Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Forced hospitality

Religious Liberty | Supreme Court rejects appeal from Catholic bed-and-breakfast owner
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 3/26/19, 04:22 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court last week denied a Catholic bed-and-breakfast owner’s plea for due process following a lower court’s ruling that her private home in Hawaii is actually a public hotel.

Phyllis Young, a former realtor who understood the relevant laws, rented a condominium and rooms in her home in Honolulu, marketed as the Aloha Bed & Breakfast, to help pay the mortgage after her husband was forced to take early retirement for medical reasons. She let anyone who was interested reserve the condominium, but for the three rooms in her home, she was more selective. Young lived in a single-family home with four bedrooms, and any renters would share the kitchen and dining room. The applicable laws included a clause called “Mrs. Murphy’s exemption” that treated Young’s short-term renters as roommates, not tenants.

“Federal and state law has had, for decades, the requirement that as long as it’s fewer than five rooms, you are permitted to choose who you want to be roommates with,” Young’s lawyer, J. James Hochberg, told me.

In 2007, a woman contacted Young requesting a single room and bed for her and her lesbian partner. Young, a committed Catholic, politely declined because of her religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The couple, Taeko Bufford and Diane Cervelli, filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which told Young she and her husband would have to pay $10,000 to each of the women and post signs inside and outside their own home saying they would no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Young turned down the settlement, and the couple sued. Young received notice of the suit, accompanied by news cameras, days before Christmas 2012.

The judge ruled Young was violating nondiscrimination rules in public accommodations law, but he acknowledged he could be wrong and invited Young to appeal. On appeal Young’s lawyers argued that the public accommodation law didn’t apply to her private home because of Mrs. Murphy’s exemption. The appellate court ruled against Young in 2018, saying that a renter had to stay for more than 30 days before the exemption kicked in—language that was not and never had been in the law, Hochberg said.

Young’s lawyers appealed again, arguing that the ruling violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says the law must be clear and citizens must be aware of their obligations. The Hawaii Supreme Court rejected the appeal last year, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case last week.

“The intermediate court of appeals essentially rewrote the law and applied it retroactively to her,” Hochberg said. “We now have a final decision that Phyllis Young’s house—in a subdivision with houses all around it, where the zoning does not permit hotels—her house is now a public accommodation under the law. It’s no longer her renting rooms in the home that she lives in, which is just absurd, but that’s the legal status of her property.”

Facebook/St. Vincent Catholic Charities Facebook/St. Vincent Catholic Charities A sign at the entrance of St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Mich.

More adoption agencies under fire

A settlement reached last week between Michigan’s Democratic attorney general and two lesbian couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union threatens the religious liberty of the state’s child-placing agencies. The settlement ends a 2017 lawsuit against the state by four women who said faith-based child-placing agencies declined to work with them because of their views about marriage and sexuality. One of the agencies, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, has a long history serving families and children in Lansing, Mich., focusing on hard-to-place children.

The previous administration of Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, defended the state’s practice of working with faith-based groups such as St. Vincent and Bethany Christian Services, which together handle about 12 percent of all adoptions from foster care in the state. In 2015, Snyder signed a law preventing any state or local agency from taking adverse action against faith-based child-placing organizations that had religious standards for selecting families. LGBT advocate Dana Nessel fought against passage of the legislation at the time and was elected as the state’s attorney general in 2018.

The settlement does not set a legal precedent but will likely fuel efforts by LGBT advocates to challenge similar laws in other states. In 2011, Illinois required private agencies to place adoptive children with unmarried, cohabiting couples. As a result, numerous faith-based organizations were forced to stop serving more than 2,000 children. Both Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have done the same. Other states, including Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, have given faith-based agencies exemptions from working with same-sex couples or LBGTQ individuals who want to adopt or foster a child.

Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, which represented St. Vincent, told me the law firm specializing in religious liberty cases “is still evaluating how the state and the ACLU’s settlement language might affect St. Vincent’s rights and those of the families and children it serves.”

While some faith-based agencies have closed rather than be forced to accept families whose views on marriage and sexuality conflict with their religious beliefs, others have acquiesced to the demands of the LGBT lobby. In Philadelphia, Bethany Christian Services agreed to place foster children with same-sex couples rather than end its contract with the city’s Department of Human Services. Bethany spokeswoman Morgan Greenberg did not immediately return a request for comment on the agency’s practices in Michigan, but in July 2018, she told WORLD Digital the organization would comply with local laws on child placing across the country. —Steve West

Creative Commons/Royalbroil Creative Commons/Royalbroil De Pere, Wis., City Hall

Church autonomy

A state court in Green Bay, Wis., upheld the freedom of religious organizations from a city’s attempt to impose sexual orientation and gender identity mandates.

Brown County Circuit Judge William M. Atkinson’s written decision on March 15 confirmed his ruling from the bench, given last December after the city of De Pere sought to classify churches and other religious organizations as places of public accommodation, blocking them from setting Biblical standards for employees and members’ behavior and beliefs except during traditional worship times.

In his written order, Atkinson labeled the city’s ordinance discriminatory, an “egregious free speech violation,” and an attempt to impose the “city’s sexual orthodoxy.”

“Restricting religious institutions in their ability to advertise, share their sacred spaces, and communicate moral expectations for employees to only those values the city deems permissible stands as the hallmark of viewpoint discrimination,” he wrote. “The ordinance is incompatible with the First Amendment, and even more so with the Wisconsin Constitution.” —S.W.

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Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. She is a Patrick Henry College and World Journalism Institute graduate. Rachel resides with her husband in Wheaton, Ill.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Tue, 03/26/2019 05:24 pm

    There must be more to this story.  How can the courts retroactively apply a standard?  If all this is true and if it were possible, Philis Young should go to jail rather than  pay the fine and give in to the totalitarian demands of the new sexual orthodoxy. 

  • KC
    Posted: Wed, 03/27/2019 09:40 am

    As if it's not bad enough when the government tells you who you must allow INTO YOUR HOME, they think these women deserve $10K in damages? What damages? What is really sad is how incredibly unsympathetic the two women are as to the reason this couple is renting rooms in the first place. Sellfish almost beyond belief.

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 03/28/2019 01:43 pm

    “Young received notice of the suit, accompanied by news cameras, days before Christmas 2012.”

    Who told the news people to show up? I bet the lesbian couple did not need a room. It smells of a well-orchestrated attack by some radical LBGT group.  I expect that people have been paid off or threatened by them.

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 03/28/2019 01:32 pm

    “The judge ruled Young was violating nondiscrimination rules in public accommodations law, but he acknowledged he could be wrong and invited Young to appeal.”  

    Based on this judge’s cowardly behavior I would say he is a man with no chest. I don’t know how the LGBT radicals threatened him, but this is evidenced by the fact that he ruled based on a law he knew did not apply.