Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

An End

September 30th, 2011 4 comments

My final column for 365gay is below. It’s an end, but not the end…I’ll continue blogging here, and watch this site for news about an arrangement with another site. Yet I’ll miss 365: It was a great source for news, and I developed a great working relationship with editor Jay Vanasco.

“One Last Salvo Against the Misuse of Religion:

My last column is kind of an angry one.

Once again, I’m compelled to write about the collision of religious beliefs and civil rights, and – as has become typical – the tension arises in a case involving marriage equality.

As this story details, the town clerk in the small village of Ledyard, New York, has unilaterally decided that she won’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So she now requires that all couples (gay and straight) make an appointment for her deputy (who seems to work part-time) to do the job that she’d previously done.

On the surface, this accommodation might look reasonable. The woman gets to honor her own religious beliefs, and now all couples are being treated equally. Everyone has to wait for an appointment. And in general, I support creative means of conflict resolution as long as they neither stigmatize a legally protected class nor cause undue inconvenience. If, say, there were several clerks working different lines in a large city and one objected to issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples, an unobtrusive switch of clerks would bother no one.

Beyond that kind of practical accommodation, though, allowing this kind of  refusal would be a terrible mistake, and one that would sets very dangerous precedent. Consider this example:

State A passes a marriage equality law. The Attorney General’s religious beliefs are offended by the bill, and he decides that all marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples are without legal force. Of course, such an AG would likely be swiftly fired, or in any event overruled by a court. But until that happened, one might expect him to argue that he simply “couldn’t” do otherwise, as same-sex marriages were against God’s law.

But God’s law – whatever it might be in this case, and there’s no clear agreement among religions on this or any other issue – is beside the point. The AG has a civil law responsibility that he’s failing to discharge.

Much further down on the government food chain, the Ledyard clerk, one Rose Marie Belforti, is doing much the same thing. The similarity can be hard to see, because her refusal to comply with the law – unlike the AG’s – can be sidestepped. But in both cases, we have a public official deciding for themselves when and whether to recognize a law of general application. The AG wouldn’t be able to stay in office were he to insist on his own, law-defying interpretation of what God’s law requires; and the result should be no different here. If Belforti couldn’t figure out a way to do this behind the scenes, too bad for her.

And the consequences of allowing religious beliefs to interfere with clear civic responsibilities can’t be limited to the issue of same-sex marriage licenses. What if a clerk didn’t want to marry two people who’d been divorced? Who’d had sex before marriage? And what would those defending Ms. Belforti say about a judge who granted men, but not women, a unilateral divorce because of his belief that that Sharia law required that interpretation?

We expect judges to follow the prevailing law. We have the right to expect clerks to do the same.

I could respect Ms. Belforti if, like several other clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages, she resigned from her job. But I have nothing but contempt for the rhetoric being put forward by the likes of Maggie Gallagher and Robbie George. Read this article, which details how the pair is trying to turn back marriage equality by appealing openly to the idea that religion should take precedence over equality. Gallagher likens New York state’s insistence on having its laws followed in the clerk cases to the dictates of Caesar, “forgetting” that the democratically elected legislature passed the marriage equality law. But the reference to this dictator is a way of making her point about the supposed religious persecutions.

George, co-author of the much-downloaded, but intellectually dishonest, article “What is Marriage?,” continues to rail against schools that teach about the existence of (let alone the positive results linked to)  families headed by gay and lesbian parents. It’s just too bad for parents who don’t want their children “indoctrinated” into this world, he says.

Worse, he “loathes” the “bad faith” of our “strategy” of demonizing people like Belforti  by deploying the “weapons” of anti-discrimination law. But to insist that validly enacted laws, like New York’s, be interpreted in a way that favors no religion over another is only to follow the rules of democracy itself. George and Gallagher are so sure of their own (rigidly Catholic) version of God that they fail to understand that the best way to respect religion is to insist on its separation from the civil, legal sphere.

For once religion is allowed to set the rules, there’s no guarantee that the faith chosen will be one either of them would endorse. It might even be Muslim.

I can’t end this column without a last goodbye to my faithful readers (some of whom I know by user name; others of whom simply read without weighing in). I’d love for you to follow me over to my own site, Word in Edgewise, where I promise to keep up the fight. (And I might soon be blogging for another site; you’ll have to go to WiE to find out if and where.) I hope to see some of you tonight! And a fond farewell to JV and JW. Thanks to both of you. Excelsior!

