I missed telling you about a 7th Circuit opinion that came out Sept. 19, but never fear! I now have all the details at my fingertips and will array them before you for your reading pleasure.
The case involves one Martha Louise Piggee, an instructor at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois, a public community college where she taught cosmetology. Or at least she used to be an instructor at Carl Sandburg. Her contract was not renewed for the spring of 2003, in the main because she refused to stop evangelizing on the job. Ms. Piggee promptly sued the school in federal court on constitutional grounds, claiming that her termination violated her rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, among other things.
Oh, and did I mention that she also sued the head of the mortuary science department who threw out her noodles from the campus refrigerator after she left? Surely that defendant missed the most appropriate opportunity in history to employ the phrase â€śdonâ€™t make a federal case out if it.â€ť
Ms. Piggeeâ€™s offenses were brought to the attention of school authorities by Jason Ruel, a gay student who was training under her auspices. In September 2002, the Pigster tucked two pamphlets into Ruelâ€™s pocket, one titled â€śSin Cityâ€ť and the other one called â€śDoom Town.â€ť The comic strip fliers both followed tragic scenarios.
In Sin City, a minister preaching against homosexuality is beaten by people in the pride parade and arrested. Another minister (who is secretly controlled by a demon!) argues that gay people are fine. Iâ€™m not sure from the court record but it sounds like minister Number One convinces minister Number Two to change his tune.
Doom Town, in turn, features a female AIDS activist who tells a crowd that gay males will taint the American blood supply unless everyone gives money to AIDS prevention. It then segues into an account of Sodom and Gomorrah, culminating in the destruction of the evil burgs.
According to the opinion, Mr. Ruel informed the school that he â€śdid not appreciate being called an abomination, a child molester, or a rapist and a deviant.â€ť In October, armed with other complaints of the same genre, the school fired off a letter to Piggers and another proselytizing teacher, warning them to stick to their subjects. Iâ€™m not sure what happened to the other teacher, but Pigletâ€™s contract for the next semester was not renewed, and she filed suit the following fall.
The 7th Circuit panel blew Piggeeâ€™s case out of the water in a neat 13-page decision, holding basically that public employers have every right to dictate professional standards, and that religious freedom does not extend to harassing people of different views in the workplace. If the First Amendment does not protect the person who yells â€śfireâ€ť in a crowded theater, nor does it protect she who yells â€śrepent!â€ť in a crowded classroom. (That wasnâ€™t in the opinion. I made that up all by myself. Clever nâ€™est-ce pas?)
Hereâ€™s why the decision is significant.
For the last several months, the far right has been busy burnishing a new legal strategy, arguing that gay rights laws, gay marriage, civil unions and other such statutes infringe upon the freedom of religious expression of conservative Christians. As such, the argument goes, there is a very real clash of constitutional rights at stake that has to be taken into account by courts and lawmakers. Under this theory, a belief in gay equality is almost a competing religion in itself that cannot be embraced as public policy without inflicting a severe constitutional blow to those who believe homosexuals are sinful.
This too, hopefully, will pass. As they say in Galesburg, I am the undertow, washing tides of power, battering the pillars under your things of high law.
Rage Against the Machine
Hereâ€™s a twist on the usual hate crime scenario. According to the Desert Sun, a presumably gay man attacked another man in a fit of drunken road rage, calling his victim â€śstraight boyâ€ť as he pounded the man into the pavement and bit off part of his earlobe. The victim, who was actually openly gay himself, lost most of his ear, broke his hand, injured his knees and elbows and bruised his ribs. And police in the Palm Springs area are reportedly treating the incident as a hate crime due to the â€śstraightâ€ť slur.
The victim, Michael Hillyard, was riding his motorcycle around 8 p.m. on the night of Sept. 20, when he was cut off by a silver Jeep Liberty. Hillyard honked, at which point the Jeep driver bounded out of his car and went to work on Hillyard, knocking him to the ground, kicking him and beating him into the proverbial pulp. The man, who drove away, was described as white, around 40 years old, close to six feet tall, blond, blue eyed, and wearing a button down shirt. Hillyard thought he seemed drunk.
Hey. At least no one can call that guy a sissy. Violent alcoholic maniac perhaps. But heâ€™s no pansy! And all this on the eve of the â€śLove Won Outâ€ť conference scheduled for Sept. 23 in nearby Indian Wells.
Amiability Won Out
I should know how that conference went, but I havenâ€™t seen much coverage of the actual event, a touring rally for ex-gays, their friends and family, and all those gay men and lesbians who would like nothing more than to spend the next several years of their lives bathed in self-loathing, miserably tamping down their sexual and emotional desires in order to conform to the fanatical moral tenets of the extreme right.
