Author archives: Peter Sprigg

The Little-Known Figures Who Had an Outsized Impact on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

by Peter Sprigg

June 20, 2018

I have already written several times about the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, in which the Court struck down Colorado’s discrimination charge against a Christian baker who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The majority’s ruling rested on its finding that the proceedings against baker Jack Phillips in Colorado were tainted by anti-religious bias. I described each of the five opinions written in the case here, and explained why media referred to a 7-2 decision as “narrow” (in its reasoning, not its margin) here.

There is one more aspect of the Masterpiece case that I found interesting. The key parties to the case were the baker, Jack Phillips, and the same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. The experiences and perspectives of these men had been discussed and recounted repeatedly as the case made its way through Colorado’s adjudicatory process and then through the appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, there were two lesser-known figures who played a key role in the outcome of the case. From the pro-family perspective supportive of the baker Phillips, one—a man named William Jack—helped to expose the hypocrisy of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The other—a woman named Diann Rice—may have unwittingly doomed the state’s case by verbalizing the anti-religious hostility that was fatal to their side.

Diann Rice was a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that heard the complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop. During a July 25, 2014 meeting of the Commission, she made the following statement, which was recounted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in the 2018 case:

I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.

The quote was originally found on an audio recording of the meeting, and a transcript from that recording only identified the speaker as a “female speaker.” It was not until six months later that Phillips’ attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom identified the speaker as Rice.

Justice Kennedy explained the problem with this remark:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

The sad thing is that the kind of contempt for “freedom of religion and religion” voiced by Rice, including the over-the-top comparison of a belief in one-man-one-woman marriage with defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, is not even considered extreme on the Left today. On the contrary, that view is utterly commonplace. For example, writer Zack Ford of ThinkProgress openly defended the remark. That is why it was so welcome to have the Supreme Court declare that such contempt is not permissible as a part of government decision-making.

The other person who surprisingly proved central to the case was William Jack. (William Jack is not to be confused with Jack Phillips, the baker at the heart of the case.)

Even after he was cited in the Court’s ruling, little has been written about Mr. Jack’s background. The liberal magazine Mother Jones wrote the most detailed article about him, referring to him as “a foot soldier in the religious-right evangelical movement.” They also linked to a brief he filed in the case in support of Phillips, which describes him as “a Colorado citizen and Christian educator who teaches nationally on issues of Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership.”

In a sort of reverse parallel of what happened to Craig and Mullins when they requested a wedding cake from Masterpiece Cakeshop, William Jack visited three Colorado bakeries requesting that they bake him cakes with a message of opposition to same-sex marriage. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Jack’s request most explicitly in her dissenting opinion. He wanted cakes:

made to resemble an open Bible. He also requested that each cake be decorated with Biblical verses. [He]requested that one of the cakes include an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image. On one cake, he requested [on] one side[,] … ‘God hates sin. Psalm 45:7’ and on the opposite side of the cake ‘Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2.’ On the second cake, [the one] with the image of the two groomsmen covered by a red ‘X’[Jack] requested [these words]: ‘God loves sinners’ and on the other side ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.’ ”

All three bakeries declined to bake the cakes requested by Mr. Jack, on the grounds that they considered the message (especially, it seems, the image of the grooms with the red “X” and the word “sin”) to be offensive. Mr. Jack brought discrimination charges against each of the bakeries, asserting that they had discriminated against him because of his “creed” (that is, religion), which is a protected category under Colorado’s public accommodations non-discrimination law. Yet the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in Mr. Jack’s case found the bakeries not to have been guilty of discrimination—in direct contrast to the outcome for Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Mother Jones referred to Jack’s requests as a “stunt.” Jack himself admitted, according to World magazine, that he made the requests in response to the Masterpiece case, “to see if those charging discrimination against gays would care about discrimination against Christians.” He never indicated that the cakes were intended for a particular social event. On the other hand, even Mother Jones admitted such experiments

aren’t uncommon among activist groups of all political leanings seeking changes in the legal system. Civil rights organizations use testers, for instance, to see whether a landlord is refusing to rent to people of color or a car dealer is charging them higher interest on auto loans. Activists who use wheelchairs visit businesses to see whether their buildings comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and file complaints if they don’t.

The point, of course, is not that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission should have punished the bakers who refused to make cakes for Mr. Jack with a message opposing same-sex marriage. Instead, it is the opposite. They should have allowed Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop the same freedom—to refuse cakes with messages to which he has a conscientious objection—that they allowed to the bakeries approached by William Jack.

The message William Jack requested on his cakes may have seemed unusual, odd, or even, yes, offensive to some. But Justice Kennedy warned that “it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive.”

William Jack did not get his cakes, but he did prove a point—possibly turning the tide of a Supreme Court case in the process.

Masterpiece Cakeshop: How Can a 7-2 Supreme Court Decision Be “Narrow?”

by Peter Sprigg

June 8, 2018

On June 4, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (upheld by Colorado courts) that had found baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop guilty of unlawful discrimination for declining to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The vote was 7-2—that is, seven justices voted to overturn the Colorado decision, while only two voted to uphold it.

The New York Times’ online story about the ruling carried the headline, “In Narrow Decision, Supreme Court Sides With Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple.” The Washington Post editorialized, “The Supreme Court’s narrow ruling on a wedding cake is a step in the right direction.”

