Cultural Issues in the Courts: October 2016 Update

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October 21, 2016

The federal government’s transgender policies receive mixed reaction in the courts; free speech and religion issues result in conflicting decisions for pro-life pregnancy resource centers on each coast.

Transgenderism, Schools ― Texas

The Obama Administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s schools threatening to revoke federal funding for not allowing gender-confused boys to access girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities (and vice versa), likely violated federal law, a Texas federal judge has ruled. The court issued an order temporarily blocking the Administration policy until the legal issues in the case are fully presented at a trial. Nearly half the states have sued the federal government to stop this policy from going into effect.

Transgenderism, Schools ― Ohio

A federal court in Ohio has reached the opposite conclusion on federal transgender policy as the previously discussed Texas federal court decision. In this case, an Ohio school has been ordered to allow an 11-year old, fifth-grade boy to use the girls’ restroom.

Both the Ohio and Texas cases will likely be appealed to their respective U.S. Courts of Appeal in the 6th and 5th Circuits over the next several months. A recent Virginia decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (in the federal government’s favor) is currently being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to announce whether it will hear the case.

Transgenderism, Employment, Dress Codes ― Michigan

A religiously operated funeral home cannot be forced to allow a gender-confused man to dress like a woman, a federal court in Detroit has ruled. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency, brought this case against the religious employer, joining a trend among other federal agencies attempting to change the definition of “sex” in federal sex-discrimination laws without appropriate legislation from the U.S. Congress.


Religious Conscience, Same-Sex Marriage ― North Carolina    

Same-sex couples can’t challenge a conscience protection law if they haven’t been injured by the law, a federal judge has ruled. In 2015, North Carolina passed a law allowing state magistrates ― who, as part of their duties, issue licenses and perform civil marriage ceremonies ― to opt out of those duties in the case of same-sex marriages and allow other government officials to perform them. The law was challenged in court by same-sex couples who alleged that as taxpayers, they were entitled to ask a court to declare the law unconstitutional. The federal judge dismissed the case, noting that none of the same-sex couples had been denied a marriage license, and their status as taxpayers was insufficient to invoke the court’s involvement.

Free Speech, Abortion ― California

Pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in California that counsel women on alternatives to abortion must comply with a state law requiring them to advertise the existence of abortion services, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled. The Court ruled that the law does not violate the PRCs’ free speech or free exercise of religion guarantees of the First Amendment.

Free Speech, Abortion ― Maryland

Contrary to the decision from the 9th Circuit (reported above), a Baltimore ordinance requiring pregnancy resource centers to post notices, indicating they do not provide abortion services or refer clients to abortion sellers, violates the First Amendment’s free speech guaranty, a federal district court in Maryland has ruled. The city could appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.