes corrective action on multiple levels to actually make a dent in poverty taxes. San Francisco is still a terribly expensive city, but this action demonstrates clear and tangible steps in the right direction. This is worth celebrating because it has an actual positive impact on people’s lives.

What’s next: Let’s get the rest of California to follow suit.

3. Kansas’s Supreme Court said that a woman’s right to legal, safe, and accessible abortions is protected by the state’s constitution.

Background: State legislators are repeatedly introducing and passing laws designed to chip away our rights to accessible and safe abortions through unnecessary restrictions. In 2015 the Kansas legislature passed one such law, the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, prohibiting dilation and evacuation abortion procedures in almost all cases. The procedure is used in almost all second-trimester abortions, and makes up roughly 9 percent of abortions in Kansas. Abortion providers challenged the law as the case made its way up the courts.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision is a thing of beauty, but one section really brings it home:

Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life— decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.

Why it’s worth celebrating: There are a few reasons for happy dances with this one. Since it’s a state issue, there are no more appeals left. This is the law of the proverbial land. Even if we enter a world where Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion would remain legal in Kansas since the court’s decision relies on the state’s constitution.

What’s next: The court made a grand statement but didn’t completely protect women’s rights to choose. Future laws will be able to restrict that right if activists and legislators can demonstrate a need for the law, rather than simply a desire to curtail individual rights. And anti-abortion groups are reading the ruling as an opportunity to amend the constitution by putting abortion on the ballot. It’s unlikely that will succeed, but we’ll be watching closely. Also, things like the Hyde Amendment still exist, so the fight continues.

Still, we’ve got three wins to celebrate as we move onward.