Posts Tagged ‘religious liberty’

July 22 roundup

Just not in frosting

“Printing business has First Amendment and RFRA right to refuse to print gay pride festival T-shirts” [Eugene Volokh] The Lexington Human Rights Commission had ordered employee training for a t-shirt printer that had objected to printing messages it disagreed with, but a Kentucky trial court judge threw out the order citing both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Kentucky’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, here applicable to a corporation as defendant since it was an incorporated business that had been the target of the discrimination complaint. Compare the bake-my-cake cases, which have generally come out the other way. And see in the U.K., “Patrick Stewart backs bakery after ‘gay cake’ court battle”: Independent, Telegraph, Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason.

Controversial speech, the Texas attack, and the murderer’s veto

The unsuccessful attack on an exhibition of Mohammed cartoons in Garland, Texas, near Dallas, is the most recent attempted mass murder on American soil endeavoring to silence expression bothersome to radical Islamists; it is unlikely to be the last. Some thoughts assembled from Twitter:

One early, ill-considered reaction from the legacy media:

But the legacy media coverage didn’t necessarily improve after a day for reporting and reflection:

As commentators have pointed out, the narrow “fighting words” exception in today’s First Amendment law is generally reserved for (at most) face-to-face insults likely to provoke an on-the-spot brawl, not to derogatory speech more generally:

Echoes of the PEN awards controversy going on at the same time:

On which memorably, also, Nick Cohen in the Spectator.

Earlier on the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks.

More: Ken White skewers that awful McClatchy piece with its misunderstandings about “fighting words.” And don’t miss Michael Moynihan on those who would “make a bold stand against the nonexistent racism of 12 dead journalists by refusing to clap for the one who got away,” or related and very good Caleb Crain.

A new screen for religious-school tax exemption?

In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Bob Jones University in South Carolina could be denied an otherwise applicable tax exemption because of its then policy of forbidding interracial dating among its students; since then, despite much speculation, there has not been widespread yanking of exemptions from other institutions over widely disfavored or execrated but otherwise not unlawful internal policies. Now an exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, at Tuesday’s oral argument in the gay marriage cases, is raising some eyebrows. Verrilli’s comments, if seen as reflecting considered Obama administration policy, might be seen as leaving the door open to wider denial of exemptions. [Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post; Michael Greve, Library of Law and Liberty]

Business, gay rights, and the law: what comes next

Following the furor over RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) legislation in Indiana and Arkansas this week, I’ve got a new piece in today’s New York Daily News on the emergence of American business as the most influential ally of gay rights. Links to follow up some of the quoted sources: Reuters on Walmart, Tony Perkins/FRC on pieces of silver, Dave Weigel on how public opinion in polls tends to side with the small business owners. I wrote last year on the Arizona mini-RFRA bill vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

On the social media pile-on against a small-town Indiana pizzeria, see also the thought-provoking column by Conor Friedersdorf (more, Matt Welch). Also recommended on the general controversy: Roger Pilon, Mike Munger/Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and David Henderson on freedom of association, David Brooks on getting along, and Peter Steinfels on liberal pluralism and religious freedom.

Relatedly, Cato has now posted a podcast with my critical views (earlier) of the “Utah compromise” adding sexual orientation as a protected class while also giving employees new rights to sue employers over curbs on discussion of religion and morality in the workplace (h/t: interviewer Caleb Brown). For a view of that compromise more favorable than mine, see this Brookings panel.

Supreme Court and constitutional law roundup

  • Should a sock used to hold pills count as “drug paraphernalia?” [NPR via Jeffrey Miron on Supreme Court case]
  • Michael Greve: on Medicaid spending-forcing suits, behold the Obama administration taking the correct stance, U.S. Chamber the wrong [Liberty and Law, more]
  • No, the justices don’t just use religious freedom cases to advance their own beliefs [Eugene Volokh]
  • Can/should the courts correct misconduct by the EEOC in dealings with employers during the “conciliation” phase before litigation? [Robert Barnes/Washington Post, Julie Goldscheid/SCOTUSBlog, Michael Greve on oral argument in Mach Mining v. EEOC]
  • Decision in Dart Cherokee case rejects presumption against removal of class actions [Richard Samp and M.C. Sungaila, WLF]
  • When if ever may the President properly sign legislation he believes to be in part unconstitutional? [Will Baude]
  • Most Justices have had little practical exposure to criminal law which can leave it a blind spot for them [Radley Balko]

State of free speech doctrine at Harvard

Harvard lawprof Noah Feldman on the Paris/Fox case: let government sue media for saying (or maybe even for letting guests say) wrong things about government. Sure, what could go wrong?

Related, and outrageous: Morgan State University (Baltimore) journalism school dean wants to classify religiously irreverent speech as “fighting words,” which would throw into doubt its legal protection [DeWayne Wickham, USA Today] More: Allahpundit, Taranto/WSJ, The College Fix; edited to reflect Wickham’s (non)-clarification of his stance in the last-named link).

P.S. Via @benjaminlam: “Today’s Straits Times [Singapore] carried Feldman’s article.”

