Not Cakes, But Advocacy: The Tenth Circuit Rules That Compelled Expression Is Constitutional

compelled speech

I will state up front that I am confident that this decision will get to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that if and when it does, it will be reversed.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Denver ruled 2-1 that website designer Lorie Smith and her company, 303 Creative, violated a Colorado law by refusing to create a website celebrating a same sex union. forin a lawsuit filed before the law was used against her. She was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit, who also represented Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. There is a material difference, however, between a cake and a website. A cake is not generally thought of as expression, and there is a colorable argument that a bakery is a public accommodation. But Smith, whose company designs wedding websites, argues that forcing her to make one that supports a same-sex marriage violates her religious beliefs. It isn’t frosting and cake shades at issue, it’s words.

A Colorado public accommodation law bars public accommodations from refusing to provide equal access to services because of sexual orientation. The law’s communication clause also says public accommodations cannot publish any communication indicating that full access to services will not be provided because of sexual orientation. The appeals court majority decreed that neither provision violates Smith’s free speech and free exercise rights under the First Amendment, even though it acknowledged that Smith’s websites are pure speech that involve her unique creative talents. But, the Court claims, indulging in an “its isn’t what it is” rationalization, Colorado “has a compelling interest in protecting both the dignity interests of members of marginalized groups and their material interests in accessing the commercial marketplace…We agree with the dissent that a diversity of faiths and religious exercise, including appellants’, ‘enriches’ our society…Yet a faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other ways, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or services.”

This opinion is way, way over the traditional judicially-drawn line between compelling public accommodations to be equally accessible to all and compelling artistic expression. Under this theory, a singer who performs at weddings would have to warble at a same-sex ceremony, even if her faith held that such a ceremony was a sin.

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By What Theory Is This Judge Qualified To Stay On The Bench?

How low can judicial standards of ethics go? In the 10th Circuit, apparently, pretty low.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia of Kansas City, Kansas, is an appointee of President Bill Clinton. His sister is a judge on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was also appointed by Clinton.

According to the Tenth Circuit’s judicial council recent opinion following a judicial conduct investigation, Judge  Murguia gave “preferential treatment and unwanted attention to female employees of the judiciary in the form of sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate text messages, and excessive, non-work-related contact, much of which occurred after work hours and often late at night.” In other words, he is a serial sexual harasser. The harassed employees, the investigation found,  were reluctant to tell Murguia to stop his abuse because of his power as a federal judge.  One victim finally complained.  Murguia continued the harassing conduct anyway. Continue reading

So It Has Come To This: Criminalizing Burps In Middle School

At  Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, a persistent class clown, age 13, kept burping in class, followed by the usual titters from his classmates.

I was in class with one of these characters in the 8th grade, and I must admit, his burp was something: loud, long, low, and seemingly inexhaustible. He was yanked out of class, he was sent to detention, his parents were called, he was suspended, and eventually, without too much conflict, he learned to cut it out. (They never caught the guy who shouted “HOG!” in a raucous voice during study hall.) Apparently this method was beyond the abilities of the  Cleveland Middle School staff to execute.

The teacher, Ms. Mines-Hornbeck, called the police, who arrested and eventually cuffed the boy. Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes  not only suspended him for the rest of the school year, but allowed the criminal justice process to proceed, with the boy being processed for the charge of  violating a New Mexico statute, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), that reads…

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

That’s right: arrest and criminal prosecution for burping in class.

None of the staff at the school, apparently, had an ethics alarm go off that induced them to point out that the year long suspension was an unethically harsh punishment, and the criminal charge was tantamount to child abuse. I remember that in the fourth grade at Parmenter School in Arlington, Mass, my friend Timmy Russell was moved to leap to his feet during a math lesson and do a ten second imitation of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Then, that burst of childish energy over, she went on with the lesson, because she was a confident professional.

In New Mexico, 2016, Timmy would have broken the law. Continue reading

The Strange, Unethical Saga of Junius Puke

Junius Puke

This week seems to mark the end of a perfect storm of ethical misconduct that almost drowned a young student in legal persecution for the non-crime of exercising his First Amendment rights. An insufferable and humorless bully with a professorship collided with an irresponsible prosecutor wielding an unconstitutional law, and it has taken eight years to undo the carnage.

A man named Junius Peake was an economics professor at the University of Northern Colorado,  who due to his parody-inviting name and undoubtedly also the character traits that he was soon to display so prominently, found himself being lampooned in a student satire blog called “The Howling Pig.”  The editor-in-chief of the blog was facetiously identified in the newsletter as the obviously fictional “Junius Puke,” who was portrayed with an outrageous photograph of Professor Peake altered to include sunglasses, a different nose,  a Hitler-esque mustache, and, on occasion, Kiss make-up and a Gene Simmons tongue.  Junius Puke, with tongue. “Junius Puke” wrote prose like this:

“This will be a regular bitch sheet that will speak truth to power, obscenities to clergy, and advice to all the stoners sitting around watching Scooby Doo. This will be a forum for the pissed off and disenfranchised in Northern Colorado, basically everybody. I made it to where I am through hard work, luck, and connections, all without a college degree. Dissatisfaction with a cushy do-nothing ornamental position led me to form this subversive little paper. I don’t normally care much about the question of daycare since my kids are grown and other people’s children give me the willies.” Continue reading