John Culhane is Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law. He has edited and contributed to a book on “hot” legal and social issues, and just taped a show for The American Law Journal on the legal rights of unmarried cohabitants (gay and straight). It will be available for viewing on this website by late October. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

NY Passes Marriage Equality Law — With Strings (That I Can (Barely) Live With)

June 25th, 2011 No comments
Andrew Cuomo hands pens to legislators after signing the bill into law late Friday. | AP Photo

This will go up on soon, but since I don’t know when, I want to get this posted ASAP:

[Update: it’s now up. Here is the link.]

Marriage equality is coming to New York! The bill was signed within about an hour of its passage through the legislature, and marriage licenses will start issuing in thirty days.

It’s hard to write a column when all you want to do is scream and dance. I’m in Pennsylvania, not New York, but I grew up there and am still enough of a NY snob and realist to know that this is a

Only the more populous California rivals New York in legal and symbolic importance. The state’s financial and cultural clout are exported around the world. Now this news about marriage will be, too, and I expect other states and nations to use this development as powerful ammunition for their own marriage equality movements. Our opponents – especially the National Organization for Marriage – know this, too.

When they’re being honest with themselves, they also know that their tactics at best delay the inevitable. That defensive game just got a lot tougher, especially since it was Republicans that made the difference in the state senate: Senator Skelos, the majority leader, allowed the measure to come to a vote; and in the end four Republicans put the measure over the top.

Consider the two whose votes were declared only last night: Mark Grisanti, who represents the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area; and Steve Saland, from the beautiful Hudson Valley part of the state.

These are exactly the kind of measured, moderate voices that quietly voice the doom of the anti-equality effort. Saland has a reputation as a thoughtful (if dull) legislator, but he spoke with confidence and conviction about his vote, declaring that his emotional journey towards recognizing the dignity and equality of gay couples was now at its end. He knew, somehow, that his parents would be proud of him

It was Grisanti, though, who is going to have the Catholic-inflected NOM et al. scrambling for a new playbook. He’s a real Catholic (check out his bio to see how very Catholic he is), yet was, in the end, able to separate his religion from what he concluded the law must allow.

Both Saland and Grisanti, significantly, are lawyers. I know, I know – a law degree doesn’t confer infallibility. But when it comes to legal rights, any attorney should be able to articulate a reason to exclude a class of people from equality. And Grisanti said: “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage.”

Others have, though. It’s worth recalling that the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that the state could ban same-sex weddings, using some of the worst arguments you will ever see in a body of such stature. This win more than makes up for that serious misstep, and is more satisfying, in a way.

This brings me to the one part of the law about which I have serious reservations: the religious exemptions. I’m well aware that the bill wouldn’t have passed without them, so the question is: Was it worth it? Are the exemptions too strong? Are they justified? Or should we have waited for a better law, bearing in mind that this version of marriage equality is likely to be ferried from state to state, going forward?

On balance, I think the exemptions are tolerable – but just barely.

First, they’re not the broadest – and dumbest – exceptions that have been suggested by a small, seriously misguided, group of law professors. These folks lurch from state to state arguing that businesses should be able to refuse to cater, photograph, provide flowers for, or put up guests for same-sex weddings if their objection is based on religion

This has been, and will continue to be, a non-starter. Although ostensibly limited to transactions connected to the wedding, in fact the restriction is impossible to police and would result in the rollback of anti-discrimination protection in states that have worked so hard to get it.

But the exemptions that are in the bill remain troubling. They go beyond what the state law and the U.S. Constitution already require, which is that no religion is forced to solemnize any marriage that violates its tenets. Under the amendments – released, maddeningly, just hours before the vote – neither these religious organizations, nor any non-profit organizations they control, nor any other “benevolent association” (think Knights of Columbus) has to have anything at all to do with a same-sex wedding.

As a pointed example, the measure would foreclose a suit such as the one filed by a New Jersey couple denied use of a beach pavilion by the Methodist church that owned it. The facility was routinely rented out for all kinds of weddings, so one might think that the decision to enter the world of commerce means you have to take all comers.