Subsequently, I noticed some people on social media (especially conservative friends) grousing about the description of the 7-2 decision as “narrow,” as though the liberal media was trying to downplay Jack Phillips’ decisive victory. So I thought I would offer a short explanation.

Masterpiece Cakeshop is being described as a “narrow” ruling not because of its margin, but because of its reasoning. Neither side in the case got everything that it wanted.

Those supporting Colorado, and supporting Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins (the same-sex couple who had requested a cake from Phillips), wanted a broad ruling that 1) Phillips violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act by discriminating against the couple on the basis of “sexual orientation; and 2) that no claim of religious freedom or free speech can excuse that statutory violation by a business that qualifies as a “public accommodation.” In the end, only two justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Sonia Sotomayor joining her in dissent) adopted that view and considered it decisive.

Those supporting the baker Phillips, on the other hand, wanted a broad ruling that his rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, because they are fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution, must take precedence over the statutory provisions of Colorado law. Yet the Court’s ruling in favor of the free exercise claim was a narrow one, and only two justices expressed support for the free speech claim as well (Clarence Thomas, with Neil Gorsuch joining his concurrence in the judgment).

(I should note as well that some key elements of the case remained in dispute. Phillips’ attorneys questioned whether the Anti-Discrimination Act even applied, arguing that Phillips did not, in fact, “discriminate” on the basis of “sexual orientation” at all, because he was happy to serve self-identified gay customers with products other than a wedding cake. Colorado’s attorneys questioned whether the First Amendment even applied, arguing that baking a cake cannot be considered a form of “speech” at all.)

Instead of clearly explaining that Jack Phillips’ has robust constitutional rights regarding the cakes he designs, the majority opinion found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission simply didn’t behave well enough in this case, due to: (1) the hostility aimed specifically at his religious beliefs (evidenced in comments of the Commission), and (2) the different treatment the Commission gave a parallel case (one in which the Commission allowed bakeries to refuse to make cakes criticizing same-sex marriage). It was only because the Commission exhibited anti-religious bias in its proceedings against Jack Phillips that the Supreme Court threw out its ruling, on free exercise grounds. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a strong concurrence, joined by Justice Alito, elaborating on the strength of the free exercise claim here.

Although they joined the majority opinion, Justices Kagan and Breyer additionally wrote a concurrence explaining that their lukewarm support for Phillips was only based on the fact that he was treated really badly by members of the Commission in this case. They argued that the disparate treatment between the two bakery cases could have been justified, were it not for the overt anti-religious hostility exhibited by the Commission.

Justices Kennedy and Roberts—in writing and joining only the majority opinion, respectively—ruled in favor of Phillips, but not on the basis of a sweeping affirmation of his freedom of speech or of religion.

A definitive Supreme Court precedent, resolving the underlying dispute between “non-discrimination” principles and freedom of speech and religion, will have to await another case and another decision. That is why many are calling Masterpiece a “narrow” decision.

Masterpiece Cakeshop: Summary of Each Supreme Court Opinion

by Peter Sprigg

June 7, 2018

In the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, finding by a 7-2 vote in favor of a baker who had declined to create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, there were five separate opinions written.

Here, I offer a brief summary (not a detailed legal analysis) of what each of these opinions contained. (For more, see this blog post by FRC’s Travis Weber.) In the five opinions:

  1. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Neil Gorsuch (six Justices; Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” but did not join the Court’s opinion);
  2. Justice Kagan wrote a concurrence which Justice Breyer joined;
  3. Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurrence which Justice Alito joined;
  4. Justice Thomas wrote an opinion “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” with which Justice Gorsuch joined;
  5. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Here’s an overview of each opinion:

Kennedy for the Court (joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch):

Justice Kennedy ruled in favor of Masterpiece because “the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” He found this for two reasons:

  1. Comments made by members of the Commission in the course of its hearings, especially one notorious quote:

    “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”

    Kennedy noted that this statement disparages religion “in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.”

  2. The difference in treatment between Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers, who had refused to bake cakes communicating negative religious messages about same-sex marriage, but were found not to have discriminated against the customer (William Jack) on the basis of religion. He notes inconsistency in how the free speech claims were treated, but most notably in how the conscience objections were viewed, with the Commission accepting the secular objection to making anti-SSM cakes “because of the offensive nature of the requested message,” but rejecting Phillips’ religious objection to making a same-sex wedding cake. Kennedy says, “[I]t is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive,” yet the Colorado decision “elevates one view of what is offensive over another and itself sends a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Kagan concurring, with Breyer joining:

This short opinion (a little over three pages) concurs in the judgment—but goes out of its way to say that Colorado could have made a legitimate distinction between the Masterpiece case and the three cases of William Jack (who was refused cakes expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, but was not deemed a victim of discrimination). Kagan says explicitly that Jack Phillips of Masterpiece was guilty of discrimination:

Phillips sells wedding cakes. As to that product, he unlawfully discriminates: He sells it to opposite-sex but not to same-sex couples. And on that basis—which has nothing to do with Phillips’ religious beliefs—Colorado could have distinguished Phillips from the bakers in the Jack cases, who did not engage in any prohibited discrimination.