What I did see, however, was a lot of coverage of the run-up to the conference, due to the fact that the openly gay mayor of Palm Springs decided that the best way to handle the incoming crowd of Christo-crats was to greet them with open arms, via a letter to their organizers at Focus on the Family.
â€śItâ€™s a pleasure to welcome you!â€ť gushed Mayor Ron Oden. â€śWe are so proud to have you here in the Palm Springs area!â€ť (Exclamation points added by me!) Oden explained that he wanted the ex-gays to look around and appreciate the wonderful diverse citizenry of the gay-friendly enclave, and perhaps modify their opinions. Earth to Oden, these people are not completely sane, OK?
The gay community of Palm Springs was generally annoyed by the mayoral tactic, which some people compared to putting flowers out for the Klan.
â€śIf we want the acceptance and understanding of others,â€ť Oden told the press. â€śItâ€™s also important for people to see that weâ€™re willing to extend the same courtesy to others.â€ť Hello, Ron. We will never, by definition, win the â€śacceptance and understandingâ€ť of groups dedicated to defeating our every attempt to win the â€śacceptance and understandingâ€ť of the rest of the world. Ergo, no, we donâ€™t have to extend any courtesies to the aforementioned groups.
I did appreciate the part of Ronâ€™s letter that pledged to â€śdo everything we canâ€ť to make conference participants want to return for a visit. â€śWeâ€™ll tempt you with so many things to do and see that you will just have to return.â€ť Now thereâ€™s a winning strategy. As a matter of fact, I think the gay community of every city that hosts a Love Won Out conference should throw a special Love Won Out dance party to tempt, or rather welcome, the participants.
Iâ€™ve been trying in the last couple of days to track down what the U.S. Supreme Court did with an interesting cert petition that was on their calendar to consider last Monday. A cert petition, as most of you know, is a petition to hear a case, and the vast vast majority of such petitions are turned down. For example, I think the Court considered a couple thousand cases last Monday and accepted nine of them.
Oh, donâ€™t pin me down on those numbers, please.
At any rate, the petition that interests me appears neither to have been accepted or declined. No one seems to know what the Court has done with this petition, or when a determination might be forthcoming. I also donâ€™t know if the justices left other cases in limbo, and if so, how many.
Keeping in mind these unanswered questions, the case is a criminal matter out of El Paso, where undercover officers went into a sex shop and inquired about a crystal cock vibrator. After the clerk explained its use, he was arrested and actually went to jail for some hours, for violating a state law against â€śpromotingâ€ť an â€śobscene device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.â€ť
â€śPromoting,â€ť in turn, means to: â€śmanufacture, issue, sell, give, provide, lend, mail, deliver, transfer, transmit, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, or advertise, or offer to do the same.â€ť
(Iâ€™m not sure why the adjective â€śhumanâ€ť was included in the law, but Iâ€™m guessing that because this is Texas, we might want to stimulate some bovine genital organs from time to time, and that would be not just fine, but a heck of a lot of fun for all concerned.)
At any rate, a lower court tossed the case against Ignacio Acosta, but a state appellate court reversed and sent the matter to trial, issuing a short unpublished brief that treated the law as a commercial regulation rather than a personal restriction. â€śIt is appropriate,â€ť the court wrote last year, â€śfor the State to act to protect the social interest or order, morality, and decency by restraining commercial dealing in non-communicative objects designed or marketed for use primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.â€ť
Commercial dealing? And what about â€śgivingâ€ť or â€ślendingâ€ť such devices that might have been acquired outside Texas? Since the Supreme Court has ruled that we all have a right to autonomy in our otherwise legal private sex lives, would that not extend to the choice of whether or not to use or â€śgiveâ€ť a sex toy?
Well, the appellate ruling was appealed to the highest criminal court in Texas, which refused to hear the case. Thatâ€™s when the lawyer, Roger Jon Diamond of Santa Monica, asked the High Court to take review. Itâ€™s a long shot, but it is interesting that they havenâ€™t rejected the case out of hand.
Meanwhile, maybe you remember a long running sex toy case out of Alabama, where a sex shop owner challenged a similar dildo ban back in 1999 or 2000. I recall covering this federal challenge back in 2000, and I think it was already in an appellate court by then. Donâ€™t ask me how, because I donâ€™t fully understand it myself, but that case is back before the 11th Circuit for at least the third time, if not the fourth time in its convoluted history.
I know that the 11th Circuit upheld the Alabama law a couple of years ago. Apparently, they sent the case back to trial on the question of whether the law withstands the rational basis test, the lowest standard of judicial review. Now, that particular question has risen back up the ranks to the appellate court, where oral arguments are scheduled for December.