Yes in New Jersey — but not in New York. A church, synagogue, or mosque, can spin off as many organizations as it wishes, and engage in whatever businesses it wishes, without having to get involved in anything to do with our weddings. They can’t be sued for their actions, and they can’t lose their tax-exempt status because of them. I prefer the New Jersey approach, which strips away the religious fig leaf from naked acts of commerce.

There are also provisions in the law designed to reassure religious organizations that marriage equality can’t be used as a sword to get them to provide housing, employment, or services to the LGBT community where doing so would be inconsistent with their basic message. But those protections are already in state law, so the law isn’t as troubling there. Or at least it’s not newly troubling.

One thing that the law seems to leave out is an exemption for adoption agencies affiliated with religious organizations (like Catholic Charities) that will not place kids in households headed by same-sex couples. This is a vexing question that deserves its own post (coming soon!).

Let me close by panning back out, away from the details of the law to the broader commitment to dignity and equality that it embodies. Openly gay and HIV+ Senator Tom Duane ran well past his allotted time to provide a brief history of the progress of our movement, culminating in this huge victory. Then he said: “Nothing is going to change about how we love or take care of each other.” It is just that the state is now going to recognize and support us in these efforts.

And it is about time.

How I’m Learning to Hate the First Amendment

April 16th, 2011 No comments

HatesignsOriginally posted on 3/3/11

(reposted after discussion at law school preview day)

This is a post that has been rolling around in my brain for months. Yesterday’s infuriating opinion by SCOTUS in the Westboro Baptist Church case (Snyder v. Phelps, 2011 LEXIS 1903) is the trigger for its release. I have had enough of this weepy canonization of the right to free speech, and my frustration was only increased when I heard Jeffrey Rosen gushing over the decision yesterday on NPR, calling it “quite a dramatic victory for free speech.” When the doctrine is used to allow “the brutalization of innocent victims” (in the memorable language of lone dissenter Samuel Alito), something has gone terribly wrong. In the bargain, the Court also misunderstood tort law. Not a good day for this particular ennead.

First Amendment protection has been converted into an article of religious faith. Few dare speak against it, preferring instead to intone ritualistically that freedom of speech means nothing if it doesn’t protect the speech we most hate. Like that of the Phelpses.

A critical reexamination is long overdue.

As background, keep in mind that Congress and the states already make plenty of laws restricting the freedom of speech. Laws against fraud, obscenity, and — with particular relevance here — statutes increasing penalties for hate crimes come immediately to mind. There are also so-called “time, place and manner” restrictions on speech that the Court has blessed (and that were discussed but not dispositive here), although the line between such incidental regulation and efforts to stop the speech altogether can get blurry. In short, there’s warrant for reexamining doctrine that makes First Amendment protection absolute in the “public interest” context.

Wednesday’s decision involved the hateful bile spewed at the father of a slain Marine, both at the funeral procession and thereafter. In a relatively short decision, Chief Justice Roberts conferred the Court’s constitutional blessing on these vicious personal attack, on the theory that Westboro’s vile spew was on a matter of public concern. Here are some of the enlightening messages Fred Phelps and his moronic followers carried on their placards: “You’re Going to Hell”, “God Hates You,” “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” and so on. A few, like the last one quoted, are about matters of public concern; the first two surely are not. And just in case it was unclear that these misanthropic miscreants were targeting the family, consider the internet posting (for some reason called “the epic”1) that the Phelps family then created. The screed bears extensive quotation:

“God blessed you, Mr. and Mrs. Snyder, with a re- source and his name was Matthew. He was an arrow in your quiver! In thanks to God for the comfort the child could bring you, you had a DUTY to prepare that child to serve the LORD his GOD—PERIOD! You did JUST THE OPPOSITE—you raised him for the devil.
“Albert and Julie RIPPED that body apart and
taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to
commit adultery. They taught him how to support the
largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire
world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity. Every dime
they gave the Roman Catholic monster they condemned
their own souls. They also, in supporting satanic
Catholicism, taught Matthew to be an idolater. …..

So those were the statements made. Legally at issue was whether the plaintiff’s multi-million dollar award against members of the Church could withstand constitutional attack, on the ground that the state tort claims — for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion (a privacy tort) — must give ground to the constitutional imperative that even the most reprehensible speech should be protected.

