Sunday, March 01, 2015

The 3 - March 1, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, spotlights a case before the U.S. Supreme Court contending that a retail chain discriminated against a Muslim girl's religious freedom rights. Also, the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of so-called "net neutrality," which represents a threat to the freedom of information shared on the Internet.  And, so-called gay marriage continues to be an issues in courts across the land, involving the states of Texas, Missouri, and Alabama.

3 - High court hears case dealing with possible religious discrimination

We have heard quite a bit about the freedom of religious expression in the workplace, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week that has brought together organizations across the ideological spectrum in support of the freedom of religion.

According to an article on the Religion News Service website, Samantha Elauf, who is a Muslim, applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in Tulsa, OK.  As part of her religious faith, she wears a headscarf.  So she didn’t get the job.

The website points out that no one – not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome. So, she filed legal action.

She won in a federal district court in 2011, but lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.

Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, who attended Wednesday’s argument, is quoted as saying, “Many members of the court seemed sympathetic to the EEOC’s position and Ms. Elauf.” He added, “It’s a clear case of religious discrimination, and I’m optimistic that the court will agree.”

Groups that filed legal briefs on behalf of Elauf include the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the American Jewish Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Several justices reportedly expressed discomfort with Abercrombie’s stance that it was not liable because Elauf was not more vocal.

2 - FCC approves so-called "net neutrality," Christian organizations opposed

Action by the Federal Communications Commission this past week has brought concern among some Christian leaders.  According to a piece on the Baptist Press website, the FCC voted 3–2 to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, with the purported intent of protecting open Internet, according to an FCC press release.
Both the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Board of Directors, composed of 100 key leaders among Christian communicators, and the Christian Film & Television Commission (CFTVC), a non-profit ministry aimed at redeeming the values of entertainment media, say the change will hamper free speech and oversteps the bounds of democracy.

Ted Baehr, chairman of the CFTVC, is quoted as saying, "If we allow the federal bureaucracy to control the Internet...the soft tyranny under which we now live will harden into a real tyranny where liberty will rapidly become a dim memory." He said that, "The best for American citizens to demand that Congress immediately overturn the new regulations."

NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson said, according to a press release, "I am saddened that the FCC voted on partisan lines to dramatically expand federal power over the Internet," adding, "Bigger government is not fertile ground for the flourishing of free speech and innovation. This is a power grab, and NRB opposes it."

1 - TX Supreme Court halts gay marriages, Christian organization files brief at 8th Circuit

It was reported this week that a Texas state representative has filed a judicial conduct complaint against state District Judge David Wahlberg with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to the Texas Values website, which reports that complaint, by State Representative Tony Tinderholt, alleges that Judge Wahlberg violated Texas law by not giving the Texas Attorney General’s office notice that a constitutional provision of Texas marriage law was being challenged in court, a state law requirement under the Texas Government Code, Chapter 402.

Wahlberg ordered the Travis County Clerk to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple on February 19, in violation of Texas law, and also waived the normal 72 hour waiting period requirement before a marriage can occur after a license is obtained.

Later that day, the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay of Judge Wahlberg’s ruling, as well as a similar ruling from earlier in the week, after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a legal request with the state high court, but not before the two women could rush off and engage in a wedding ceremony on the same day.  

This swift action by the Texas Supreme Court has placed the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples on hold.  Meanwhile, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held oral arguments on the Texas marriage law.  And, this past week, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief that encourages the 8th Circuit to uphold the freedom of the people of Missouri to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  In November 2014, a district court ruled that the state’s marriage laws are unconstitutional and that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, according to, the Alabama Supreme Court has heard arguments on a petition by 2 Christian, pro-family groups asking the state's high court to rule that same-sex marriages in the state are indeed unconstitutional, as contended by the Chief Justice Roy Moore, who directed probate judges to not issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in light of a Federal district judge's ruling that the state's amendment defining marriage as one-man and one-woman was unconstitutional.

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