Author archives: Travis Weber

Tarnishing Freedom in Georgia

by Travis Weber

January 28, 2015

It is reported that down in Georgia, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are ratcheting up their smear campaign against proposed religious liberty legislation known as the “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” which is designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

A web page titled “Better Georgia” purports to state concerns with the legislation, House Bill 29, but is filled entirely with omissions and misrepresentations regarding H.B. 29 and how religious liberty law actually works. Let’s fact-check some of its ridiculous claims.

Claim:

This bill would open the door to people who would use their religion to opt out of laws from child welfare to discrimination. It would lead to legal chaos over whose religion is more important in the eyes of our courts and lawmakers. The legislation would give criminals who abusetheir children or spouses a new excuse and make it even more difficult for police officers to put abusers behind bars.”

Veracity Level:

False. Child abuse is evil, and no one defends it. However, it is indeed offensive for Better Georgia’s out-of-state backers to imply that religious believers in Georgia are to blame for such abuse. Moreover, no religious freedom laws, including H.B. 29, permit people to “opt out” of child welfare laws, nor do such laws allow people to abuse their children.

Better Georgia had better check its fact-checkers.

The truth is that under H.B. 29, as with any strict scrutiny application to religious claims, an individual first has to prove they have a sincere religious belief, which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice, and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

Thus, H.B. 29 does not automatically permit religious claims to win, but does provide a method for sincere conscientious objectors to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws. This standard has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), without any of the alleged “concerns” and “fears” RFRA opponents point to.

In its 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court significantly restricted free exercise rights, holding that laws infringing on religious exercise did not violate the First Amendment as long as they were neutral and generally applicable. In Smith, an individual sought and was denied unemployment benefits by the State of Oregon because he used peyote—a criminalized, controlled substance—yet he claimed his use of peyote was a religious practice protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The Supreme Court rejected this claim, holding that if a neutral and generally applicable law (such as the uniformly applicable criminal law in this case) happens to infringes on religious practice, such a law does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Many rightly saw Smith as a reduction in the protection afforded religious liberty, and the reaction to the Court’s decision was overwhelming. In 1993, a coalition of groups from across the religious and legal spectrum—from the Southern Baptists to the ACLU—came together to urge Congress to pass a law restoring strong protections for free exercise claims. The political support for such a law was also overwhelming, including strong backing from Democratic Congressional leaders such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Jerry Nadler. RFRA was passed unanimously by the U.S. House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton. In over 20 years that the federal RFRA has been in existence, there is been no documented pattern of abuses such as those no claimed by the opponents of H.B. 29. As others have asked, where are these alleged child abusers and discriminators who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA never was and should not be a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. A review of RFRA and free exercise case law reveals its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects (among others), as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government. Moreover, RFRAs cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of factual scenarios, such as property disputes, restrictions on caring from the homeless, conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not fact-specific. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

Despite this fact, many will attempt to manipulate the clear text of the law for partisan aims. Even a group of law professors writing in opposition to the bill can’t conceal their political agenda. They write:

The Federal RFRA, however, arose in a political context very different from the current one. The Federal RFRA responded directly to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which many people perceived as a significant setback in constitutional protection for the religious liberty of vulnerable minority faith groups. The coalition that supported RFRA included Democrats and Republicans, people of all faiths, and groups that cared generally about civil liberties.”

So what these law professors—who might purport to neutrally explain the law and not promote partisan views—openly admit is that they only care about certain religious rights. Moreover, they imply that the people who supported RFRA in 1993 cared about “civil liberties” while those who support it now don’t. The truth is that some of those who supported it then still support it now. Shameful. These professors might as well just admit they are elevating their political preferences over the equal application of a neutral law. In addition, their position purporting high-minded concern that H.B. 29 might “invite” discrimination is contrary to a proper understanding of First Amendment law and its strict scrutiny standard (which RFRA codifies). The Supreme Court has consistently held that First Amendment rights are to be elevated over nondiscrimination principles—in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Group of Boston (pertaining to free speech) and in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (pertaining to freedom of association).

Indeed, the text of H.B. 29 itself reveals an open-mindedness and neutrality which is at opposition to such political posturing, and at odds with the narrow-minded, politically-charged misrepresentations being thrown around on the internet by Better Georgia. Before unquestioningly getting on the bandwagon, everyone needs to take a deep breath and look at what actually is going on.

The alleged “incidents” highlighted by these scaremongers at Better Georgia are exactly that—scaremongering. The case of the toddler in Canada who died after severe application of Seventh-day Adventist dietary rules (aside from the issue that this is anything but a “pattern” of behavior) would not be an issue under H.B. 29 or any similar law—the government has the most compelling of interests in preventing deaths of children. The religious liberty claim would therefore flatly fail in that case. Rather than highlighting one scaremongering scenario which occurred in Canada, these purveyors of smear could focus on instances of suppression of religious practice closer to home. Georgians know better, as they recognize the threats illuminated by Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s termination due to his religious views.

Indeed, Chief Cochran’s recent firing clearly illustrates the threat to religious expression which is alive and well at home in Georgia. Despite the city’s assertion that Chief Cochran’s religion is not at issue in his termination (while his “discrimination” allegedly is), the city is trying to disconnect two areas—Chief Cochran’s religious beliefs, and human sexuality—which cannot be disconnected. The chief’s orthodox and faithful Christian views on sexuality are what inform his views of a variety of sexual conduct, including but not limited to homosexual conduct, which he believes (in concert with historic and orthodox Christian teaching) departs from God’s standard. The city is trying to ignore the fact that faithful Christianity directly informs views on sexuality. When the chief is punished for these views, he’s being punished for his religion. His case has everything to do with religion, and reveals the hostility to religion present in Atlanta.

Moreover, Better Georgia’s “example” of the Canadian child abuse scenario reveals a deeper issue—sloppy analysis and a lack of critical thinking. Better Georgia links to a story about a religious believer’s alleged child abuse, yet fails to point out that no religious claim was even brought in the case. Of course, the fact that this “example” took place in Canada with its entirely different legal system was lost on the group too. It’s almost as if Better Georgia has scoured the web for any information it can find which links bad things happening with religion. The group certainly has not come up with a legitimate example showing any serious danger of H.B. 29.