However, she concurs because the State’s decisions must not be “infected by religious hostility or bias”—as in this case.

Gorsuch concurring, with Alito joining:

Gorsuch focused in specifically on the disparate treatment of the Masterpiece case as opposed to the three William Jack cases involving refusal to bake cakes opposing same-sex marriage. In contrast to both the Ginsburg/Sotomayor dissent and the narrow Kagan/Breyer concurrence, Gorsuch argued that there was a very close correspondence between the facts of the cases, saying that “the two cases share all legally salient features”:

  • bakers refused services to persons who bore a statutorily protected trait (religious faith or sexual orientation)”
  • they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else)”
  • the bakers in the first case [William Jack] were generally happy to sell to persons of faith, just as the baker in the second case [Jack Phillips/Masterpiece] was generally happy to sell to gay persons.”

Gorsuch concludes that “the Commission failed to act neutrally by applying a consistent legal rule,” and warns that “the one thing it can’t do is apply a more generous legal test to secular objections than religious ones.” In contrast to the four liberals, Gorsuch states explicitly that “the Commission must afford him [Jack Phillips/Masterpiece] the same result it afforded the bakers in Mr. Jack’s case.”

Thomas, “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” Gorsuch joining:

To me, one of the most notable facts of the decision is that at oral arguments, the ADF attorneys representing Masterpiece put their emphasis on arguments resting on First Amendment Free Speech grounds (not Free Exercise of Religion). They emphasized that designing custom wedding cakes is a form of artistic expression and therefore, requiring they be provided for same-sex weddings is an unconstitutional form of “compelled speech” by the government. This, however, turned out not to be the primary issue addressed by the court, which instead decided there was a Free Exercise violation because of the lack of religious neutrality.

Justice Thomas’ opinion was the only one that addressed the Free Speech issues at length. He acknowledges that the issue here is “expressive conduct” rather than pure speech as such, but says under Court precedents, “Once a court concludes that conduct is expressive, the Constitution limits the government’s authority to restrict or compel it.” He says that in this case, “Phillips’ creation of custom wedding cakes is expressive,” and concludes the following:

Forcing Phillips to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex marriages requires him to, at the very least, acknowledge that same-sex weddings are “weddings” and suggest that they should be celebrated—the precise message he believes his faith forbids.

Although declining to decide whether Colorado’s law satisfies “strict scrutiny,” Thomas warns, “States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified.”

Ginsburg dissenting, Sotomayor joining:

Like the Gorsuch/Alito concurrence, the Ginsburg/Sotomayor dissent focused specifically on the differing results given by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the case involving Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop (where refusing to provide the cake requested by the customer was found to be illegal discrimination) as opposed to the cases involving customer William Jack (where refusing to provide the cakes requested by the customer was found not to be illegal discrimination). However, Justice Ginsburg reaches the exact opposite conclusion from that of Justice Gorsuch.

Ginsburg and Sotomayor agreed with their liberal colleagues Justices Kagan and Breyer in saying that the cases could be legitimately distinguished, but disagreed with the latter pair’s conclusion that anti-religious bias had impermissibly “infected” Colorado’s adjudication of the cases. Ginsburg writes:

The different outcomes the Court features do not evidence hostility to religion of the kind we have previously held to signal a free-exercise violation, nor do the comments by one or two members of one of the four decisionmaking entities considering this case justify reversing the judgment below. 

Commentary

The problem I see with the dissent is this statement (which was repeated, in various ways, several times): “Phillips did … discriminate because of sexual orientation; the other bakers did not discriminate because of religious belief.” Ginsburg argues that Phillips’ refusal of a same-sex wedding cake was “determined solely by the identity of the customer” whereas the refusal of William Jack’s request “was due to the demeaning message” he wanted displayed.

Since Phillips regularly serves customers who identify as gay (but would refuse a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding regardless of who requests it), the first conclusion is questionable. The latter conclusion, however, is nothing short of astonishing. What Ginsburg calls a “demeaning message” may have been crude (including, among other things, “an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image”), but combined with biblical verses and quotations, its essential content was that 1) homosexual conduct is sinful, and 2) God does not approve of same-sex sexual relationships or consider them to be “marriage.” I fail to see how this “message” (however “demeaning” some may find it) can be seen as not representing a “religious belief.”

Note that this is not to say that the solution would be to force bakers to make cakes with messages they consider “demeaning,” as well as forcing them to make cakes for same-sex weddings. Instead, the opposite would be ideal. Baking cakes, whether to celebrate a specific event such as a same-sex wedding or to condemn that concept, is a form of expressive conduct that should not be compelled by the government. Even if Colorado believes that its Anti-Discrimination Act was violated, the provisions of this state statute cannot be allowed to override the bakers’ fundamental right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

No baker should be forced to communicate a message with which he or she disagrees. Although Jack Phillips prevailed in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the ruling does not clearly apply the Court’s compelled speech precedents to that context. The debate continues.

Sponsors of California’s AB 2943 Claim It Wouldn’t Ban the Bible. Maybe. But What About These Books?

by Peter Sprigg

May 10, 2018

It seems that we have gone from the culture wars to the “fact-check” wars. One has been underway in recent weeks over a bill making its way through the California legislature.

Put the words “California Bible ban” in a Google search and you will see what I mean.

