FFRF denounces judge’s Southwest Airlines “religious-liberty training” order

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is decrying a U.S. district judge’s order requiring Southwest Airlines lawyers to take “religious-liberty training” from a theocratic legal group.

A flight attendant sued Southwest with the claim that she was fired for expressing her opposition to abortion rights — and a jury found in her favor. After the trial concluded, Brantley Starr, a President Trump appointee, ordered the airline to circulate a memo stating that “it may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.” On Monday, he sanctioned three lawyers for Southwest for sending out a notice saying that it “does not” discriminate in such cases. He further found Southwest in contempt.

Starr’s bizarre sanctions order, which alternated between sarcasm and outrage, also revealingly referenced the biblical story of Adam, referring to it as “historical,” along with “The Lord of the Rings”:

It’s hard to see how Southwest could have violated the notice requirement more. Take these modified historical and movie anecdotes. After God told Adam, “You must not eat from the tree [in the middle of the garden],” imagine Adam telling God, “I do not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden”— while an apple core rests at his feet. Or where Gandalf bellows, “You shall not pass,” the Balrog muses, “I do not pass,” while strolling past Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

The order requires that this training be conducted by the Christian nationalist Alliance Defending Freedom. This is a theocratic legal organization working to privilege certain kinds of Christianity and fuse state and church. For example, it crafted the recent 303 Creative lawsuit in which the Supreme Court ruled this summer that a would-be website designer could discriminate against LGBTQ-plus couples, as well as the precursor Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Alliance Defending Freedom also helped to represent Mississippi in the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The outfit is an anti-LGBTQ hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center describes it as:

Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion.

The judge’s order requires Southwest to pay for the Alliance Defending Freedom’s transportation, food, accommodation and travel expenses:

Southwest must send Kerrie Forbes, Kevin Minchey and Chris Maberry to religious-liberty training. That training shall be conducted by ADF at a time set by ADF, it shall last a minimum of eight hours of instructional time, and it must be completed by Aug. 28, 2023. Southwest must transport ADF’s representative to Dallas and be responsible for any food, accommodation, or other travel expenses for ADF’s representative.

Starr, a longtime Federalist Society member, worked in the Texas attorney general’s office, a hotbed for attorneys espousing a conservative Christian agenda, for several years before he was nominated by Trump to the federal bench. The Senate confirmed his nomination 51-39 in 2019, voting along party lines.

“Unfortunately, it is no longer surprising to see judges of this pedigree push Christian nationalist views from the bench,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, “but mandating that lawyers must train with a designated hate group is beyond the pale.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the largest national association of freethinkers, representing 40,000 atheists, agnostics, and others (including more than 1,700 members in Texas) who form their opinions about religion based on reason, rather than faith, tradition or authority.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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