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    Ann Rostow: Judging Trump Judges

    By Ann Rostow–

    Judging Trump Judges

    In the last hour, I have avoided actually working on my column by reading the newspaper, doing puzzles, and watching several videos, including one starring a small parrot who knocks cans and boxes off the kitchen table and another featuring a dog who was reunited with his mother for the first time since puppyhood. 

    As for the newspaper, I can tell you that Liz Truss looks like a pill and the judge who allowed Trump to fiddle around with executive privilege is, um, very strange. It’s remotely possible that the feds at Mar-a-Lago may have scooped up some non-government records that include communications with a lawyer on a personal matter, but nothing short of that should be set aside under their search warrant, which included materials found alongside government records. Most of us aren’t lawyers, but few of us can understand why “executive privilege” would apply to any of the presidential papers themselves, all of which belong to the national archives. 

    Right? 

    Yet again, reason is thrown under the bus by a Trump judge, which reminds me of a complicated case that I was hoping to avoid. On August 29, a split panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed out a preliminary injunction in favor of a far-right student group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The group wanted to be recognized as an official student club at Pioneer High School (part of the San Jose district), but was rejected due to their discriminatory policies. 

    Their statement of faith, to give you an idea, includes the following: “God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.” I guess students had to affirm their allegiance to this and similar sentiments, which violated rules against GLBT bias in campus clubs.

    The two judges who ruled in favor of the club were appointed by Trump. The dissenting judge was appointed by Obama. 

    “Under the First Amendment,” the majority wrote, “our government must be scrupulously neutral when it comes to religion: It cannot treat religious groups worse than comparable secular ones.” But this has not been true until the last few years, thanks to the Roberts Court, or rather the Alito Court. 

    This is the nonsensical theory that led the Court to strike attempts to limit church services during Covid. Why? Because if a store can remain open, a church must as well, even though a person spends minutes inside a store and hours inside a church. This is the theory that led the Court to force Philadelphia to do business with a Catholic foster agency that was in violation of anti-bias laws. Why? Because the city allows the commissioner of the Department of Human Services to make individual exceptions in rare case, ergo the city must make an exception for Catholic Social Services. This is the theory that led the Court to order the state of Maine to distribute taxpayer money to highly religious schools. Why? Because the state gave money to secular private schools under its tuition program. 

    I could go on, but there’s a reason religious actors are treated differently under the Constitution, or at least there used to be. The Constitution does not allow the government to take a religious stand. Religion, let alone a specific faith, cannot be forced down the throat of a secular nation. Nor may the state hinder the practice of religion. But in expanding the rights of religious actors, we are now putting their rights above and beyond the civil rights of many others, particularly ours. 

    More of the Same

    Now I’m in a bad mood. And plus, I just checked a list of GLBT headlines, only to find one that read: “Trump federal judge rules for Christian photographer.” Do we really need further examples of these insidious jurists and their sanctimonious beliefs? In this case, Trump appointee U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Beaton of Louisville, Kentucky, gave an injunction to photographer Chelsey Nelson, who wanted the green light to ignore  

    the city’s civil rights ordinance. Hey, Chelsey! No problem. Maybe you’d prefer not to photograph Black people either? Is it part of your “faith?” We’re good with that!

    Actually, religious freedom does not allow you to ignore race-based civil rights laws, because, well, that’s not really cool, I guess. But as for gay or trans protections, we all understand why a Godly businessperson would prefer to avoid that sort of customer. 

    I’m still waiting for a religious business to refuse to serve women, for example, or maybe even test the laws protecting minorities. What’s the limiting principle between different types of civil rights laws facing protestations of faith? If I insist that my version of Christianity or any other religion does not allow transactions with women or interracial marriages, who’s to say I’m wrong? Under the law, I’m the one who defines my own belief system.

    You should also know that a Christian health care group has just sued the state of Michigan in federal court to protest the state supreme court’s recent gay rights opinion. I won’t go into this weird lawsuit here, but basically, the group suggests that its religious freedom has preemptively been threatened now that the court has said sexual orientation and gender are protected categories under state civil rights law.

    Court Side

    Now what? I really need more animal videos in order to continue our discussions with a carefree and happy disposition. But I don’t have time. Instead, let’s indulge in a little Margaret Court bashing, because that always lifts my spirits.

    Loyal readers know I’m a big golf and tennis fan. (Don’t get me started on LIV golf, please.) At any rate, eighty-something Australian Margaret Court, who annoyingly holds the record for all time grand slam victories at 24, is a world class bigot, who in the past has praised apartheid, trashed lesbians, and ridiculed transgender people. She is also a Pentecostal minister of some sort, I’m pretty sure. The only reason that she won so many grand slams is that 11 of these were won at the Australian Open at a time when no one made the trip to what was then an insignificant tournament. 