The California Family Council and Alliance Defending Freedom were among the first to raise the alarm that Assembly Bill 2943 could be interpreted to ban sales of the Bible. Snopes, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact all tried to debunk the claim. The FactCheck piece reproduces an April 22 tweet from the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Evan Low, stating, “It does not ban bibles nor does it ban the basic sales of books as some would have you believe.” But a number of careful and thoughtful conservative writers—such as Michael Brown, David French, Rod Dreher, my colleague at Family Research Council Travis Weber, and Robert Gagnon (here and here) have continued to express alarm about the bill (albeit with slightly different emphases). Does Assembly Bill 2943 actually “ban the Bible” in California? In one sense, no—but in another sense, maybe. Sometimes, what is needed is a not a “fact-check” with a simple true or false answer, but a “perspective check,” explaining why some people make a particular argument and what evidence they cite to support it.

What AB 2943 Does Not Do

Let me state a couple things that are definitely not true about AB 2943 and the Bible, which some of the more sensational headlines about “California wants to ban the Bible” might be misinterpreted to imply.

First of all, “banning the Bible” is definitely not the main purpose of AB 2943. Its purpose is to greatly expand an existing restriction (the first in the nation when enacted in 2012) upon the practice of “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), now routinely referred to by critics (but rarely by practitioners) as “conversion therapy.” I have had concerns about some of the “Bible ban” talk, if only because the core issue—a ban on therapy for those with unwanted same-sex attractions—has sometimes been almost forgotten.

It is a fact that some people with same-sex attractions experience those feelings as unwanted; some of those have sought therapy or counseling to overcome those attractions; and some of those have testified to the success of such therapy in helping them overcome those attractions, and now identify as “ex-gay.” LGBT activists are offended that some people with same-sex attractions don’t want to be “gay,” so they are attempting to eliminate that option by claiming that such therapy is ineffective, as well as harmful to those who undertake it. (Family Research Council disputes those claims.) California’s 2012 law prohibited SOCE only for clients who are minors, and only when conducted by licensed mental health providers. AB 2943 would expand the ban to apply to clients of any age (including consenting adults), and any type of counselor (including religious ones), as long as there is an exchange of money for the service.

Secondly, there is no legislative language in AB 2943 that refers specifically to the Bible. As Snopes explained in its article debunking the supposed “Bible ban” claim, “California Assembly Bill 2943 does not mention the Bible, Christianity, or religion at all.” That sentence—with the key word being “mention”—is correct. (That does not mean it would not affect them, however.)

Thirdly, even if AB 2943 could have an effect upon the Bible, it would only be upon the sale of the Bible. The bill is in the form of an amendment to the state’s consumer fraud laws, so there must be some commercial transaction (involving an exchange of money) to trigger its provisions. The bill does not prohibit the possession, reading, publication, teaching, or free distribution of the Bible.

How Could AB 2943 Ban Sales of the Bible?

The concern that AB 2943 could be used to ban sales of the Bible is an inference from, rather than an explicit statement in, the language of the bill. However, the bill is thirteen pages long, most of which is just a recapitulation of the existing consumer fraud law. To understand the change that is being proposed, one has to search and extract the substantive language from the bill. Here are the key segments, with ellipses ( … ) where text has been omitted. First is the bill’s definition of “sexual orientation change efforts” (emphasis mine):

(i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Here is the actual language prohibiting SOCE:

1770. (a) The following unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer are unlawful:

 . . .

(28) Advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.

Key Words: “Behaviors” and “Goods”

How does this apply to the Bible? Likely through two key words, highlighted in the bill text above.

The first of these is “behaviors.” When most people think of “sexual orientation change efforts,” they probably think of the second part of the bill’s definition: efforts “to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” LGBT activists claim that such “attractions or feelings” are innate and immutable. The same, of course, cannot be said about “behaviors,” which can be changed at will. I suspect, however, that those activists worried that if therapy to help people change their “behaviors” were permitted, it would constitute a loophole that would allow SOCE to continue.

The problem with outlawing “efforts to change behaviors,” however, is that almost all moral and religious teaching about how we should live involves “efforts to change behaviors.” “Don’t lie.” “Don’t steal.” “Treat your father and mother with respect.” There are all sorts of religiously-rooted assertions directing people to modify “behavior.” Let us not forget the age-old admonition: “Behave!” When Leviticus 18:22 cites God telling Moses, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female” (NASB), that clearly seems to be an “effort to change behaviors.”

The second key word is “goods.” As noted above, the main purpose of the bill is to outlaw a certain type (or more accurately, a goal) of therapy, which would generally be considered a “service.” However, the ban on change efforts applies to any “transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer.” Although one bill critic has suggested that the language about “the sale or lease of goods” does not apply to SOCE, the term “any practices” in the definition of SOCE appears to be broad enough to encompass the practice of selling books.

No, the text of AB 2943 does not mention the Bible. But since the “sale … of goods” could include the sale of books (such as the Bible), and since the moral teachings of the Bible include “efforts to change behaviors” (such as homosexual behavior), critics of AB 2943 have warned that it could, at least theoretically, be used to ban the sale of Bibles in California.

