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Texas judge: Airline must get religious freedom training from Christian hate group
A Trump-appointed judge thinks Alliance Defending Freedom is qualified to educate others on religious freedom
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A Trump-appointed federal judge has ordered three lawyers for Southwest Airlines to attend eight hours of “religious-liberty training” from the right-wing hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.
All of this stems from a case involving Charlene Carter, a flight attendant who was fired by Southwest for posting anti-abortion messages online. (The real story is more disturbing; no one should think she just sent a wild tweet or two.) The company said she was violating their company policies "regarding civility.” A jury didn’t agree with that assessment and decided Carter should get her job back, that Southwest had to stop discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, and that the company had to “notify its flight attendants of Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination.”
It’s the notification bit that created the more recent controversy.
Southwest was supposed to tell its flight attendants that the company “may not discriminate” against them due to their religious practices and beliefs. That future tense is important. It implied they wouldn’t do such a thing ever again. When the notice went out, however, it said Southwest “does not discriminate” on the basis of religion. As in they don’t currently do that but who knows what the future holds. They also didn’t include a mention of Title VII in their notice.
Carter then asked the court to basically punish Southwest for not doing what it was ordered to do.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr issued his decision, stating that “It’s hard to see how Southwest could have violated the notice requirement more.” Then, just to offer up some examples of how egregious he thinks Southwest’s behavior was, he offered “modified historical and movie anecdotes”… from the Bible and Lord of the Rings. (I repeat: He treats the Bible as historical.)
After God told Adam, “[Y]ou must not eat from the tree [in the middle of the garden],” imagine Adam telling God, “I do not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden”—while an apple core rests at his feet. Or where Gandalf bellows, “You shall not pass,” the Balrog muses, “I do not pass,” while strolling past Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.
Starr held Southwest in contempt, even writing out a new memo the company had to send its employees. But because Starr said there was a “chronic failure” regarding “federal protections for religious freedom,” he said three lawyers for Southwest needed to go through religious freedom training.
Starr even suggested who should provide that training: Alliance Defending Freedom.
In explaining that sanction, Starr argued Southwest wouldn’t have to pay for the training, merely the cost of flying someone from ADF to the company’s headquarters in Dallas, which he claimed was a “minimal burden.”
But why that group? It’s not like they had anything to do with this case.
Starr claimed ADF was one of many “esteemed non-profit organizations that are dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom.” ADF offered it free of charge, he added.
Nowhere in the order is there any explanation for why ADF, and not a more credible organization, had to provide the training.
Journalist Chris Geidner explained at Law Dork why this is an absurd idea. ADF, he explains, is hardly some neutral party:
ADF’s lawyers — including Erin Hawley, whose husband is Sen. Josh Hawley — are the ones currently litigating to end the availability of one abortion medication drug, mifepristone, nationwide. The group was behind 303 Creative v. Elenis, the case from this past U.S. Supreme Court term about the woman who didn’t want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples — another case that could have substantial fallout.
ADF is not an unbiased, educational institution — nor does it pretend to be. The only relevant “training” its website discusses in the training section is a “Legal Academy” connecting “like-minded attorneys” in an effort to show lawyers how “to effectively advocate for religious liberty, free speech, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.“
Geidner is right; ADF is a conservative legal group that only sees religious freedom while wearing Jesus-tinted glasses. They have argued that “sodomy” should be illegal, spread lies about LGBTQ people supporting pedophilia, and defended forced sterilization of trans people in Europe. Bigotry in the name of Christianity counts as religious freedom for ADF lawyers even when non-discrimination laws are in play. Their arguments, regardless of right-wing judges ruling in their favor, have been widely criticized by legal scholars.
Geidner also points out that this is a bizarre choice since Carter herself never asked for this (even if she supported the idea of Southwest’s lawyers going through a training). It wasn’t until this week’s ruling that Starr even suggested ADF conducting the sessions.
So what would an ADF religious freedom training look like? Who knows. There are no specifics offered. Their track record suggests they don’t know what religious freedom is. It seems to be whatever conservative judges will let them get away with.
It’s not even clear ADF would agree to this, though the fact that Starr mentioned one person from ADF flying to Dallas on Southwest’s dime suggests there is someone in mind.
Starr says the training must be completed by August 28.
It’s another shocking decision from a right-wing Federalist Society judge with a lifetime appointment on the bench.
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