FFRF welcomes court decision to halt unprecedented ‘religious liberty training’ order

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

An appeals court has commendably halted a lower court order attempting to compel Southwest Airlines attorneys to attend “religious liberty training” by a Christian nationalist advocacy group.

In this case that’s currently being appealed, Carter v. Local 556, Transport Workers Union of America, a flight attendant (Charlene Carter) sued Southwest, claiming she was fired for expressing her opposition to abortion rights — and a jury found in her favor. After the trial concluded, Judge 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.” He subsequently found three lawyers for Southwest in contempt for sending out a notice saying that it “does not” discriminate in such cases. As part of contempt sanctions, he issued an unusual and likely unconstitutional order requiring Southwest’s lawyers to attend “religious liberty training” conducted by the Christian nationalist organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

In the fall of 2023, FFRF filed an amicus brief in this case urging the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the district court’s inappropriate order. FFRF’s brief argued that the district court’s contempt order was an abuse of discretion. Further, if courts are allowed to order attorneys to attend training by a specific ideological advocacy group, they must be allowed to order attorneys to attend training by any other advocacy organization, as well. Allowing the district court’s order to stand would set a dangerous precedent.

Thankfully, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit apparently agreed. The court put the training on hold while the case continues the appeals process. In its ruling staying the religious liberty training, the appeals court found that the district court probably abused its discretion, stating that “there is a strong likelihood that the contempt order exceeded the district court’s civil contempt authority.” Further, the circuit court rightly noted that the religious liberty training would likely violate the constitutional rights of Southwest’s attorneys.

“The 5th Circuit has laudably reversed the district court’s ludicrous order,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been, obviously, following this case with great interest — and welcome the appeals court’s intervention.”

The purposes of the Freedom From Religion Foundation are to educate the public about nontheism and to preserve the cherished constitutional principle of separation between religion and government. FFRF works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion (freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and nonbelievers). It currently has over 40,000 U.S. members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,700 members and a chapter in Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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