Possible vs. Likely

Now, if AB 2943 is enacted, is California likely to leap directly to banning sales of the Bible? Perhaps not, for several reasons. As noted above, banning Bible sales is not the main purpose of the bill,  and while the Bible supports sexual orientation change (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11), that is hardly its main theme. At least initially, a prosecutor would likely seek an easier target, and one more directly relevant to sexual orientation change efforts. In addition, it is likely that the Supreme Court (at least in 2018, as currently constituted) would strike down any effort to ban sales of the Bible.

Still, the argument that AB 2943 could, even theoretically, be used to ban sales of the Bible is an important one, if only because it demonstrates how sweeping and poorly written the bill is. That should be reason enough for California legislators to oppose it.

While the Bible may be safe in the short run, I have less confidence in the long run. Zack Ford is a homosexual activist and writer with ThinkProgress who wrote a piece claiming it is “nonsense” that AB 2943 would “ban the Bible.” Yet ironically, that same piece links to a 2016 article Ford wrote asserting that “When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin,” that “message alone is harmful.” The assertion that a piece of moral teaching from the Bible is not merely incorrect, but is tangibly “harmful,” seems like a way of laying the groundwork for legal restrictions upon that very biblical teaching.

Which Books Would Be Banned?

Even if sales of the Bible in California continue unhindered (for now), what about other books? As I have already stated, I think the argument is strong that AB 2943 could be used, generally, to ban the sale of certain books.

Take a look, for instance, at the books in the photo at the beginning of this post. This is just a sample of the books I pulled off my bookshelf, from the library I have accumulated in 17 years at Family Research Council. The books pictured are not just ones that deal generally with Christian moral teaching on sexuality. Unlike the Bible, these eight books are specifically and entirely about sexual orientation change efforts.

There can be no question that the sponsors of AB 2943 would prefer that books like this did not exist. Could the bill be used to ban their sale?

Some supporters of therapy bans (a number of which have been enacted in the wake of California’s action in 2012) have argued that they do not prevent someone from expressing the opinion that homosexuality is undesirable, or expressing the opinion that it can change, or even expressing the opinion that therapy can facilitate such change. All they ban is someone actually undertaking such efforts. So maybe a few of these books would escape California’s new censors.

But what about James E. Phelan’s Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction (SSA)? This book appears to have no purpose other than actually bringing about sexual orientation change in the men who read it. Under AB 2943, how could California allow “any practice” that includes the “sale of” this particular “good?”

Banning Books is Totalitarian

In the past few weeks, Christians have been shocked by the possibility of a state banning the sale of the Bible.

But shouldn’t every American be shocked at the thought of a state banning the sale of any books based on their philosophical, religious, or moral viewpoint?

Banning books because one doesn’t like their message?

In the United States of America?

In this country, you can sell all kinds of books.

You can sell Mein Kampf, and The Communist Manifesto. Bookstores sell the celebration of sado-masochism of Fifty Shades of Grey, and the celebration of sodomy in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

But now, California might ban the sale of Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction? Or ban Coming Out Straight—just because it says that for “those who struggle with their own same-sex attractions,” it will “open the door to a new, happier, and fulfilling heterosexual life”?

The idea of banning books—any books—because the authorities don’t like their message is totalitarian. In the United States of America, it should be unthinkable. California legislators should affirm that it is unthinkable—by voting “No” on AB 2943.

Banning Therapy is Totalitarian, Too

While the prospect of the Bible—or any books—being “banned” from sale has focused attention on AB 2943, I hope it will also bring people’s attention to the central issue:

Banning a client-chosen goal of therapy is just as totalitarian.

By framing their assault upon the freedom of therapists and clients as an exercise of the state’s power to regulate health care or (in the case of AB 2943) to prevent “consumer fraud,” LGBT activists have masked how unprecedented these therapy bans are in the history of American law or counseling.

Note that what these bills seek to outlaw is not a particular therapeutic technique. While advocates will tell stories (some of them far-fetched) about being victims of “aversion therapy” techniques that have not been used in 40 or 50 years, the prohibition is not limited to “aversion therapy.” When pressed, sponsors must admit that they seek to outlaw ordinary talk therapy as well. What these laws and bills target is nothing more or less than a goal: “to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” This is extraordinary.

Supporters of the bans will also imply that people are “coerced” into undertaking SOCE. That problem (if it exists) could be resolved by requiring “informed consent” before therapy. The prohibitionists reject that, insisting on banning all therapy, even if the client desperately wants it. (Can you imagine the outcry from some of these same activists on the Left if conservatives argued, “Because some women are coerced into having abortions, the only solution is to prohibit any women from obtaining them”?)

Therapy bans violate freedom of speech for therapists, freedom of religion for clients and therapists, and the privacy of the therapist-client relationship.

They should outrage every freedom-loving American, and should be opposed by every legislator.

12 Resources to Fight Sexual Exploitation, Part 2

by Peter Sprigg

April 23, 2018

Here is a list of websites that represent the work done by some of the speakers at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) Global Summit that I recently attended. I hope this will serve as a reference or resource for those seeking more information about how to combat pornography, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation such as the general objectification of women’s (and sometimes men’s) bodies.

