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    Ann Rostow: Slip Slidin’ Away

    By Ann Rostow–

    Slip Slidin’ Away

    Adam Liptak, who covers the High Court for The New York Times, recently called attention to the Roberts Court’s significant shift in favor of Christian litigants. A report on the subject, “The Roberts Court and the Transformation of Constitutional Protections for Religion: A Statistical Portrait,” was just published by Lee Epstein and Eric A. Posner, and although mine is a lazy approach, I can explain it most clearly by simply regurgitating the official abstract:

    “The Roberts Court has ruled in favor of religious organizations far more frequently than its predecessors—over 81% of the time, compared to about 50% for all previous eras since 1953. In most of these cases, the winning religion was a mainstream Christian organization, whereas in the past pro-religion outcomes more frequently favored minority or marginal religious organizations. A statistical analysis suggests that this transformation is largely the result of changes in the Court’s personnel: a majority of Roberts Court justices are ideologically conservative and religiously devout—a significant break from the past.”

    Keep in mind that this trend developed while Justice Ginsburg was on the Court and Justice Barrett was not. In other words, it can only get worse, and unless Roberts himself starts to worry about his legacy, it may well do so.

    And here’s the most disturbing aspect of the whole situation. As the abstract notes, we’re no longer defending the rights of faithful religious minorities. Instead, we’re elevating vague aspects of Christianity above the rights of everyone else who happens to get in the way. And what tenets of Christianity are earning the protection of the federal courts? Well, they’re whatever someone says they are. 

    Let’s say you’re a trans student and I’m your professor. And let’s say I don’t like transgender students, I don’t respect your gender identity, and even though you’re a woman, I’m going to call you “Robert” and “he” and use any other male terminology that I can come up with. As you may guess, this scenario is based on an actual case, and just the other day, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the professor’s Christian beliefs likely gave him the First Amendment right to defy his student’s identity based in large part on his right to freedom of religious expression, sending the case back to the lower court so advised.

    Really? Since when is a disdain for transgender men and women a Christian value required by devout church members? One of the panel judges was appointed by George W. Bush. And guess who appointed the other two? Ding! You are correct. The impact of McConnell’s race to confirm Trump’s list of hard right judges is just beginning to be felt, and few on said list are more odious than the author of the Sixth Circuit opinion, Amul Thapar. 

    Among other things, Thapar sidestepped the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that banned gay and transgender discrimination in the workplace, but logically extends to a ban on such discrimination in public education. Ohio-based Shawnee State, where Professor Nicholas Meriwether worked, is federally funded and thus under the jurisdiction of Title IX. But Thapar insisted that Meriwether’s actions were not “discriminatory” and did not create a hostile environment for the student.

    Speaking of that 2020 case, the Department of Justice has just released a memo to federal agencies advising them that, indeed, Bostock v Clayton County applies to Title IX violations, even though it was written for a Title VII (workplace) case. Bostock, as you may recall, says that gay and trans discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination, which, in turn, is a violation of numerous federal laws including Title IX’s ban on sex bias in public schools and colleges.

    Meanwhile, some 30 students of religious colleges that rely on federal funds have recently sued the Department of Education, asking that Title IX be enforced against their schools despite religious loopholes in the law. One of the schools in this lawsuit is Baylor, which is so well known for rejecting our community that I picked Houston to beat them in the Final Four, even though I knew in my heart that this was unlikely. At any rate, I dropped out of first place in my March Madness bracket pool thanks to those bozos, while my wife (who ignored their anti-gay credentials and picked them to win it all) leapfrogged into the number one spot. Hmmm.

    Coffee Break

    Well, enough of all that, I suppose. It’s depressing. And irritating. And since I’m now irritated, can I complain about coffee packaging? In the last few years, coffee companies have started putting coffee in a bag with two plastic arms that partially detach from the bag and I guess are designed to close the coffee after it’s opened. The consumer is expected to then open the bag by pulling it apart with brute strength, but if you don’t approach this task in the right way, it’s impossible. I just rip the whole thing open, which renders the plastic arms useless and means I must either put the coffee in a second sealed container, or tie it up with a rubber band. The situation has bothered me for some time, but this is the first time it has occurred to me to put my distress into words.

    Moving right along, my inbox is full of praise for frigging Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, who has just vetoed a bill that outlaws a range of medical treatments for transgender youth. Since the bill passed by huge majorities in both houses of hog heaven, we’ll just have to see whether or not the state legislature overrides the veto. But listen! Last month, Hutchinson signed a ban on transgender girls’ sports participation, as well as another bill that lets health care practitioners deny care based on religious faith. So, um, thanks for the veto, I guess. 

    Oh, and in unrelated news, did you catch the “senior male” with some “old fashioned views” who wrote to Dear Abby after having a fight over the phone with his gay younger brother? 

