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.”
Briefly, we wanted to update you on where Truthout stands this month.
To be brutally honest, Truthout is behind on our fundraising goals for the year. There are a lot of reasons why. We’re dealing with broad trends in our industry, trends that have led publications like Vice, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic to make painful cuts. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of inflation. And despite its lasting importance, news readership is declining.
To ensure we stay out of the red by the end of the year, we have a long way to go. Our future is threatened.
We’ve stayed online over two decades thanks to the support of our readers. Because you believe in the power of our work, share our transformative stories, and give to keep us going strong, we know we can make it through this tough moment.
We’ve launched a campaign to raise $44,000 in the next 7 days. Please consider making a donation today.