Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Alaska women’s center fends off man’s bias claim

First Amendment | Complaint comes as Anchorage voters consider rolling back gender identity ordinance
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 3/20/18, 03:58 pm

Advocates for Proposition 1, a ballot initiative to rescind part of an Anchorage, Alaska, nondiscrimination law, benefitted last week from an ad campaign money couldn’t buy. As ballots began arriving in mailboxes for the April 3 election, news broke that a man who identifies as a woman filed a complaint with the city because a local shelter for women refused him access.

In 2015, the city adopted a measure expanding its protected classes to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents warned women would suffer the consequences of a policy that allows access to single-sex private facilities based on gender identity rather than biology. Arguing the ordinance conflicted with basic privacy rights, opponents gathered enough signatures on a petition to get Proposition 1 on the ballot.

Anchorage LGBT advocates dismissed the privacy concerns as “scare tactics.”

But those “scare tactics” became a reality for the women seeking refuge at the Hope Center the night of Jan. 29. That’s when Timothy Coyle, who has a violent criminal record including the use of a deadly weapon, demanded access to the shelter. Using the name “Samantha,” Coyle described himself as a transgender woman, according to Kevin Clarkson, an attorney defending the shelter against a complaint filed by Coyle.

The Hope Center, a Christian ministry, offers support services for the city’s homeless men and women, including lunch and shower facilities. Coyle has used those services without incident, Clarkson said. But, at night, the shelter becomes a sanctuary for women only. Some of its clients seek refuge from the sex trade and abusive relationships, which only compounds the need to exclude biological men from the facility, Clarkson said.

“Coyle smelled strongly of alcohol when he appeared at the Hope Center and he had apparently been expelled and banned from the Brother Francis Shelter due to his behavior—fighting and drunkenness,” Clarkson said in a March 6 letter to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission (AERC).

Coyle returned the next day, sober, but before admitting hours, again seeking overnight accommodations. Staff members refused to admit him, and two days later he filed a complaint with the AERC claiming the shelter refused to admit him because of his gender identity—a violation of the new city code.

In his response to the complaint, Clarkson argued the Hope Center does not meet the law’s public accommodation standard and staff members turned away Coyle because of his actions, not his gender identity.

The shelter also has another defense.

“The Hope Center has First Amendment rights to religious liberty and association that permit it to operate exclusively so as to provide charitable shelter to abused and battered women, and to exclude biological males from its abused and battered women’s shelter,” Clarkson told the AERC.

If voters approve Proposition 1, biological sex listed on birth certificates, not gender identity, will determine access to multi-occupancy intimate spaces in municipal and public buildings. Private business owners could establish their own policies regarding those spaces, but current law requires those business owners to accommodate customers according to their gender identity.

Without a change in the ordinance, Alaska Family Council president Jim Minnery believes LGBT advocates could use the law against the shelter in an attempt to force gender identity affirmation.

“The bigger question is ‘What happens when [Coyle] comes back at the right time and sober?’” Minnery told me. “Does the shelter have legal ground to say, ‘You can’t come in?’”

Anchorage voters have until 8 p.m. on April 3 to return their ballots, which include 12 propositions and city and school board elections. This election marks the first time Anchorage has used the vote-by-mail-only process.

Facebook Facebook Hatem Bazian gives a lecture.

Boycotts and free speech

Arizona State University (ASU) followed through on its promise to support the free speech of critics of Israel last week by revising a contested agreement with a Muslim speaker. The Muslim Students Association invited Hatem Bazian of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) to speak at ASU on April 4, but his contract included a clause requiring him to certify he would not boycott Israel. Bazian not only supports boycotts on Israeli companies and products but also planned to make them the topic of his speech.

A variety of religious groups from Mennonites to Muslims boycott Israeli companies and products. AMP lists getting Israel to end “its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” among the goals of its boycott.

About two dozen states, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, have enacted laws to effectively boycott the boycotters by denying them state contracts on the grounds they discriminate against Israel. Even the U.S. Congress has considered such a law to combat the movement’s perceived anti-Semitism. In France, calling for boycotts of Israel is considered a hate crime.

ASU said earlier it did not intend to enforce the 2016 Arizona law against doing state business with those who spurn working with Israel. But the contract it sent Bazian required him to renounce his boycott. Bazian and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sued in federal court, claiming the Arizona law violated his First Amendment right to free speech. ASU revised its contract with Bazian to remove the contested language, but CAIR and Bazian plan to continue their challenge.

“We are pleased to hear that ASU … will not interfere with Dr. Bazian and AMP’s First Amendment rights,” said Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of CAIR in Arizona. “This is further evidence that the state law attempting to chill free speech was problematic from its onset and still needs to be addressed.” Similar cases are underway in other states. In February, a U.S. district judge in Kansas ruled that state’s anti-boycott law promoted discrimination and “impermissible goals under the First Amendment.” Lynde Langdon

Associated Press/Photo by Jeffrey Haderthauer (file) Associated Press/Photo by Jeffrey Haderthauer (file) A man carries a cross in front of the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City.

Legislative prayer in Oklahoma

Critics say prospective changes to the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ opening prayer guidelines are “discriminatory,” effectively excluding non-Christian religious leaders from participation. State Rep. Chuck Strohm, the plan’s author and the House Chaplain Program coordinator, defends his proposal by noting it models the U.S. congressional chaplaincy program, which has withstood U.S. Supreme Court scrutiny.

But the program’s latest iteration, issued Feb. 27, sparked more criticism and accusations by some House Democrats that Strohm, a Republican, has only “doubled down” on the exclusionary practice.

As initially drafted, the plan restricted “chaplain of the day” nominations to representatives’ “own house of worship.” That effectively shut out non-Christian invocations because all House members claim a Christian faith. Following backlash, Strohm changed the standard to allow currently approved chaplains to serve through the remainder of the session and allow the speaker of the House to select one person to act as chaplain until the session ends in the last week of May.

“The program, as it stands now, is un-Christian, insulting to the state’s interfaith community and should not be allowed to stand,” said state Rep. George Young, a retired Oklahoma City pastor and a Democrat, in a Feb. 28 press release.

Who gives an invocation and when varies among state legislatures and even between chambers within a state house, but almost all states incorporate the practice into their daily sessions, according to the National Association of State Legislatures. —B.P.

Religious freedom bill gets new life

Earlier this month, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, resurrected a religious liberty bill that previously stalled in committee. Lee’s latest version of the First Amendment Defense Act aims to protect individuals and institutions from government backlash because of their beliefs about sexuality and marriage. “What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not—and should never be—a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations, or grants,” Lee said in a statement. He first introduced a version of the legislation in 2015 shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, sponsored a companion bill in the House. In 2016, Labrador’s bill received a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during which Labrador, Lee, and lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom testified in support of the measure. But neither bill made it out of committee. Lee’s new version of the bill adds language to protect individuals and groups who support same-sex marriage in an effort to garner more bipartisan support. But the olive branch did not seem to ease concerns. The Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans, both pro-LGBT groups,  released statements urging lawmakers to oppose the legislation. —Evan Wilt


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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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