The privacy claim is harder to sustain. The question there is whether the defendant intentionally intruded upon the plaintiff’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Maybe, but the Phelpses (there are very few protesters who aren’t members of the family) were some 1,000 feet away, and therefore the bereaved family were not a “captive audience.” Tort law is fairly restrictive on recovery for privacy invasions in public spaces, so I don’t argue with the Court on this point.

But the claim for emotional distress is quite strong under prevailing state law. The tort requires (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) that intentionally causes (3) severe emotional distress. One who thereby causes such distress is liable for it (and for any accompanying bodily harm). Two acts did the damage: the protest itself, which attacked both the U.S. and the family of the deceased Marine (I disagree with Justice Ginsburg’s comment during oral argument that the reference to “you” would be understood as a collective “you” rather than the plaintiff himself);2 and “the epic.”

The Court went astray in worrying that “outrageousness” is too murky a concept to stand up against the grand First Amendment’s concern for uninhibited and robust speech. Yes, a jury could give vent to their own tastes and effectively punish the speech if the courts didn’t act as gatekeepers in these cases, as they are supposed to do. So concerned were the drafters of the Restatement (Second) of Torts that liability might metastasize, with even slight indignities being called “outrageous,” that they took the unusual step of giving courts — not juries! — a screening function: “It is for the court to determine, in the first instance, whether the defendant’s conduct may reasonably be regarded as so extreme and outrageous as to permit recovery….”

Does anyone doubt that this standard was met here? If this conduct isn’t outrageous, show me conduct that is. I’ll wait.

Moreover, Maryland state law (which applied to the tort claim in this case) is unusually restrictive on the issue of emotional distress — it must be “severe”, by which the state supreme court has meant distress that “hindered [Mr. Snyder’s] ability to carry out his daily activities….” So there are substantial safeguards built into the tort. But the Court never discussed these, focusing instead on the vital importance of Westboro’s message.

What, exactly, is the contribution of this message? Even if it does contribute in some tiny way to public discourse, is there to be no balancing against deliberate and directed acts of verbal vi0lence? Justice Breyer, in a cryptic concurrence, seemed to say that there might be a limit. He analogized this case to one where a defendant, in order to get a message of public interest across, physically assaulted an innocent victim. That victim would surely have a tort claim there — the First Amendment interest notwithstanding — so why not here? Breyer leans heavily on the fact that the protesters were so far away, but doesn’t deal with the other problems: the content of the signs, or the “epic.” At least he realizes that a balance is to be struck.

Alito’s dissent begins: “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.” He might have ended there, but instead went on to note that the plaintiff is not a public figure and that the protesters had many venues available but chose the one most calculated to do emotional harm to him. Why isn’t this actionable? Can’t the tort liability be seen as enacting a kind of “time, place, and manner” restriction on speech that says only this: No personal attacks on grieving families.

The Court thinks this is too hard a line to draw. I say: “Draw the damn line.” For once, I agree with Maggie Gallagher in her conclusion that “somewhere in our great Constitution, there has to be a way to let people bury their dead, without becoming the objects of other people’s monomaniacal desire to disrupt their grieving for publicity purposes.”

Indeed, it’s precisely the knowledge that these protests cause grieving that draws media attention. That this perverse strategy should somehow be used to insulate the defendants from liability is…nuts.

And the celebration of the decision by Jim Burroway is maddening. He argues that the case will provide a shield against allegations that anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBT community will infringe religious freedoms: if we allow this kind of protest to protect religious freedom, then why are they worrying? Never mind that the cases raise starkly different issues. What pains me is the total disregard of the other side of this equation: the suffering of the dead soldier’s family.


The current Court seems determined to extend the First Amendment to places that should give any reasonable person reason to question. The widely reviled Citizens United case equated corporations with people for First Amendment purposes, sweeping aside several contrary precedents in its zeal to do so. In another disturbing case, the Court (with, again, only Justice Alito in dissent) declared unconstitutional a law that banned the showing of “crush videos,” which provide the viewer with the sick spectacle of dominatrix women slowly killing small animals by crushing their heads with stiletto heels.


In fairness, the law was drafted broadly enough that it could have applied to a number of contexts more deserving of First Amendment protection. But the Court’s sweeping pronouncements about the value of speech — no matter what — provide little reason to expect nuance in future decisions.

