The story of how a federal judge came to order Southwest Airlines to send its lawyers to “religious-liberty training” with a far-right group that’s been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center is a complicated one. But yes, that happened, and it’s another sign of how right-wing judges are not even pretending to be even-handed these days.
Chris Geidner at Law Dork has the details: Southwest Airlines fired Charlene Carter, a longtime flight attendant, for sending her union president hostile messages about abortion rights and posting “highly offensive” things on Facebook. She sued, alleging she had been discriminated against on religious grounds. The airline lost in a jury trial. Southwest is appealing, but in the meantime, it informed employees that it “does not discriminate” on the basis of religion, rather than telling them that it “may not discriminate,” as the court ordered. Additionally, Southwest sent out a memo on civility and courtesy directly referring to things Carter had said.
Carter asked for sanctions against Southwest—but she wanted corrective notices and money, not for her employer’s lawyers to have to take religious liberty training. It was U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr, a Donald Trump appointee, natch, who first brought the training into the picture, and later specifically assigned the Alliance Defending Freedom as the court-mandated trainer.
Starr, however, introduced ADF in the contempt order by writing that “there are esteemed non-profit organizations that are dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom,” with a footnote citation to the fact that ADF litigated Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
He then stated that “some of those entities laudably provide training free of charge for those who have struggled to respect religious liberties in the manner federal law requires” and went on to use ADF’s own news release regarding a case that ADF had brought to highlight one instance of ADF providing “instruction” to justify requiring Southwest Airlines’ lawyers, in a case that has nothing to do with ADF, to receive “instruction” from ADF.
That’s quite the esteemed and laudable tongue bath. This “esteemed non-profit” has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. ADF has:
ADF isn’t just any hate group. It’s the one that employs Erin Hawley, the wife of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. It’s the group that brought the legal challenge to mifepristone, an extremely safe medication that has been FDA-approved for abortion since 2000. ADF represented the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, as the judge cited in his order.
Surely if the judge felt so strongly that Southwest needed to be trained to preserve religious liberty, he could have found an organization that represented more than a narrow slice of one religion. But that’s not what he wanted to do. Yet again we see that, to the far right and its hand-picked judges, “religious liberty” means adherence to Christian extremism.
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