Even the group’s touting of an opinion piece by a Georgia district attorney misses the mark. The examples in that piece involve criminal prosecution for child abuse without any discussion of a successful religious defense. Child abuse and other cases involving bodily harm to human beings are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with laws like H.B. 29. Yet how often have we heard about successful religious freedom defenses to such prosecutions? Why can’t Better Georgia or any of its opponents point to any?

The reason they cannot is that such defenses are not successful. Multiple courts in multiple states have held that preventing child abuse is a compelling government interest. Georgia courts have already held that the state has a compelling interest in the welfare of children. As noted above, under H.B. 29 and similar laws, the government can burden religious beliefs when it has a compelling government interest. In failing to discuss this point while asserting the dangers of H.B. 29, District Attorney Cooke has misrepresented the danger of the bill and needs to revisit his analysis.

Another “case” cited by H.B. 29 opponents is a situation involving parents beating their son to death. According to Better Georgia, these parents might be able to walk away from criminal charges because of H.B. 29. Not only is this an absolute distraction from the issue, but it is an insult to Georgians’ intelligence that they might consider H.B. 29 to legitimately offer a defense to such actions. Better Georgia claims “abusers will be able to hide behind religion in court.” Really? How would they do that under H.B. 29? This group, which is shamefully playing on Georgians’ fears based on cooked-up nonexistent situations, has not pointed to one legitimate explanation of how this scenario would be permitted under the strict scrutiny standard laid out above.

Indeed, Better Georgia does not even highlight any attempted legal defense using a religious freedom claim. The fear that there would be one appears nonexistent. Yet, sadly, this simplistic reduction of how religious freedom law works manipulates human passion and deliberately confuses in order to promote division and hatred of religious people—based entirely on misrepresentations. Better Georgia should be ashamed. Georgia does deserve better.

It’s unclear what Better Georgia is even specifically basing its claims on in these alleged “concerning scenarios.” Perhaps it is looking at language in Section 50-15A-3 to exclude the bill’s application to parental rights regarding “the care and custody of such parent’s minor children.” But any simple reading of this provision reveals that it is stating the area of parental rights as it currently exists is to be left unrestricted by the additional protections of H.B. 29. Therefore, the state will continue to be able to regulate parental rights as it currently does, and this bill does not alter that. Indeed, H.B. 29 notes that these parental rights issues are to be left unrestricted “as provided for under the laws of this state and of the United States.”

Yet the Better Georgia “advocacy” does not stop there. Alas, more fact checking is needed.

Claim:

Georgia House Bill 29 would provide a free pass for business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin to openly deny gay Americans employment or service.”

Veracity Level:

False. Neither H.B. 29 nor other similar laws applying strict scrutiny to claims of religious exercise give anyone a “free pass.” As pointed out above, the religious liberty claim has to go through multiple hurdles before receiving protection under the law. Moreover, the evidence of such “free passes” being permitted is simply nonexistent. A cursory evaluation of how other similar laws have been interpreted reveals no “free passes.” Indeed, it is notable that Better Georgia can’t even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny[ing]” such service!

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that those making these “free pass” arguments are engaged in baseless fabrication.

More fact-checking is needed.

Claim:

A restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus or Muslims.”

Veracity Level:

False. Indeed, the opposite is true. The protections in H.B. 29 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions—whether Jews, Hindus, or Muslims—is protected. If the smear campaign had cared to accurately represent this point, it would have seen that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court protected a Muslim inmate’s right to religious practice under the same strict scrutiny standard in RFRA’s cousin—the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Indeed, H.B. 29 and similar laws protect religious exercise regardless of religion. These laws do NOT discriminate, nor do they discriminate between religions, but protect individual religious claims under the framework explained above. Moreover, they protect religious exercise in a variety of situations—such as the Texas RFRA’s protection of those seeking to feed the homeless—which are not cited in this attempt to incite hatred against religion. Any simple reading of the law will reveal all this. But apparently Better Georgia did not even do that.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. Thankfully, some liberal organizations are willing to more fairly represent it. Aside from what Better Georgia thinks, all Americans of political persuasions and religions who care about individual expression should be supporting H.B. 29. The bill’s text and our own judicial system’s well-grounded history of analyzing religious claims lend support to this conclusion. Meanwhile, Better Georgia’s conclusions have no support whatsoever.

The Supreme Court, prisoner rights, religious liberty, and human dignity

by Travis Weber

January 20, 2015

Today, in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion (authored by Justice Alito) holding that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLIUPA”) provided a Muslim inmate the right to exercise his religion by growing a ½ inch beard.

Like RFRA, RLIUPA applies strict scrutiny to prisoners’ religious rights claims, and provides that the government may not burden prisoners’ religious exercise (even through a law of general applicability) unless the government can show that the burden furthers a compelling government interest by the least restrictive means.

In this case, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, wished to grow a ½ inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Prison policy only permitted ¼ inch beards, however, and even then only for medical reasons. The Arkansas Department of Corrections (“DOC”) did not dispute the sincerity of Holt’s belief, or that its regulation burdened this belief.

However, the DOC argued that it had a compelling interest in its policy in order to prevent contraband in the prison, and that it advanced this interest through the least restrictive means.

While the Court agreed that correctional facilities have a compelling interest in eliminating contraband, it disagreed that the DOC’s policy here advanced that interest, noting that not much could be hidden in a ½ inch beard. Additionally, the Court observed that if a ½ inch beard could hide contraband, a prisoner could also hide contraband in his hair (which could be longer than ½ inch). Indeed, contraband could be hidden in longer hair (or in clothing) much more easily. Yet the DOC did not require prisoners to go around with shaved heads or without clothing. The DOC contended that the ½ inch beard requested by Mr. Holt is longer than the ¼ inch beard permitted for medical reasons, but the DOC has failed to show how this ¼ difference would cause a security risk. In addition, the DOC argued that few inmates request medical exemptions, while many would request religious exemptions. But the Court rejected this reasoning because the DOC had not argued that its refusal to allow religious exemptions was based on cost control or for administrative reasons.

