Skip to content Skip to footer

Trump-Appointed Judge Orders Airline Lawyers to Take “Religious Liberty” Course

A Texas judge ordered Southwest Airlines lawyers to take a “training” by ADF, a notorious far right Christian group.

Lawyer Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on December 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

In the latest move from the judiciary branch to advance Christofascism in the U.S., a Trump-appointed judge in Texas ordered lawyers for Southwest Airlines to take a “religious liberty training” by a far right Christian group on Monday as part of a lawsuit brought by an anti-abortion flight attendant.

U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr ordered three senior lawyers for the airline to take eight hours of “religious-liberty training” by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal arm of the Christian right which has been designated as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The order, which was severe and caustic in tone and included a fine and a statement to circulate to employees, was handed down after Starr ruled that Southwest “didn’t come close to complying” with a previous order from the court. The order was for the company to circulate a notice that it ​​“may not” discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs, but the company said that it “does not” discriminate.

The lawsuit was brought by a flight attendant after she was fired in 2017 for sending a series of messages to the former union president Audrey Stone after Stone attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. The flight attendant, Charlene Carter, had included videos of purported aborted fetuses in her messages, and claimed that her union dues were going toward funding abortions. Starr ruled in December that Southwest discriminated against her for her religious beliefs.

Federalist Society member Starr, who is known among legal experts and civil rights activists for his brash and far right approach to rulings, lauded ADF in his decision on Monday, saying it is one of several “esteemed non-profit organizations that are dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom.” He also cited God and the story of Adam and Eve in the ruling.

ADF, founded by leaders of the Christian right, is notorious for its anti-LGBTQ legal activism in particular, including representing the plaintiff in the recent Supreme Court case eroding LGBTQ people’s access to private businesses, 303 Creative v. Elenis.

The group was also responsible for crafting the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that was ultimately responsible for the downfall of Roe v. Wade, as well as the lawsuit that could see a nationwide ban on abortion pill mifepristone.

The group’s website claims that it was founded by Christian leaders to “defend religious freedom before it was too late,” and that it has spent decades fighting what it calls the “myth” of the separation of church and state.

Legal experts and advocates have expressed horror at Starr’s ruling.

“It’s no surprise to see an extremist Federalist Society judge push far-right views from the bench, but forcing lawyers to train with a designated hate group is a new low. Groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and the Federalist Society want to strip Americans of their rights and undermine democracy — and Judge Starr is doing their bidding in the courtroom,” Accountable.US senior adviser Kyle Herrig said in a statement.

Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern noted that the course Starr was forcing the lawyers to take was akin to a “re-education program.”

“This is pretty frightening. A Trump judge has ordered Southwest’s lawyers to take a religious freedom ‘training’ by the far-right group Alliance Defending Freedom,” Stern tweeted. “If upheld, Trump Judge Brantley Starr’s order would let courts force lawyers to undergo religious indoctrination sessions from an extremist group that may well contradict their own deeply held spiritual beliefs and freedom of speech. This cannot possibly be legal.”

Today is our last chance to raise $21,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.