The first six resources can be found here. Here are the final six:

7. World Without Exploitation

In addition to pornography, the other major form of sexual exploitation addressed at the Summit was prostitution. I mentioned that the CESE Summit involves a fascinating coalition of social conservatives and radical feminists. However, there is a sharp divide on the Left over the issue of prostitution. One strain of thought, coming out of feminism, views prostitution as inherently exploitative and favors laws against it (albeit with the focus on punishing pimps and purchasers of sex, rather than the prostitutes who are being exploited and abused). The other strain of thought, coming as best I can tell more out of the labor movement (although also encompassing supposed “human rights” defenders such as Amnesty International) favors decriminalization or legalization of prostitution, referring to it as “sex work” and to prostitutes as “sex workers.” The CESE takes the former, “abolitionist” view—which is well represented by World Without Exploitation’s vision statement:

Getting to a world without exploitation means starting with a clear vision. This is ours.

  • We believe that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are human rights issues, fueled by gender, racial, and income inequalities.
  • We seek to honor the power, purpose, and inherent worth of every person. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation endanger the welfare of the individual, the family, and the community. Accepting such exploitation as inevitable is inconsistent with a human rights vision.
  • We know that listening to survivors of exploitation is critical to developing just and effective social policies. We’re committed to survivor engagement. And we’re driven by survivor leadership.
  • We recognize that adults and children who have been trafficked or sexually exploited should be treated as victims of a crime, not as criminals themselves.
  • We realize that there can be no social justice without social services, so we’re working to ensure that all survivors of labor trafficking and the sex trade have the comprehensive support they need to exit exploitative systems and rebuild their lives.
  • We understand that we won’t end sexual exploitation until we end the demand for prostitution. As long as there is a global sex trade, ours will be an unsafe, unjust world.
  • We commit to eradicating the market for coerced or unpaid labor that drives the multi-billion dollar trade in trafficking.
  • We advocate for laws and policies that hold those who purchase other human beings and those who profit from their sale accountable for the harms they cause.
  • We know that law drives the culture even as culture shapes law. Challenging inaccurate media representations of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, while partnering with artists and writers who seek to tell a more accurate story, is central to our mission.
  • We believe that true freedom means being free from violence, exploitation, and oppression.

World Without Exploitation’s website also includes a 73-page report on What We Know About Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, and Sexual Exploitation in the U.S.

8. Global Centurion

This group’s slogan is “Fighting Modern Slavery by Focusing on Demand.” Their mission statement declares:

Global Centurion Foundation is a non-profit organization fighting human trafficking by focusing on the demand side of the equation – the perpetrators, exploiters, buyers, and end-users of human beings who fuel the market for forced labor and commercial sex. In this way, we seek to prevent modern slavery at its source, since it is the buyers who create and fuel the market for sex and labor trafficking.

Laura Lederer of Global Centurion gave a fascinating historical overview (dating back to 1688) of the “anti-slavery” movement, citing four separate streams:

  • Faith-based (appealing to the Bible and Christianity to oppose slavery)
  • Secular (appealing to U.S. founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to oppose slavery)
  • Feminist (opposing “sex slavery” beginning in the late 1800’s)
  • Human Rights (the unfortunate term used by Lederer to describe the labor-focused support for “sex work” and “sex workers.” These groups believe that legalization and government regulation of “sex work” are the best ways to prevent “sex workers” from being exploited.)

9. Prostitution Research & Education

This group seeks to “Abolish Prostitution and Provide Real Alternatives.” Their mission statement describes them as an organization that:

conducts research on prostitution, pornography and trafficking and offers education and consultation to researchers, survivors, the public and policymakers. PRE’s goal is to abolish the institution of prostitution while at the same time advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution – including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution. The roots of prostitution are in the assumption that men are entitled to buy women for sex, in racism, and in women’s poverty.

Melissa Farley has been a regular speaker at the CESE events. Her website includes a valuable report on Pornography, Prostitution, & Trafficking: Making the Connections.

10. Organization for Prostitution Survivors

The last three groups I will mention here are ones which provide direct services to “survivors” of the sex trade. This Seattle-based group:

provides psychosocial accompaniment to survivors of prostitution, co-creating and sustaining efforts to heal from and end this practice of gender-based violence.

It:

facilitates healing from the harm of prostitution by providing the opportunity for survivors to share their experience of prostitution with others and assisting them with resources and referrals to meet identified needs, goals and aspirations.

Peter Qualliotine of OPS spoke on a panel about the #MeToo movement and the “Movement to End Sexual Assault & Rape Culture.” He offered an interesting perspective on “consent” as the only prerequisite to sexual activity, warning that “‘consent’ just becomes one more thing that men have to get,” and suggesting that “mutuality” would be a better standard.

11. Treasures

Monique Calderon of Treasures spoke at the CESE. According to its website:

Treasures is a unique, faith-based outreach and support group for women in the sex industry.

Our mission is to reach, restore, and equip women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking to live healthy, flourishing lives, and train others to do the same across the globe.

One unique aspect of this organization is that it is:

Located in the heart of the Adult Industry Capital of the World, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. 90% of all legal porn worldwide is filmed, distributed, and or manufactured here.

12. Sun Gate Foundation

Shamere McKenzie was another speaker who gave a first-person account of having been exploited. Here is how her organization is described:

Sun Gate Foundation, a (501)(c)(3) non-profit, survivor led organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, is an independent organization addressing a critical gap in the human trafficking aftercare community by making a substantial commitment to survivors. Sun Gate Foundation funds educational opportunities provided to survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in the United States. The ultimate goal is to equip these young girls, boys, women, and men with a solid foundation to confidently go after their dreams.