While Justice Alito recognized that deference is due to prison officials’ policy decisions because of the unique and dangerous environment in which they operate, he also noted that such officials still must be held to RLUIPA’s statutory requirements. They did not meet those requirements in this case.

Moreover, as the Court noted, even if the DOC could show this compelling interest was advanced by its policy, it was not advancing it via the least restrictive means. For instance, its security concerns could be satisfied by searching Mr. Holt’s beard rather than making him cut it. The DOC already searches all prisoners’ hair and clothing; why couldn’t it search a beard just the same? The DOC argued that guards could be cut by razors while searching a beard, but they could also be cut during searches of hair and clothing. Even assuming that searching a beard is unsafe for guards, the DOC never showed why it could not have Holt run a comb through his beard to search for contraband.

The DOC also argued it could restrict beards because it had a compelling interest in preventing prisoners from disguising their identities, and escaping or avoiding capture. While the Court did not disagree that the DOC has an interest in quickly and efficiently identifying prisoners, the DOC had not shown why it could not take photos of prisoners so they could be identified with and without beards. The DOC also argued that while this method may work with escaped prisoners, photos would be unhelpful in preventing prisoners from quickly shaving and entering restricted areas in prison. Yet the Court was unpersuaded by the DOC’s arguments; in its view, the DOC failed to explain why the photo method would not work when it had worked at other prisons, and failed to show how a prisoner with a ¼ inch beard for medical reasons could not also pose the same security risk as that purportedly posed by Mr. Holt.

The Court observed that while deference to prison officials is justified, blind deference is not. While the DOC is not required to show in every respect why it has not adopted the procedures of other prison systems, its rejection of them without a good reason is persuasive evidence of its failure to meet RLUIPA. The Court made sure to point out that this does not put prisons in an impossible position; they still have reason to restrict religious practices when they are being used to cloak prohibited conduct or abused in a manner which undermines the prison’s compelling interests.

While the Court was unanimous, Justice Ginsburg took the opportunity to write a one-paragraph concurring opinion (which Justice Sotomayor joined) stating she joined the Court’s opinion with the “understanding” that “[u]nlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, … accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.” This statement likely refers to Justice Ginsburg’s belief that the successful RFRA claim in Hobby Lobby “harmed” women seeking contraceptives, while Mr. Holt’s claim does not. I disagree with Justice Ginsburg on this point, but I’ll reserve that discussion for another time.

Showing some sympathy to prison officials, Justice Sotomayor also wrote a concurring opinion in which she emphasized her understanding that the Court was not repudiating the idea that prison officials’ justifications should be offered some deference; rather, the Court was rightly skeptical of the justifications offered in this case. Indeed, the DOC’s “failure to demonstrate why the less restrictive policies [Mr. Holt] identified in the course of the litigation were insufficient to achieve its compelling interests” was what was ultimately fatal to its case, not the Court’s “independent judgment” of these matters. In addition, “least restrictive means,” in Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, did not mean that government officials need to consider and reject every conceivable alternative to satisfy RLUIPA; rather, they must consider the alternatives posed. In this case, the DOC failed to do that.

The Supreme Court ruled correctly in holding that Mr. Holt’s right to religious exercise under RLUIPA was violated because the DOC could not show it was advancing a compelling government interest, or that it was doing so through the least restrictive means.  RLUIPA clearly sets forth the hurdles the government has to overcome when burdening a prisoner’s religious beliefs, and the DOC failed to meet them here.

But this case is significant for another reason: It affirms our belief that religious liberty is intricately connected to and flows from our inherent human dignity. It cannot be taken away from us, even if we are imprisoned. While prisons have legitimate interests of their own, incarceration does not eliminate the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.

This case is a win for Mr. Holt. But the next time an inmate (perhaps with different beliefs) is facing some other burdensome regulation, he’ll be able to draw support from Mr. Holt’s precedent. In this way, a bulwark of religious liberty protections continues to be built, one component at a time. As it is said, a win for religious liberty for one is a win for religious liberty for all. 

At the Supreme Court: A Small Church and a Big Case

by Travis Weber

January 13, 2015

On January 12th, I attended Supreme Court oral arguments in a case—Reed v. Town of Gilbert—which will determine how easily the government can restrict signs giving directions to church services. Specifically, the Court is set to decide whether, under free speech protections of the First Amendment, a local government’s mere assertion that its sign code (despite on its face discriminating based on content) lacks a discriminatory motive renders the sign code content-neutral and justifies the code’s differential treatment of signs pointing the way to a church’s meeting location.

In this case, the Town of Gilbert had divided signs up based on whether they were ideological, political, or directional—and imposed different restrictions on each category of sign. Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, and its pastor, Clyde Reed, sued, claiming that signs pointing the way to their Sunday morning service (which contained religious speech and directions, and thus resulted in them being placed in the directional sign category) were treated less fairly and that this unfair treatment violated the First Amendment.

At oral arguments yesterday, both sides received their fair share of questions, but the justices were noticeably more skeptical of the town’s argument—especially its claim that it could severely restrict a sign containing ideological content announcing an event if the sign also included directions to that event, while at the same time easing restrictions on a sign containing the same exact ideological content and yet lacking directions.

The town attempted to defend itself by arguing it had an interest in preventing roadside clutter arising from numerable directional signs. But then it admitted it was granting preference to ideological and political signs because of the special First Amendment protection offered them, which prompted questions from the justices asking how the town was not impermissibly discriminating based on the content of the signs.

A breakthrough moment occurred when the town’s counsel admitted under questioning by Justice Breyer that the town could put up a sign saying: “Come to the next service next Tuesday, 4th and H Streets,” but could not add “three blocks right and two blocks left” to that same sign because that would make it a directional sign. Justice Breyer’s response: “Well, my goodness. I mean—I mean, on that, it does sound as if the town is being a little unreasonable, doesn’t it?”, pretty well captured the justices’ view of the case.

The justices will now consider the legal issues and issue a written opinion deciding the case sometime before the end of June 2015.

