Ninth Circuit Declares Right of Government to Censor the Terms 'Natural Family,' 'Marriage' and 'Family Values'
March 8, 2007
TEMECULA, Calif., (christiansunite.com) -- Earlier this week, San Francisco's United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the matter of Good News Employees Association v. Hicks that the municipal employers can completely censor the terms "natural family," "marriage" and "family values" as hate speech.
The court concluded that municipalities have a right to literally dictate what form an employee's speech may take, even if it is in regard to controversial public issues. Shockingly, the court concluded that the interest of Christian employees in speaking out on the issue of marriage is vanishingly small" and that the administrative" interests of a city are more important than speech rights. The court completely failed to address the concerns of the appellants with respect to the fact that the City of Oakland's Gay- Straight Employees Alliance was openly allowed to attack the Bible in widespread city e-mails, to deride Christian values as antiquated, and to refer to Bible- believing Christians as hateful. When the plaintiffs attempted to refute this blatant attack on people of faith, they were threatened with immediate termination by the City of Oakland. The Ninth Circuit did not feel that the threat of immediate termination had any effect on free speech.
The Pro-Family Law Center vows to immediately take this ruling up to the United States Supreme Court on a petition for review.
Last month, attorneys Scott Lively and Richard D. Ackerman argued the case on behalf of an African- American Christian woman who was threatened with termination at her job with the City of Oakland. The City of Oakland claimed that references to the "natural family, marriage and family values" constituted hate speech which is scary to city workers. Mr. Lively argued that the terms "marriage," "family values" and "natural family" could just have easily been used by gay activists in expressing their opinions on the issue of same-sex marriage. Mr. Ackerman argued that the Pro-Family Law Center's clients were entitled to the exact same free speech rights as those who had openly attacked the Bible through the city's lines of communication with full approval of high ranking officials.
The Ninth Circuit panel of judges included Judges Fletcher, Clifton, and Ikuta. Without citing a specific author for the memorandum of decision, the Court wrote, "the district court correctly held that [the City of Oakland] had a more substantial interest in maintaining the efficient operation of their office than appellants had in their speech, appellants cannot establish a viable free speech claim."
Back in February of 2005, United States District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the city of Oakland had a right to bar two employees from posting a Good News Employee Association flier promoting traditional family values on an office bulletin board. According to the lawsuit, gay and lesbian city workers had already been using the city's e-mail, bulletin board, and written communications systems for promoting their views to other workers, including the plaintiffs.
In fact, the e-mail system was even used by a high- ranking official of the City of Oakland to declare that the Bible "needs updating" and other insulting comments were lobbed at the plaintiffs by city employees and officials. No action was taken against those responsible for the public attack on the Bible and Christians working for the city.
Plaintiffs, Regina Rederford and Robin Christy posted the flier in response to an e-mail to city employees announcing formation of a gay and lesbian employee association and other communications. The two Christians responded with a promotion of their own -- the start of an informal group that respects "the natural family, marriage and family values."
But supervisors Robert Bobb (now in charge of the Washington DC school district) and Joyce Hicks, (deputy director of the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency) ordered removal of the flier, stating it contained "statements of a homophobic nature" and promoted "sexual-orientation-based harassment," even though the flyer made absolutely no mention of homosexuality.
The July 2003 lawsuit by Rederford and Christy claimed the city's anti-discrimination policy "promotes homosexuality" and "openly denounces Christian values."
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed the case in February 2005, ruling the two women did not have their First Amendment rights violated and that federal anti-discrimination protections afforded to gender, race, and religion did not apply to the women plaintiffs.
The flier in question was posted Jan. 3, 2003, on an employee bulletin board where a variety of political and sexually oriented causes are promoted. Titled, "Preserve Our Workplace With Integrity," the entire text said:
Good News Employee Associations is a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family values.
The flyer was removed the same day, however, by order of Hicks and by immediate enactment of a censorship policy by Robert Bobb.
In a memo announcing a newly revised workplace anti- discrimination policy, Hicks noted recent incidents of employees "inappropriately posting materials" in violation of that policy. At the time she noted, "Specifically, flyers were placed in public view which contained statements of a homophobic nature and were determined to promote sexual orientation-based harassment."
Attorney Richard Ackerman says, "We are going to take this case right up the steps of the United States Supreme Court. We are simply unwilling to accept that Christians can be completely silenced on the issues of the day -- especially on issues such as same-sex marriage, parental rights, and free speech rights. If we fail to get U.S. Supreme Court review, however, it will be up to each individual Christian in the United States to stand up for their rights to be heard on the issues of the day. If we choose to be silent, silenced we shall be."