12 Resources to Fight Sexual Exploitation, Part 1

by Peter Sprigg

April 20, 2018

I recently attended the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) Global Summit, but it’s hard to know how to summarize it. The CESE, an annual event organized primarily by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), was held in early April in Herndon, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

Rather than try to summarize the speakers’ messages from the sessions I was able to attend, I decided to post a list of websites that represent the work done by some of those speakers. I hope this will serve as a reference or resource for those seeking more information about how to combat pornography, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation such as the general objectification of women’s (and sometimes men’s) bodies.

Note that the CESE is a broad-based coalition, cutting across political, religious, and ideological lines. Not all of the groups or speakers who participate are social conservatives or Christians—some for example, are liberal feminists. (Therefore, Family Research Council does not necessarily endorse everything on these websites.) All these groups, however, have found common ground in the cause of ending all forms of sexual exploitation.

Here are the first six websites (a subsequent post will present the final six resources):

1. National Center on Sexual Exploitation

The first website to highlight is that of NCOSE itself. NCOSE explains its purpose and focus this way:

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography. As the thread of pornography in the web of sexual exploitation is systemically overlooked by society, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has prominently advanced this issue as a central pillar of its projects in order to promote more holistic solutions.

A separate website for the CESE Summit itself includes videos of some of the presentations (note: there are audio problems at some points in the video).

2. Culture Reframed

Dr. Gail Dines, an activist and scholar who founded Culture Reframed, was a pioneer in the effort to define pornography as a public health crisis—a declaration that has now been made in resolutions adopted by several state legislatures. Here’s part of the description of their work:

Culture Reframed is the first health promotion effort to recognize and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. … Our research-driven programs teach parents and those in the helping and healthcare professions how to recognize and respond to the role pornography can play in sexual violence, unhealthy relationships, internet and sex addictions, negative self-image, sexual dysfunction, depression, sexually transmitted infections, injuries, and other health problems.

NCOSE presented Dines with its highest honor, the Founders Award, at the Summit.

3. Fight the New Drug

This website is particularly effective in reaching the younger generation with a message about the harms of pornography. For example, they offer t-shirts with messages like “Porn Kills Love.”

Here’s how they describe their work:

Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

Clay Olsen, President and Co-Founder of Fight the New Drug, spoke at the CESE Summit.

4. Your Brain on Porn

Your Brain on Porn (YBOP) is an exhaustive clearinghouse of scientific research on the effects of pornography.

YBOP created a few lists of studies:

  1. This page lists 39 neuroscience-based studies (MRI, fMRI, EEG, neuropsychological, hormonal) providing strong support for the addiction model.
  2. This list contains 14 recent literature reviews & commentaries by some of the top neuroscientists in the world, supporting the porn addiction model. (This dated paper was not a literature review and misrepresented most the papers it did cite.)
  3. 24 studies linking porn use/sex addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli. The first 5 studies in the list demonstrate causation, as participants eliminated porn use and healed chronic sexual dysfunctions.
  4. Almost 60 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction.
  5. Over 20 studies reporting findings consistent with escalation of porn use (tolerance), habituation to porn, and even withdrawal symptoms
  6. Over 45 studies link porn use to poorer mental-emotional health & poorer cognitive outcomes.
  7. Over 25 studies linking porn use to “un-egalitarian attitudes” toward women.

YBOP founder Gary Wilson spoke at the CESE Summit, and said there about five studies that are relied upon by pornography defenders to try to debunk the overwhelming evidence in the studies listed above. He thoroughly debunked the debunkers, taking on five myths about pornography. The myths are:

  1. Pornography is not addictive.”
  2. Sex addicts simply have high sexual desire.”
  3. Using pornography is good for your relationship.”
  4. Using pornography makes you more egalitarian.”
  5. Pornography has many benefits and few drawbacks.”

Oh, and do you think that only religious conservatives have concerns about pornography? Gary Wilson is an atheist.

5. Collective Shout

While the CESE Summit featured heart-wrenching stories about victims of sexual exploitation, it also featured inspiring stories of grassroots activism making a difference, especially when directed at corporations. Among the speakers at the Summit was Australian writer Melinda Tankard Reist, whose organization is described this way:

Collective Shout is a grassroots campaigns movement against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls.

Collective Shout is for anyone concerned about the increasing pornification of culture and the way its messages have become entrenched in mainstream society, presenting distorted and dishonest ideas about women and girls, sexuality and relationships.

One of the best stories was about a protest against Mossimo, a clothing store that ran an online competition it called “Peepshow,” inviting ordinary women to send in pictures of themselves in their underwear. A prize was offered for the person whose photo got the most votes. Instead of a picture in her underwear, one woman submitted a picture of herself holding a sign that said, “Mossimo Peepshow = Sexist Rubbish.” Collective Shout got enough people to vote for this entry that it actually won the competition!

Reist also has a personal website, and the book she edited, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, is available on Amazon.

6. U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking

According to their website:

The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking intends to eliminate Human Trafficking in the United States.

We will end Human Trafficking in the United States through prevention, combating demand, the rescue of victims, and providing safe refuge for the restoration of survivors.