While seeming more innocuous than some of the other high profile social issues which have reached the court over the last year or so, this case matters (significantly) to free speech law. It therefore matters a lot to Americans of all opinions and interests who want to take part in public debates and discussions over numerable issues in our country. Even if it doesn’t matter to them personally, it should—for it affects their legal rights under the First Amendment.

This issue is also incredibly important to the ability of churches to communicate when and where they meet, and will thus heavily impact their flourishing and wellbeing. Our local churches serve as nerve centers for communities of faith across America, and must be supported and allowed to prosper. For all these reasons, Family Research Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last September asking it to rule in favor of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church in this case.

As we argued in our brief, and as the church’s attorney argued before the Court yesterday, the Supreme Court should rule in favor of the plaintiffs and strike down the town’s ordinance here as unconstitutional. Such a ruling would not only protect the First Amendment rights of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church, but those of any person or group our government wants to marginalize and silence in the public debate.

Family Research Council’s amicus brief in Reed v. Town of Gilbert is available here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF14I59.pdf

City of Atlanta: No orthodox Christians need apply

by Travis Weber

January 8, 2015

At a press conference held on Tuesday this week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran. How did we get here?

One year ago, Chief Cochran wrote a book discussing orthodox Christianity, including a mention of how God views homosexual practice. The book had been around for a year, with no problems. Yet when one of Atlanta’s secret thought police secretly uncovered the not-so-secret book, a hullabaloo erupted. All the usual suspects contributed to a hearty round of hand-wringing and head-shaking.

Mayor Reed was “deeply disturbed” and indignantly proclaimed he would not tolerate such discrimination within his administration.

Unless that discrimination is against Christians, of course.

Perhaps the mayor should take up his feeling of being “deeply disturbed” with God. Chief Cochran was only quoting the Bible. He didn’t come up with the ideas he expressed.

The mayor’s office then opened an investigation because “there are a number of passages” in Chief Cochran’s book “that directly conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policies.”

Well, who knew? The views one expresses in one’s own writings have to now conform to official city policies.

If this wasn’t bad enough, let’s turn to the chief’s firing. In a press conference held yesterday, the mayor claimed:

Chief Cochran’s “actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce. Every single employee under the Fire Chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions and his statements during the investigation and his suspension have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message.”

I want to make my position and the city of Atlanta’s position crystal clear,” Reed continued. “The city’s nondiscrimination policy … really unequivocally states that we will not discriminate.” Thus, according the mayor, any individual who violates that policy or “creates an environment where that is a concern” will notcontinue his or her employment withthe city government.

The only problem is: there is no evidence here of any discrimination whatsoever! There never has been.

In essence, the chief was fired by the mayor and his allies because (if they were honest) they “think he might discriminate against gay people.” Never mind there is zero evidence of any such discrimination. Simply put, no one can point to any adverse action Chief Cochran has ever taken against someone based on their homosexuality! If they could, we certainly would have heard about it, given the frenzied fears of “potential” future discrimination and a “possible” hostile work environment. But because that’s all the mayor and his allies have to go on, all we’ve heard about is the “possibility” of future discrimination.

This is a clear case of someone being eliminated from their position because of their views alone. This is even worse than other recent cases of disapproval of orthodox Christian views among public figures in the United States. Without exaggeration, we can say we have just seen the government monitoring personal expression for approval or disapproval, backed up by power of law.

But if he’s going to bury Chief Cochran, Mayor Reed needs all the ammunition he can get. So he scrambles, and tacks on another “justification”: “Chief Cochran also failed to notify me, as Mayor and Chief Executive of the City of Atlanta and his employer, of his plans to publish the book and its inflammatory content. This demonstrates an irreconcilable lapse in judgment.”

Never mind that Chief Cochran plausibly describes how he not only notified the mayor of his plans to publish the book, but provided him in January 2014 with a pre-publication copy for his review, which the mayor told him he planned on reading during an upcoming trip.

Reed didn’t even stop there. He claimed Chief Cochran published his book in violation of standards of conduct which require approval from the Ethics Officer and the Board of Ethics.

Never mind that, as Cochran reports, not only did the director of Atlanta’s ethics office give him permission to write the book, but he was also given permission to mention in his biography that he was the city’s fire chief.

Well, which is it, Mayor Reed? The “nondiscrimination” issue. Or the ethics issue? On the latter, the chief and mayor offer contradicting testimony. On the former, the mayor doesn’t even offer any evidence whatsoever!

These developments are likely to cause widespread consternation among Christians, but they should alarm anyone concerned about freedom of expression in general.

At the press conference, the mayor was in vehement and repeated denial that Chief Cochran was fired for his religious beliefs. The mayor would have us believe that “[t]his is about judg[]ment” and “not about religious freedom” or “free speech.” According to the mayor, “[j]udg[]ment is the basis of the problem.” But Mayor Reed knows he is wrong, which is why he is so defensive about there being no “religious persecution”—he clearly knows it is taking place.

In addition, the mayor was accompanied by his cabinet and Alex Wan (the city’s lone gay council member) at the press conference. If the issue is about ethics, why have the lone gay council member flanking you as you make the announcement? For that matter, why not have an ethics officer?

Indeed, the issue is about orthodox Christian views. And if it’s about “judgment” on the expression of such views, we are in a brave new world.

Chief Cochran must vigorously stand for his rights. All who care about the right to free expression without government intrusion and interference should stand with him, even if they disagree with him in this case. For when the law fails to protect one, it soon fails to protect all.

As we are reminded by Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who was an outspoken opponent of Hitler and ultimately was confined to a concentration camp:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

NOTE: Stand with Chief Cochran by signing our petition supporting him at http://frc.org/fired

DC Council votes in support of forcing abortion coverage

by Travis Weber

December 18, 2014

Yesterday, the DC Council passed a bill called the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014,” which could force employers in the District of Columbia (including the Family Research Council) to cover abortions.

The actual language of the bill would prevent employers from “discriminat[ing] against” an individual with respect to the “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of an individual’s “reproductive health decisions.” The definition of “reproductive health decisions” includes but is not limited to “a decision by an employee … related to the use or intended use of … contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of a pregnancy.” In plain terms, no employer would be able to say they don’t want to cover an abortion.