    “A couple of months ago while we were talking, the subject of sexuality came up, and I told him I find the fact that he is gay ‘disgusting.’ I know it was a poor choice of words. I merely meant to say that I, myself, am and always have been totally heterosexual. I have never had any sexual interest in members of my own sex. I never meant my comment to be judgmental of my brother or anyone else.”

    Abby wrote back that the gay brother “would have to be a saint to forgive you.”

    Free Brandi!

    Do you remember the case of the foul-mouthed cheerleader? I know I’ve covered it because I felt an instant affection for Brandi Levy, the ninth-grade girl who posted an obscenity-laced tirade against the sources of her trials and tribulations in a video after she missed qualifying for the varsity cheerleading squad.

    She made the announcement with a one-finger salute on Snapchat while hanging with her friends on a Saturday afternoon back in 2017. She was promptly disciplined by the school and banned from cheerleading for a year. But she filed suit and won in a decision that her Pennsylvania-based school district appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

    The High Court will hear oral arguments later this month to decide the extent to which a public school can restrict student speech off campus and outside of school hours. I know I recently defended a school district’s right to control the content of a school-sponsored publication. But here, I think you’d agree that Big Teacher has to be stopped. The cheerleading squad had some rule against disparaging the team online, but Levy’s expansive eruption against a wide range of youthful miseries must not be nitpicked by the rah-rah school Mandarins.  

    And why do we care? We care about all major public school First Amendment litigation because GLBT-friendly or unfriendly speech and behavior is so often at issue. Likewise, we care about religious freedom cases, even when they involve the right to grow a beard in prison or eat a hamster in the staff kitchen because the principles in question may apply to a GLBT case in due time. And no, of course no one has ever sued for the right to eat a hamster. The beard case is a real one.

    Bar None

    Do you realize there are only 15 lesbian bars left in the United States? According to NBC News, there remain about 1,000 men’s and mixed bars, but your classic women’s bar is apparently a thing of the past. Covid hasn’t helped, but I have to assume that the real culprit is, well, progress.

    It’s not just the internet and dating apps. It’s that we’re no longer a marginalized community. I hear you screaming out there, but I’m speaking in relative terms. I’m remembering a bar where we had to knock three times to be admitted. I’m remembering the Italian bouncers at the Mafia-owned bars of the 1970s and 1980s in New York. I’m remembering “Partners,” my college gay bar; the black lights that made us all look tan, the blaring disco music, the line dancing, the cruising. I’m remembering the Katmandou from my years in Paris and the little cabinets where you kept your personal bottles of gin or vodka. Even the now infamous La Champmesle, a tiny neighborhood bar with no particular reputation not far from the stock exchange in the area where I used to work. 

    These were hideaways, the lairs of an underground community of gay women escaping from the myriad ways we had to hide ourselves in public. I recall taking for granted that many of my friends were in the closet, had fake boyfriends, were lying to their parents and their bosses. Gradually, such deceits became less necessary; they became unusual, they became downright odd, and then eventually we started to wonder what’s wrong with X that she has to pretend to be straight in this day and age. Really? 

    Those bars are outposts of a different century. I’m not saying homophobia is a thing of the past. I’m saying that the type of homophobia that herded us into these secret spaces is a thing of the past. And, yes, at times I have a bit of nostalgia for some of those spaces. But I have no nostalgia for the society that created them.

    A Man Scorned

    Speaking of progress, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire just ruled unanimously that “adultery” applies to a same-sex spouse and is not legally limited to intercourse outside of a marriage. According to the Union Leader, the decision arose from a heterosexual divorce case, where the husband accused his wife of having an affair with another woman and was seeking a ruling that the divorce was her fault. Sounds as if he was right about that.

    And in other random GLBT news, a county lawmaker in upstate New York named George Langdon IV has stepped down after someone passed around a video of his remarks at the “Return to Liberty Under the Constitution” retreat.

    “Everything God does is sustainable, it’s sustainable. It’s perpetual,” he said. “Sorry, when you have homosexual relationships, it’s not perpetual. Give them an island, they’ll be gone in 40 years. Because God created us this way. There’s so much common sense that needs to be applied to our policies, our procedures that we do in our government.”

    A little research indicates that George has been working for “Crystal Clear Finances,” a Christian finance group founded by his wife, Crystal Langdon, who touts herself as a Certified Kingdom Advisor (CKA). A CKA, in turn, is defined online as “a principled class of Christian financial advisors who have been trained in biblically wise financial advice to men and women seeking biblically wise financial counsel (SIC).” 

    It looks as if George’s introduction page has been removed from the Crystal Clear website, but his son George Langdon V is listed and apparently goes by the nickname “V.” I can’t tell if that means they call him “Vee” or “Five.” But I do know there’s something weird about that many generations of men with the same name. There just is.

    Published on April 8, 2021