Judging from the holding in Snyder v. Phelps, this First Amendment Uber Alles trend isn’t likely to stop any time soon.

  1. There was some question about whether the epic was properly before the Court. I think it was, as evidence of a course of conduct.
  2. One more reason we need a plural form of “you” in English.

Westboro Baptist “Church” and the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

March 10th, 2011 No comments

I take the case apart, and look more deeply at the tort aspects, here:

Already the comments are coming in over at I didn’t expect this to be an easy one….

Swimming to Maryland

February 10th, 2011 No comments

…narratively speaking, that’s what today’s 365gay column does. I connect a flap over a Letter to the Editor of SWIMMER Magazine to the push for religious exemptions to the marriage equality bill being considered in Maryland.

How? Read the thing.

Cage Match: Anti-Discrimination vs. Religious Liberty

January 13th, 2011 No comments

Get the gory details here (weekly 365gay column).

Categories: 365gay column, religion Tags:

Taking on Rauch’s Call for Religious Accommodation in this Month’s Advocate

December 30th, 2010 2 comments

(cross-posted at, with links you won’t find here)

Jonathan Rauch makes the clearest, most consistent conservative case for equality – especially marriage equality – that I’ve yet read. Even his opponents, on both the left and the right, accord him respect. He deserves it.

At times, though, Rauch’s conservatism causes him to call for compromises that are seriously flawed. Earlier this year, he took Judge Walker to task for his opinion stating that Prop 8’s denial of marriage equality was unconstitutional; for Rauch, the civil unions (domestic partnerships, actually) available in California should have been enough. He overlooked the fact that no reason was adduced at trial for conferring all of the benefits of marriage without the label – in other words, to engage in discrimination simpliciter.

Worse is his piece in this month’s Advocate. In an effort to achieve an elusive compromise between anti-discrimination laws and accommodating religious belief, he clatters far off the track. Please read the entire piece. It’s beguiling in its apparently reasonable call for LGBT advocates to tolerate some (unspecified) level of discrimination, but his seemingly commonsensical call for civility falls apart under a closer reading.

At the risk of oversimplifying his exhaustively developed argument, here are his main points: (1) Mainstream opinion has shifted in our favor, with a majority of Americans polled now declaring that they don’t think homosexuality is immoral; (2) It’s therefore time to start acting like a majority instead of like a beleaguered minority, and to show charity and compassion for those who object to our full equality on religious grounds; and, relatedly, (3) It’s not wise to insist on rigorous, unyielding enforcement of existing laws in our favor. Where we can accommodate religious objections, we should.

He’s wrong on every count.

First, the entire article depends critically on believing that polling data indicating (bare) majority approval of homosexuality means that we’ve won (or at least that we’re winning).

Not so fast. A simple, binary “yes/no” on the morality of homosexuality, while a promising development, doesn’t necessarily translate into success on any specific issue. It might be, for example, that a substantial percentage of those who think homosexuality isn’t immoral object to same-sex marriages anyway, or that others don’t see protecting the LGBT community from job discrimination (note that the “T” doesn’t appear in Rauch’s piece) is terribly important.

And it seems to me that the national data, and Rauch, miss the local effect. It’s precisely those places where homosexuality is least accepted that are likeliest to create the greatest number of practical problems – not just cupcake denials – for the LGBT community. I’d expect many more instances of religious objections to equality in, say, Oklahoma, than I would in Philadelphia. But red states are exactly where it’s most important to place the force of law behind the anti-discrimination imperative.

I understand that Rauch is making a more general point here, about a movement toward acceptance that might have reached a tipping point. But given all the work this poll is being called upon to do, the use of the data seems a bit facile, to me. The first year in which homosexuality has lurched across the 50% approval line seems insufficient occasion to declare imminent victory, and Rauch’s recognition that there are still victories to be won comes across as grudging, in context.

Now to the second and third points, which are intertwined. Rauch tries to bolster his argument by opening his piece with a carefully chosen example: A “mom and pop” bakery – not a large corporation, of course – refuses to bake rainbow cupcakes for a college Gay Pride event. The students accept the decision and vow to continue dialogue on LGBT issues, but the city launches an investigation into the event, with the eviction of the business from city-owned property a possible outcome.

Rauch deplores the second of these outcomes. He wants you to ask: Are they really going to kick out these long-term, family tenants over something like cupcakes? I mean, who cares?