There is no exemption in the bill for any employer who might object to such coverage. This would have drastic consequences for a number of employers and organizations in the District who not only might object to such coverage on conscience grounds, but whose actual purpose for existing is to stop abortion because they believe it is a moral evil. This is the essence of a Freedom of Association violation – disrupting the very purpose of autonomous, private groups through legislative bulldozing tactics, thus rendering the groups’ existence meaningless.

Aside from this injustice, there are a number of legal problems with the bill. As pointed out by Alliance Defending Freedom, the bill would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Weldon Amendment, and the First Amendment protections of Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Freedom of Association.

Even the mayor’s office recognized the legal problems with the bill. Yet, more interested in ramming its policies down every District employer’s throat, the DC Council went ahead and passed the bill in defiance of the mayor’s concerns. One of the mayor’s concerns was a potential Equal Protection violation because the bill only addressed protections for women. In response, the Council reportedly added protections for men as well. That the Council would make this correction, and leave other groups who expressed religious and associational concerns hanging out to dry, only confirms the devious nature of the DC Council.

If following one’s conscience is to retain any meaning at all for those living and working in the District, the mayor absolutely must veto this bill!

Think Progress implicitly endorses Texas RFRA

by Travis Weber

December 12, 2014

Think Progress reported yesterday on a decision by the city of Dallas to revise regulations on feeding the homeless. These revisions, which made it easier to feed and care for those living on Dallas streets, were motivated by a federal court ruling last year in favor of several religious ministries desiring to take food to the homeless and feed and care for them wherever they are found.

Years ago, Dallas had cracked down on feeding the homeless and placed restrictions on how it could be done, and several Dallas area ministries and individuals who were impacted by these changes sued. The Think Progress report discusses these events:

After Big Hart Ministries Association and Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministry sued the city, six years passed before a judge ruled that the law violated the charities’ religious liberties under a Texas statute. Wednesday’s City Council vote carries the judge’s logic further, softening the rules charities face and effectively ending Dallas’ effort to clamp down on on-the-street feeding programs for the indigent regardless of religious affiliation.” (emphasis added)

Big Hart Ministries Association, Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministry, and William Edwards had sued under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The Texas RFRA states that (1) sincere religious practices (2) cannot be substantially burdened by the government unless the government (3) has a compelling interest which it is (4) advancing by the least restrictive means possible. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs had alleged that – in violation of the Texas RFRA – they had a sincere belief that their religion requires them to care for the homeless, and that the city was substantially burdening that belief by making it impossible to carry out with heavy regulations on feeding the homeless. Early in 2013, a federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs religious beliefs were indeed substantially burdened, and the city did not have a compelling interest in its regulations – thus, they violated the Texas RFRA. Finally, this past week, in response to this ruling, the Dallas City Council approved changes to regulations on feeding the homeless.

Think Progress does not refer to the Texas RFRA by name – but that’s the law which has benefitted the homeless in this situation. This is exactly what RFRAs – whether in Texas or elsewhere – are meant to accomplish: protect the exercise of sincere religious faith, in recognition of the valuable role it plays in society and benefits it brings to people around us. Furthermore, and contrary to many popular claims, RFRAs do protect religious exercise “regardless of religious affiliation.” A quick search of how the laws have been used in court will reveal that they have protected religious exercise for a variety of faiths.

It would be nice (and intellectually consistent) for Think Progress to extend this logic to other situations implicating RFRA. Indeed, the beauty of law is that it is blind to political preferences. This is why having RFRAs passed into law is so important to protecting religious freedom today. When religious freedom is diminished and made part of a political game, everyone suffers.

At Family Research Council, we fully support RFRA and what it stands for – protecting the exercise of faith for all in the face of often overreaching and too powerful governments.

To the business community: Religious freedom and you - perfect together

by Travis Weber

December 1, 2014

Writing at the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project blog, Samuel Gregg explores the idea – and idea for which new evidence is consistently emerging – that religious freedom is good for business.

Gregg begins by noting historically that as certain religious groups have been marginalized in political life, they have turned their energies toward commerce – and prospered. In other cases, certain groups have been marginalized in their nation’s financial life – thus handicapping the economy. This isn’t good for growth, obviously. Gregg then focuses his attention on the more recently discovered correlation between economic growth and religious freedom:

[T]here is growing evidence that respect for religious freedom tends to correlate with greater economic and business development. One recent academic article, for instance, found (1) a positive relationship between global economic competitiveness and religious freedom, and (2) that religious restrictions and hostilities tended to be detrimental to economic growth.”

Moreover, other rights and freedoms are not entirely unaffected:

[T]he strongest interest that business has in being attentive to the religious freedom of individuals and groups is the fact that substantive infringements upon one form of freedom often have significant and negative implications for other expressions of human liberty. If, for instance, governments can substantially nullify religious liberty, then they are surely capable of repressing any other civil liberty. This included rights with particular economic significance, such as the right to economic initiative and creativity, property rights, and the freedom of businesses to organize themselves in ways they deem necessary to (1) make a profit and (2) treat employees in ways consistent with the owner’s religious beliefs.”

He concludes by noting that, nevertheless:

[M]ore work needs to be done in this area. Correlation is not causation. While there do seem to be significant correlations between restrictions on religious liberty and the economic freedom of individuals and corporate bodies, the case for causation requires further elaboration.”

But, businesses take note!

If … the various forms of liberty are as interdependent as they seem to be, business surely has at least a high degree of self-interest in seeing substantive conceptions of religious liberty and the rights and protections associated with religious freedom prevail.”

Businesses take note, indeed.

Meddling Freedom From Religion Foundation Gets Tossed Out of Court

by Travis Weber

November 14, 2014

Thankfully, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Lew, refused to let stand a decision which had declared the clergy housing tax allowance unconstitutional.

This case began when the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the U.S. government alleging that the government grants tax benefits based on religion. In a quite ill-advised lower court ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb held that the FFRF could properly bring the lawsuit and that the tax allowance violated the Constitution. The case was then appealed to the 7th Circuit.