January 20 roundup

  • Grand jury said to recommend charges against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane [Philadelphia Inquirer, more, earlier here and here]
  • Orin Kerr analyzes Obama admininstration proposals to expand law on computer crime [Volokh Conspiracy and more]
  • “Religious Liberty Isn’t a ‘Dog Whistle’ – It’s a Necessary Practice of a Free Society” [Scott Shackford, Reason vs. Frank Bruni, New York Times]
  • Scalia, Epstein, many others: videos now online from the Federalist Society’s recently concluded 2014 National Lawyers Convention;
  • List of firms with non-disparagement clauses (of highly dubious enforceability) purporting to forbid negative comments from customers [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • “Red Tape Is Strangling Good Samaritans” [Philip K. Howard, The Daily Beast]
  • I’ve written on this irony: antitrust lawyers collude among themselves to boost their fee take [Daniel Fisher]

Idaho Hitching Post case

I was preparing a post on the case from Idaho in which husband and wife Donald and Evelyn Knapp have pre-emptively sued (complaint, motion for TRO) to prevent the application of the city of Coeur d’Alene’s public accommodation law from being used to require their wedding chapel business, the Hitching Post, to handle same-sex weddings. In the mean time Andrew Sullivan has done a post pulling together most of what I planned to say, so go read that instead.

Sullivan quotes my observation on Facebook:

I will note that I have learned through hard experience not to run with stories from ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) or Todd Starnes without seeking additional corroboration. As a libertarian, I oppose subjecting this family business to any legal compulsion whatsoever, but it’s also important (as in the Dallas pastors case) to get the facts straight before feeding a panic.

While I hope the Knapps succeed in establishing their exemption from this law, I am still shaking my head at the ADF’s framing efforts, which via Starnes set off a predictable panic about dangers to religious liberty (see also, last week, on the Houston pastors subpoena). In this instance, those efforts amount to something very akin to hiding the ball, including (as cited by Sullivan) the quiet legal revamping of the business onto a religious basis in recent weeks and the silent removal of extensive language on its website that until earlier this month had promoted the chapel as a venue for civil, non-religious wedding ceremonies.

Now, the Knapps are free (or should be, in my view) to change their establishment’s business plan overnight to one that welcomes only ceremonies consistent with Foursquare Evangelical beliefs. But shouldn’t their lawyers be upfront that this is what’s going on? Especially since even sophisticated commentators, let alone casual readers, are construing the city of Coeur d’Alene’s legal position by reference to what its lawyer said back in May, when the Knapps were running the business the old way. (Back then, as Doug Mataconis notes, coverage included the following: “Knapp said he’s okay with other ministers performing marriages at their facilities but it is not something he will do.” — a position that appears to have changed, again without acknowledgment.)

Let’s be blunt. ADF, which was involved in helping the Knapps revamp their enterprise onto a religious basis, is by the omissions in its narrative encouraging alarmed sympathizers to misread the situation.

Could the city of Coeur d’Alene force the Knapps to provide ministerial officiation of same-sex weddings? As Eugene Volokh explains, in a post based on the initial reports, the clear answer is no, since such compulsion would be an unconstitutional forcing of speech and “would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Besides those two distinct layers of legal protection, they are likely to benefit from a third, noted in this May article in the Spokane Statesman-Review: “religious entities are exempt from the Coeur d’Alene ordinance” and “pastors in the city are not obligated to perform same-sex weddings.” (Todd Starnes links to the Spokane article, but makes no reference to these bits.)

Possibly — the statements of municipal lawyer Warren Wilson in May are ambiguous — the city saw the then-secular Hitching Post as obliged not only to provide the equivalent of a hall rental to same-sex applicants, and sell them silk flowers and other incidentals, but also connect them with an outside officiant sympathetic to their union to pronounce the ceremony. It is by no means clear that the city would apply the same requirements to the Knapps’ newly revamped and far more explicitly religious Hitching Post. It is even more of a stretch to imply, as Starnes does, that the city is on the verge of “arresting” the Knapps.

Even absent any obligation to officiate, it seems to me that a family business in this situation has at least as sympathetic a case as the cake bakers, wedding photographers, invitation engravers, and hall providers who sought exemptions in previous episodes. But really, isn’t our libertarian case strong enough that it can stand on an accurate description of what’s actually going on?

Update: Via Eugene Volokh, Coeur d’Alene’s attorney has now sent a letter making clear the city’s position that even the newly reorganized Hitching Post is subject to the law because the law’s religious exemption covers by its terms “nonprofit” religious corporations, which theirs is not. Volokh argues, I think plausibly, that this position will fail in court if applied to compel the provision of ceremonies because both the constitutional right against forced speech and the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act extend in their application beyond nonprofits. Indeed, the city lawyer’s own letter cites a provision, section 9.56.040, in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, stating that the ordinance “shall be construed and applied in a manner consistent with first amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion”. This provision would appear not merely to permit, but to require, the city to back off enforcement efforts that conflict with speech and religious freedoms, whether exercised in a non-profit or for-profit setting. The letter — which in its reference to “services” draws no distinction between functions like hall and equipment rental, and expressive ceremonial services — would thus appear to put the city on a collision course with the speech and religious freedoms of the Knapps.

One day later: City says it’s considered the matter further and realizes now that nonprofit status is not required to qualify for exemption. [Boise State Public Radio via Shackford] Quoting BSPR: “The group that helped create Coeur d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance says the Hitching Post shouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriages. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations says in a letter to the mayor and city council that the Knapps fall under the religious exemption in the law.” More coverage: KREM, Boise Weekly, Religion News Service, Sarah Posner/Religion Dispatches (discussing this post).