His argument depends critically on diverting the reader’s attention from what’s really at stake here. I’d guess that the same religious views that prevented the baking of rainbow cupcakes (for the gays, not for the second-grade Rainbow Pageant) would also make that same “mom and pop” unlikely to hire a gay employee, or to fire him if he came out – say, by getting married to another man. Would that be OK?

What about a teacher who refused to teach a unit on family inclusion that mentioned gay and lesbian-parented households? (The private/public distinction isn’t available to Rauch because he thinks that the discriminatory bakery should be able to retain its place on city property.)

What if “mom and pop” decided to open a bed and breakfast and didn’t want to accommodate same-sex couples? You and your same-sex spouse see the “Vacancy” sign, and walk to the front desk. You’re tired and sleepy after a long day on the road. You’re turned away, and not nicely. (By the way, the same could happen to an unmarried opposite-sex couple under the “religious (sometimes) trumps civil rights” view of Rauch. Should that be OK, too? Or is it only the gays who need suffer the withering reprovals of the ”tsk-tsk” brigade?)

Are these costs “we” can – or, more to the point, must – live with? Rauch doesn’t say.

But even the facially silly cupcake example can be reworked, with little imagination, to up the cost: Imagine that the student asking for the dazzling treat was mercilessly bullied as a kid, and is just now developing a healthy sense of self. To him, the refusal will have a very different meaning than it would for Rauch, or for me.

It’s precisely this difficulty in drawing the line that dooms Rauch’s fuzzy call to…non-action. Any statutory religious exemption beyond activities clearly at the core of the entity’s ecclesiastical mission – celebrating weddings, training clergy – quickly runs into all kinds of line-drawing impossibilities.

Some, like Robin Fretwell Wilson, try to limit the problems by restricting proposed religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws to actions that are closely tied to recognition of same-sex weddings. To his credit, Rauch understands that there’s just no principled reason for roping off that category; if we want to recognize religious accommodations, it’s hard to see any good reason for limiting them in that way.

In a series of posts last year, I argued for a different kind of accommodation: Businesses that are anti-gay should be able to make their religious views known, but not able to act on them in any way. For many, a choice between a gay-friendly and a homo-hating business will be clear. But laws of general application should apply…generally. Or else it’s hard to see why exemptions should be limited to disapprovals of homosexuality, generally. Plenty of religious doctrine opposes the equality of women, even today. Should businesses be able to act on that?

One last point: Rauch doesn’t want to give the religionists a rhetorical weapon by allowing them to claim the label of oppression, saying that they’re being treated as “bigots.”

But they’ve already made this move, even where we don’t have laws protecting us. When we do get those laws, there won’t be any need to name-call: The law will speak clearly enough.

OK, OK (You Can Use a Condom, If and Only If…)

November 21st, 2010 No comments

The Pope has moved a teensy bit closer to sanity, recognizing that there are cases where condom use might be part of a strategy to reduce the incidence of STDS:

Pope Benedict XVI says that condom use is acceptable “in certain cases”, notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection, in a book due out Tuesday, apparently softening his once hardline stance.

In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether “the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms.”

“It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution,” the pope replies.

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” said the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

It’s a step, but an even smaller one than first appears. Male prostitutes don’t seem especially likely to listen to the Pope. Catholics who are married or in long-term relationships might be swayed, but the advice doesn’t apply to them — at least not clearly. It still seems as though the opposition to birth control trumps all, even a commitment to basic public health.

Reliably Controversial: Religion and Equality Clashes

July 22nd, 2010 No comments

Today’s column over at has elicited a mountain of response. No surprise there — it’s about how far to accommodate religion in anti-discrimination laws (including the marriage equality laws and public accommodation statutes). People are never shy about expressing opinions; the tougher thing is to maintain civility.

Some Thoughts on CLS v. Martinez

July 1st, 2010 No comments

Today’s column over at discusses this week’s Supreme Court ruling in Christian Legal Services v. Martinez, where the Court took a narrow path to its holding that Hastings Law School’s “all comers” policy was constitutional. Under that policy, only those student organizations that allow any student to become a member, regardless of belief or conduct (which the Court equated), were eligible for funding and other accommodations.

As the column and the many thoughtful comments I’ve received demonstrate, the case raises more questions than it answers.