To understand how ridiculous the FFRF’s claim is, we must understand a little bit about the doctrine of “standing” to bring a lawsuit in federal court.

As the 7th Circuit explained, to bring a lawsuit, a party must show:

(1) they were injured in a concrete and personal way,

(2) that the injury can be fairly traced to the defendant’s action, and

(3) that the injury is likely to be remedied by a favorable judicial decision.

In addition, the court explained, merely being offended at the government’s action does not give one grounds to sue. Obviously, the fact that an atheist group is upset at other religious entities getting some tax relief for their ministers does not “injure” the atheist group at all. There is simply no personal injury present.

The 7th Circuit agreed, noting that the FFRF could not be injured by being denied any such tax exemption because the group never even asked for it.

The court also noted the FFRF’s own difficulty in arguing for liberal standing rules – almost anyone would have standing to sue for virtually any reason! This would result in over-clogged and over-worked federal courts, which, as they sift through heaps of frivolous suits, would have to take time away from truly meritorious suits where parties have been actually injured. To say this would be an injustice is an understatement.

The 7th Circuit concluded as follows:

To summarize, plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the parsonage exemption. A person suffers no judicially cognizable injury merely because others receive a tax benefit that is conditioned on allegedly unconstitutional criteria, even if that person is otherwise “similarly situated” to those who do receive the benefit. Only a person that has been denied such a benefit can be deemed to have suffered a cognizable injury. The plaintiffs here have never been denied the parsonage exemption be-cause they have never requested it; therefore, they have suffered no injury.”

Nevertheless, it’s troubling to think the FFRF’s claims could even be considered more seriously had it asked for and been denied the exemption. Such a possibly should serve to highlight the way the suppressors of any religious expression in public life manipulate our legal system in wasteful and unproductive ways.

The FFRF has hardly been “injured” here by any reasonable understanding of that term. Courts should take note of this when the FFRF is back before another judge claiming some other mental or psychological “injury.”

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit: Upholding marriage and democracy

by Travis Weber

November 7, 2014

On November 6, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, held that the marriage laws of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee do not violate the federal Constitution.

The opinion is a model of judicial restraint. Judge Sutton declared that states may see fit to legalize same-sex marriage, as multiple states already have, but that decision is to be left to the people of the states; the Constitution does not permit a “poll” of federal judges about “whether gay marriage is a good idea.”

A number of arguments were raised by the challengers of the marriage laws. Judge Sutton confronted all of them, and methodically explained why they are each insufficient to entitle the challengers to relief.

The 6th Circuit is simply following precedent, which it is required to do

The Court first explained that its position as an intermediate court requires it to follow on-point precedent, which is readily available in the case of Baker v. Nelson. Even in light of Loving v. Virginia (which had been decided four years previous to Baker), the Minnesota Supreme Court in Baker held that there was no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage, for “‘in commonsense and in a constitutional sense … there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.’” The losing party appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Court dismissed the constitutional same-sex marriage claim, thus establishing Supreme Court precedent binding the 6th Circuit in this case.

Neither does United States v. Windsor change the calculus, for Windsor and Baker dealt with different issues. As for the argument that Windsor and other cases constitute a “doctrinal development,” Judge Sutton relies on the explicit instruction of the Supreme Court in other cases to conclude, quite reasonably, that Supreme Court precedents (which include Baker) must be followed until the Supreme Court makes clear otherwise. Unless the Supreme Court expressly overrules Baker by name, or by outcome, the 6th Circuit is bound by it. In addition, Judge Sutton clearly repudiated the notion that Windsor controls the present question somehow – noting that Windsor did not decide whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

This type of solid logic is great to see; and shows that judges who have ruled otherwise have recklessly picked their favorite cases and twisted them to fit a favorable narrative. These other rulings finding a federal right to same-sex “marriage” have torn logic from its moorings; this is all the more apparent when contrasted with Judge Sutton’s solid logic here.

Baker independently provides grounds to conclude there is no constitutional rights claim to same-sex marriage, but Judge Sutton continues to address the remainder of challengers’ arguments nevertheless.

The original meaning of the Constitution does not offer support for same-sex marriage

Considering that the Constitution is an agreement between the people of the United States and the political leaders entrusted to govern them, Judge Sutton noted, its terms can only be changed with the consent of the people. For this reason also, clarity in interpretation and understanding are all the more important. There is no clear provision or understanding of the Constitution’s terms conferring a right to same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court also clearly looks to long-established historical track records of how constitutional provisions are to be interpreted – as revealed by precedent on a number of different constitutional provisions. Therefore, with this understanding, states are permitted, but not required, to legally allow marriage between members of the same-sex. If lawyers still invoke the original meaning of the Magna Carta, is it too much to ask that the original meaning of the Constitution (which, as Judge Sutton noted, no party to the case has suggested permits same-sex marriage) be respected? Indeed, it is not. Judge Sutton concluded that the original meaning of the Constitution and the historical record of what it permits does not reveal any constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

The state marriage laws meet rational basis review

Judge Sutton next concluded that the state marriage laws at issue meet rational basis review, which is satisfied as long as there is “any plausible reason” for the laws. Indeed, “[a] dose of humility makes” the Court “hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.”

The Court noted it is clearly rational for the state to want to regulate the effects of sexual activity – which raises very important questions such as who is responsible for children produced by sexual activity, how many mates a person may have, and who is responsible for children which one or more of the partners helped to produce. The fact “[t]hat we rarely think about these questions nowadays shows only how far we have come and how relatively stable our society is, not that States have no explanation for creating such rules in the first place.” This alone is evidence of the rational basis of such laws. Moreover, “rational basis review does not permit courts to invalidate laws every time a new and allegedly better way of addressing a policy emerges,” Judge Sutton concluded. “By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g., with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. That does not convict the States of irrationality.”