    Serena Williams, as many of you know, has just retired after three rounds at the U.S. Open with 23 grand slam titles. The cheers and tributes to a woman whom most consider the greatest woman player of all time have been tremendous. And no, no one thinks Margaret Court is in contention for GOAT status, although a few consider Steffi Graf a possibility or maybe Martina. Now, Court has piped up in an interview with The Daily Telegraph to complain that her own achievements are being shortchanged.

    “I would love to have played in this era,” she said, as if she’d last five minutes on the court against the power hitters of today. “I think it’s so much easier. How I would love to have taken family or friends along with me. But I couldn’t. I had to go on my own or with the national team. People don’t see all that.”

    “We didn’t have psychologists or coaches with us. It’s a whole different world. That’s what disappoints me—that players today don’t honor the past of the game.” 

    What does that even mean? What do coaches and psychologists have to do with “honoring the past of the game”? Should everyone go back to wooden rackets?

    “Serena has played seven years more than I did,” she continued. “People forget that I took two years out. I first retired … when I was 25, thinking I would never return to tennis. I got married, had a baby, but then had one of my best years, winning 24 out of 25 tournaments.” Serena, Court churlishly reminded the interviewer, never won a grand slam after giving birth to her daughter. 

    Court also complained that the grand slam tournaments had not given her honors and that Serena does not seem to acknowledge her greatness. “I was at Wimbledon this year and nobody even spoke to me. So, I thought, ‘Ah, that’s interesting.’ It’s very sad, because a lot of the press and television today, particularly in tennis, don’t want to mention my name.” Of course, the irony is that if Court had been a decent human being instead of a prejudiced monster, she would have been hailed as one of the greats and feted at every tennis gala as an icon of the game. 

    Very sad. Not.

    Grist for Our Mill

    What else is new? Well, two lesbian activists have been sentenced to death in Iran for “corruption on Earth.” The Jerusalem Post reports that Hengaw, an organization that documents human rights violations in Kurdistan, says Zahra Sediqi Hamedani, known as “Sareh,” 31, from Naqadeh, and Elham Chubdar, 24, from Urmia, were given the sentences by the Revolutionary Court of Urmia. In addition to “promoting homosexuality,” Hengaw said, the two were also convicted of “promoting Christianity” and “communicating with the media opposing the Islamic Republic.”

    It’s hard to follow that one with political news, but you should know that Senate democrats are considering dropping the gay marriage bill into the budget, which should be brought to a vote this month. I’m not sure why, since I thought it was likely to pass as a stand-alone bill, but maybe I’m optimistic. 

    The marriage bill, which would legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, is geared to protect marriage against a rogue High Court ruling, an unlikely prospect. The bill, which has passed the House and will likely draw at least ten Republican votes in the Senate, is also designed to put GOP lawmakers on the spot, considering that a vote against same-sex marriage would not be defensible outside of the reddest district. Hey, it’s not necessary in my view, but it doesn’t hurt. I say that with the assumption that the effort will not harm the prospects for the more important Equality Act. I would hate to see Republicans argue that they voted for marriage, so they don’t have to vote for the Equality Bill, which would enshrine GLBT civil rights into federal law. 

    And just as I was about to look up the details of a stabbing at a pride parade in Germany, I encountered the following headline from The Art newspaper (whatever that is): “Petition to replace Catherine the Great statue in Ukraine with one of gay porn star gains traction.”

    According to The Art, the petition, which has gathered 26,000 names, says that a statue of Catherine the Great in Odessa “signals that Odesa [sic] is in the zone of Russian cultural influence” while a statue of porn star Billy Herrington statue would send a “clear signal that Ukraine supports the LGBTQ community.” President Zelensky has said (The Art reports) that any decision about replacing the statue must be taken by the Odessa City Council, which had installed the original statue. Herrington is apparently a famous porn star who died in a car crash at the age of 48 in Rancho Mirage. 

    Finally, I am sad to say that another bunch of antigay religious freedom cases have oozed onto my news list at a time when it’s far too late to be included in this column. Further, how many of these can we stomach in one issue? There’s an Indiana Supreme Court case allowing a Catholic school to fire a gay teacher. And there’s also a Christian middle school teacher in Kansas who won $95,000 in damages after refusing to use preferred pronouns for a transgender student.  Or how about Yeshiva University, which sent an emergency motion to Justice Sotomayor the other day, asking the High Court to shelve a court order forcing the university to recognize a student pride alliance. Justice Sotomayor asked the pride alliance to reply by September 2, so I assume she will decide shortly. 

    I am now going to find some sweet animal videos. Maybe I’ll rewatch the otters who live in a habitat where they can put their forelegs through little holes in the window and let visitors pet their paws. 

    arostow@aol.com

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on September 8, 2022