Am I boring you? So sorry! The dildo wars are interesting, because they stand for the proposition that thereâ€™s something inherently wrong with sex outside of procreation. And this is a view that I sense is starting to divide the religious right.
On the one hand, I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune headlined: â€śAbortion Foesâ€™ New Rallying Point; conservatives take on contraception.â€ť According to the Trib, there are a number of wingnuts who are pushing the notion that contraception itself is nearly as bad as abortion. It devalues marriages, promotes promiscuity, and somehow leads to more abortionsâ€”a logical leap that I am not able to replicate in my own mind.
Fortunately, this viewâ€”an outgrowth of the notion that sex is for making babies, periodâ€” is not widely shared even on the Christian right. I was looking over the Focus on the Family Web site the other day, and noticed a large collection of sex advice books and tapes available online. They looked pretty spicy, and I tried to order them but my computer wouldnnâ€™t send me to the checkout page.
By the way, Focus on the Family is not allowed to sell anything for some reason, so all their offerings are available for a â€śsuggested donationâ€ť of specific amounts. I gather that if you order something, they will ask you repeatedly for your â€śdonation,â€ť but if you keep refusing to donate, they have to ship you the stuff anyway. As such, I attempted to order several hundred dollars worth of conservative Christian sex guides, but as I said, I failed. You try.
I also read an article somewhere about a couplesâ€™ conference about Biblical sex or something where the moderator urged everyone to have hot oral sex in the most graphic terms. Anyway, all this inspired me to put â€śChristian sex attitudesâ€ť in my file of â€śideas for future articles,â€ť a repository with the sole purpose of triggering rushes of guilt and self reproach on the rare occasions when I dust it off and remind myself of the interesting ideas I once had in the distant past.
Only in Britain!
Letâ€™s move on to the first sentence of a dispatch from 365Gay.com, datelined London: â€śA woman was likely still alive as a former boyfriend began sawing off her head in a frenzied fit after she disclosed she was lesbian, a pathologist has told a British court.â€ť
Want more? Of course you do, you sick pervert.
Turns out 46-year-old James Seaton did not react well to his ex girlfriendâ€™s Sapphic revelations. Seaton beat Jacqueline Queen unconscious with a club hammer, and then began dismembering her in order to hide her body. One hopes she did not regain consciousness during this process. The killer put Queenâ€™s body in a wardrobe, and went over to his brotherâ€™s house to ask for help moving the furniture. During the moving attempt, Queenâ€™s body fell out, so the men wrapped her in a sheet and dumped her on the street. The brother then went home and called the police, although he still faces charges for his role in the affair.
Mr. Seatonâ€™s views on lesbianism are not the norm in Britain, where pollsters tell us 61 percent of British men would have no problem with their girlfriendâ€™s having sex with another woman. According to the Daily Mail, this majority took the view: â€śNot a problem! Iâ€™m still Number One.â€ť Another 31 percent were less sanguine about the infidelity, but were willing â€śto forgive a one-off interlude.â€ť Only 1 percent said theyâ€™d â€śbeat her near death with a club hammer and cut off her head.â€ť
The results were part of a Europe-wide â€śDream Datesâ€ť survey on the Lycos Web site, so take them with a grain of salt. As for the guys in the 61 percent, Iâ€™m sure many of them would remain â€śNumber Oneâ€ť after their girlfriends had an affair with another woman. Many others would have to try harder.
Oh, only 24 percent of women thought it would be no big deal if their man took a walk on the wild side. Some 47 percent would forgive a one-time fling, and 27 percent would consider talking a hike.
House of CardsFinally, just because Iâ€™m tired of writing this afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill that would deny attorneyâ€™s fees to civil liberties lawyers who win separation of church and state cases. The bill, which passed on a partisan 244-173 vote, is jaw droppingly outrageous.
Where did this bill come from? I had never heard of it before, and although itâ€™s apparently unlikely to advance in the Senate, itâ€™s still unbelievable. Thereâ€™s a reason why lawyers earn fees when they take the risk of challenging a law or state action that appears to violate the constitution and when they win. Civil rights attorneys are an integral part of the checks and balances of our government. The cases they bring are the only mechanism for contesting the public imposition of a particular religious view, and if only multi-millionaires could pursue these cases, civic assaults on the First Amendment would multiply like loaves and fishes.
Please please please, Dear Heavenly Father, deliver the House back to Democratic control. We have got to remove the hands of these lunatics from the levers of power. While Youâ€™re at it, Lord of all Hosts, give us six net Senate seats and afflict George Allen with a case of the hives. Or boils, I think You call them. Your humble servant, Ann.