It is also clearly rational for the states to want to wait and see what happens as a result of the legalization of same-sex marriage before changing their own laws on a norm which has existed for centuries. Developments in the United States on this issue have been rapid-fire, and yet at the same time, many states have simply left in place the norms to which they have always held. This is certainly rational, for “[a] Burkean sense of caution does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Either of these two grounds would independently satisfy rational basis review. Yet even the challengers’ own “love-and-commitment” definition of marriage would fail under their view of rational basis review. For no state requires couples, whether gay or straight, to be in love. Yet on the other hand, their definition fails to account for plural marriages, for there is “no reason to think that three or four adults, whether gay, bisexual, or straight, lack the capacity to share love, affection, and commitment, or for that matter lack the capacity to be capable (and more plentiful) parents to boot.” The Court proclaimed, “[i]f it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage.” Judge Sutton noted that the challengers “have no answer” on this point. Yet “[w]hat they might say they cannot: They might say that tradition or community mores provide a rational basis for States to stand by the monogamy definition of marriage, but they cannot say that because that is exactly what they claim is illegitimate about the States’ male-female definition of marriage.

Judicial deference to the people is a serious issue under rational basis review. Indeed, as Judge Sutton noted, the Supreme Court has held that a “State’s interest in maintaining close ties among those who steer ships in its ports justifies denying pilotage licenses to anyone who isn’t a friend or relative of an incumbent pilot. Can we honestly say that traditional marriage laws involve more irrationality than nepotism?”

Ultimately, rational basis review is clearly satisfied here because either the regulation of sexual activity or a decision to proceed with caution on marriage laws would satisfy the constitutional standard. Thus the Court could dispose of the case at this point. But Judge Sutton continues to address the many arguments raised by the challengers – who no doubt are hoping that one of them would stick.

The voters in the states cannot be painted with the broad brush of “animus”

Judge Sutton next dismissed the idea that the state marriage laws are driven by animus, noting that the laws (which there are plenty of legitimate reasons to support) merely hold in place norms which have been around for the entire history of civilization. As the Court noted, “if there was one concern animating the initiatives, it was the fear that the courts would seize control over an issue that people of good faith care deeply about. If that is animus, the term has no useful meaning.” How could the voters be blamed for feeling this way, when judges around the country were starting to strike down these laws out of the blue? It was at this time that voters decided to codify these long-held traditions in law – an act which the Supreme Court itself affirmed to be their prerogative to decide sensitive public policy issue in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Painting the voters of the states with the broad brush of animus is “no less unfair” than portraying all supporters of same-sex marriage as intent on destroying American families to the core. Thus the idea that animus has driven state marriage laws, and that this serves as a reason to find them unconstitutional, fails entirely.

There is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution

The Court next tackled the question of whether there was a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, beginning by noting that it does not appear explicitly in the Constitution, and next by finding it is not historically “deeply rooted” as necessary to “ordered liberty.” Loving does not support the idea that this right historically existed. Loving did not use the term “opposite-sex” marriage, but that would have been redundant. For in Loving the Court proclaimed that marriage was “fundamental to our very existence and survival” – referring to the procreative aspect of marriage. Judge Sutton reasoned:

Had a gay African-American male and a gay Caucasian male been denied a marriage license in Virginia in 1968, would the Supreme Court have held that Virginia had violated the Fourteenth Amendment? No one to our knowledge thinks so, and no Justice to our knowledge has ever said so. The denial of the license would have turned not on the races of the applicants but on a request to change the definition of marriage. Had Loving meant something more when it pronounced marriage a fundamental right, how could the Court hold in Baker five years later that gay marriage does not even raise a substantial federal question? Loving addressed, and rightly corrected, an unconstitutional eligibility requirement for marriage; it did not create a new definition of marriage.”

Neither do Zablocki v. Redhail or Turner v. Safley supporter the challengers’ claim here, for “[i]t strains credulity to believe that a year after each decision a gay indigent father could have required the State to grant him a marriage license for his partnership or that a gay prisoner could have required the State to permit him to marry a gay partner. When Loving and its progeny used the word marriage, they did not redefine the term but accepted its traditional meaning.”

Judge Sutton also noted that the Supreme Court has chosen not to subject laws regulating other aspects of marriage – such as divorce laws, polygamy laws, and laws regulating the age and familial status of those entering marriage – to strict scrutiny. As is the case with same-sex relationships, there are other areas of action intersecting with marriage laws which do not implicate fundamental rights subject to strict scrutiny.

In conclusion, there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage – it is not mentioned in the Constitution, and cannot be recognized under the applicable legal standard.

Sexual orientation is not a “discrete and insular class without political power”

As the Court noted, rational basis review applies to sexual orientation classifications. The Supreme Court has never held that heightened review applies, and has not recognized a new suspect class in over four decades. Windsor does not support any contrary conclusion; rather, Windsor overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that marriage law and policy is to be left in the hands of the states. If it wasn’t clear enough, Judge Sutton emphasized the point again: Windsor does not support a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage – any other reading “would require us to subtract key passages from the opinion and add an inverted holding.” Thus there is no heightened review applied in this case.

The notion of “evolving meaning” cannot support the legalization of same-sex marriage

Even if changing mores are examined for whether they can support new judicial decision-making, they do not support the idea that laws upholding natural marriage must be struck down. Such considerations are dependent on society’s values (not judges’ values), and thirty-one states would continue to permit only natural marriage if given the choice. If the “pacing” of the change of this issue in society is to be considered, and the challengers desire is to examine judicial decisions as part of this trend, what about the “pacing” of state legislatures’ decisions and the deference due to their interest in caution?

Moreover, even if international legal regimes are examined on this point, Judge Sutton observed that the great majority of countries have retained natural marriage. The European Court of Human Rights even held that European human rights laws do not guarantee a right of same-sex marriage. The Court makes a good point: “What neutral principle of constitutional interpretation allows us to ignore the European Court’s same-sex marriage decisions when deciding this case? If the point is relevant in the one setting, it is relevant in the other, especially in a case designed to treat like matters alike.”

In concluding this section of his opinion, Judge Sutton noted “[i]t is dangerous and demeaning to the citizenry to assume that we, and only we, can fairly understand the arguments for and against gay marriage.” Indeed, even if evolving mores are considered, they do not support a wholesale forced acceptance of same-sex marriage.

For all these reasons, the marriage laws at issue in this case are perfectly constitutional.

The challengers had also argued, however, that state laws banning recognition of out-of-state marriages violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The Constitution does not require inter-state recognition of same-sex marriages

The Court stated that (as explained above) because states may constitutionally define marriage between men and women as they see fit within their borders, they may also constitutionally define how they will recognize out of state marriages. States have always decided how and when they will recognize other states’ laws based on choice of law doctrines. This situation is no different. Indeed, states already for a long time have refused to recognize invalid out of state marriages in other contexts – like incestuous or polygamous marriages, or others opposed to state law. States may decide what marriages to recognize as a matter of policy in those contexts, and this one is no different. If there is no constitutional right forcing a state to modify its own marriage laws, there is no constitutional right forcing a state to modify its laws regarding recognition of marriages performed in other states.

The challengers also argued that such bans violate the constitutional right to travel – which protects the right to leave and enter states, be welcomed, and, if a permanent resident, be treated like a citizen of the state. Yet, as the Court noted, state laws banning recognition of out of state marriage violate none of these rules. People can still move freely across boundaries, and are treated just like those inside the state who would violate the marriage laws. Thus, the right to travel does not require invalidation of state marriage laws on this point.

Conclusion

For all these reasons (explained above and summarized below), the Court held that state laws upholding natural marriage are fully legal and constitutional:

  • Baker requires that this Court dismiss the constitutional rights claims here.
  • Even if not dismissed, these laws meet rational basis review. There is no animus or suspect classification which would require any greater review.
  • There is also no fundamental right here – explicitly protected or deserving to be recognized.
  • There is no original meaning or “evolving meaning” support for a same-sex marriage right which would change any of the above analyses.
  • Additionally, no legal principle changes the constitutional calculus regarding laws pertaining to recognition of out-of-state marriages.

Judge Sutton reiterated one final time that such sensitive issues, especially when considering the abrupt timeline of change and legalization of same-sex marriage, should be left to the voters to decide. Only then can voters on both sides of the issue makes their voices heard in a manner befitting them as ultimate arbiters in a self-governing democracy, as opposed to making judges the “heroes” (or villains) they were never meant to be.

Dissent

Dissenting Judge Daughtrey repeats all the same arguments advanced by the challengers – arguments which have been repeated elsewhere by rogue judges striking down marriage laws. She accuses the majority of setting up a “false premise” of “who should decide” this issue – the voters or judges. Perhaps she is grasping at straws, for this is not a false premise at all, but a legitimate question that is actually before the court – whether there actually is a right to same-sex marriage at all – which, if absent, indeed permits the voters to decide. For much of her opinion, she spends time on items not even central to the legal issues – she discusses the various factual scenarios of the challengers’ lives, then takes shots at the expert testimony offered by the defending states (without equally scrutinizing plaintiffs’ experts), and finally simply recounts other recent circuit court rulings (which themselves have been crafted out of thin air in the past year with specious reasoning).

She fails to confront the precedential hurdles she faces in Baker (which have been discussed by the majority). She also fails to even examine the proper standard for rational basis review – whether there is “any plausible reason” for traditional marriage. Instead, she just skips the question, choosing instead to complain about the majority’s arguments without engaging them, and without applying the appropriate legal standard. For instance, at one point, she focuses on the level of difficulty of amending a state constitution – a question entirely irrelevant to the legal standard she is supposed to be considering.

She then claims the voters could be exhibiting “animus” if they have a “general, ephemeral distrust of, of discomfort with, a particular group.” Under that standard, we might as well be forced to legitimize virtually every behavior for which we currently incarcerate people.

It goes without saying further that the dissent is poorly constructed and lacks objectivity. That alone would be sufficient reason to criticize it; the cheap shots which she takes at the judges in the majority (and to some extent the voters) further discredit the dissent.

7 Points of Reflection: Responding to the Houston Mayor’s Press Conference Announcing the Withdrawal of the Subpoenas Targeting the Five Houston Pastors

by Travis Weber

October 29, 2014
  1. The mayor says the subpoenas were “legal, valid, and appropriate,” but is withdrawing them anyway.

No, they are not legal, valid, and appropriate. They requested irrelevant and privileged material, and had the purpose of harassing the pastors – these very qualities make them quite inappropriate.

  1. She says it is “extremely important” to protect her special rights ordinance.

What about free speech rights so essential to open democracy and religious liberty rights protected by the First Amendment? She didn’t mention it was important to protect these.

  1. She claims the pastors she met with (who were not the subject of the subpoenas nor authorized to speak on behalf of those who were) didn’t plan a “rally” to “attack me” or the city.

While she tries to paint herself as above the political fray, she’s the one who invalidated the signatures. At its heart, this entire situation is a political matter. She tries to separate her subpoena withdrawal from the politics here, but she ultimately can’t do this. It comes down to this – if the pastors had been speaking for the bathroom bill instead of against it, she’d be fine with that. This IS about political intimidation – no matter how much she says it isn’t.

  1. She cares about “broader concerns” implicated here so she dropped the subpoenas.

What about the “concern” of Houston citizens being able to democratically repeal a law they don’t like? That seems pretty “broad” to me.

 

  1. She says she had a good conversation about “rendering unto Caesar” with the pastors she met with (who, again, are not even the pastors who were targeted by the mayor’s office).

This isn’t a determination for her to make. Ultimately, this entire situation arose because the Houston 5 have not rendered unto the City what the City would like for them to – their views on sexuality.

  1. She believes she has “removed that discussion about freedom of religion from the local arena.”

No, she hasn’t. She’d prefer that “religion” have nothing to say about the versions of sexuality protected by HERO – the very thing which is driving the lawsuit – which she has vowed to defend. Thus her logic defeats itself.

  1. She also became defensive when asked why she wouldn’t just allow the citizens to vote on repealing HERO. She was asked a question expressing concern that the Houston 5 may still feel intimidated.

She attempted an answer, but did so unsatisfactorily. If the mayor wants to clear up the intimidation issue, she can allow the citizens she was elected to represent to actually vote on whether to repeal the ordinance – it’s that simple.

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