USIAHT is one of a number of organizations that bluntly describe sex trafficking as slavery:

Sex Trafficking is modern day slavery, happening everywhere in the United States.  The victims can be U.S. citizens or of any nationality, age, socioeconomic status, or gender. Sex Trafficking is a highly profitable crime that exploits an adult through force, fraud, or coercion, or that engages a child in any form of commercial sexual exploitation.

Geoff Rogers of USIAHT was a speaker at the CESE Summit, and one of only a few who explained that men and boys can be victims of sexual exploitation, too.

I would note that USIAHT’s name and a glance at their home page may give the impression that it is a federal government agency, but this is not the case. USIAHT is “a nonprofit, faith-based organization anointed by God to fight against human trafficking in America with truth and integrity, showing the love of Jesus Christ to all involved.”

Of Guns and Prodigal Fathers

by Peter Sprigg

March 16, 2018

After a school shooter murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, the calls by liberals for new gun control laws were predictable, and received blanket coverage in the mainstream media.

Gun rights activists, in another unsurprising response, resisted efforts to blame the weapon rather than the killer, promoting instead ideas like arming teachers to defend their students.

I’ve been heartened to see that a number of pro-family conservatives have pointed out a third factor that must be addressed when examining violence in our society—the role of family structure, and specifically the negative effects of fatherlessness on boys and young men. The Parkland shooter (whose name I choose not to publicize) was fatherless, just like many other perpetrators of mass murders. Yet most of the media have not focused on this issue.

Susan L. M. Goldberg was one of the first to raise the issue, at PJ Media. Former Sen. Rick Santorum also raised it in a CNN interview. Unfortunately, one statistic that was cited multiple times turned out to be unverified (at this writing, it lives on in a headline at Patheos: “Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common.”) Paul Kengor, a scrupulous scholar from Grove City College, apologized for having cited this number in a piece in Crisis Magazine. After studying the available (albeit incomplete) data more closely, Kengor said that

[W]e found maybe four or five of the 27 shooters that we could definitively conclude (without doubt) had been raised in an intact family, or a family that included the biological dad at home, or a biological father who was consistently at home… .

At this point, however, what is clear is the vast majority of shooters came from broken families without a consistent biological father throughout their rearing and development. Very few had good, stable, present dads.

(I would also note that the CNN list of the “deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history,” starting in 1949 and apparently first compiled in 2013, has now been updated to include 34 incidents, not 27. Only four of those, however, have been in schools, and another three at colleges.)

What is perhaps more compelling than the anecdotal evidence from the most extreme events is the overall data regarding the link between fatherlessness and crime and violence. Here is edited data I accessed from the National Fatherhood Initiative in 2015:

Father Factor in Emotional and Behavioral Problems

      • Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, 2007.

 . . .

Father Factor in Crime

      • A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency.
        Source: Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2000.
      • [H]igher social encounters and frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased adolescent delinquency.
        Source: Child Development, 2007.
      • [A] more positive father-child relationship predicts a reduced risk of engagement in multiple first risky behaviors. The positive influence of the father-child relationship on risk behaviors seemed to be stronger for male than for female adolescents.
        Source: Journal of Family Issues, 2006.
      • [I]f the number of fathers is low in a neighborhood, then there is an increase in acts of teen violence. Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, 2005.
      • In a study of INTERPOL crime statistics of 39 countries, it was found that single parenthood ratios were strongly correlated with violent crimes. Source: Cross-Cultural Research, 2004.

NFI also offers these graphics as free downloads:

 

 

An infographic from the National Center for Fathering reports the following:

Fatherless children are:

  • 11 times more likely to have violent behavior
  • 20 times more likely to be incarcerated

and:

  • 70% of adolescents in juvenile correctional facilities come from fatherless homes
  • 60% of rapists were raised in fatherless homes

It’s clear we have a problem of what we might call “prodigal dads” in our society. (Writer Doug Mainwaring used that term in a piece last year in Public Discourse, “May I Please Speak to My Daddy?”)

More powerful, though, than statistics may be a three-minute film produced recently by students at Gordon College, an evangelical school in Massachusetts (full disclosure: my son is one of those students). If you want to illustrate the pain of fathers and children who are separated, consider sharing “Prodigal.”

What an Idaho Federal Judge Should Have Said About Transgender Birth Certificates

by Peter Sprigg

March 13, 2018

On March 5th, a federal court in Idaho ordered that state to begin allowing persons who identify as transgender to obtain revised birth certificates which would designate them as male or female on the basis of their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex at birth.

This decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale was both legally and logically wrong.

Ironically, Judge Dale’s written decision contains within it all the facts necessary for a reasonable decision—but she ignored them. Let me begin by quoting two key passages from her actual decision (most source citations omitted):

As explained above, IDHW [Idaho Department of Health and Welfare] interprets Idaho vital statistics law to prohibit changes to the listed sex unless there was an error in recording the sex at birth. Notably, IDHW asserts that Idaho birth certificates reflect the “sex” of a person at birth and do not contain a “gender marker” designation. From this interpretation comes IDHW’s policy of automatically and categorically denying applications made by transgender individuals for the purpose of changing the listed sex to reflect their gender identity.

2. Biological Sex, Gender Identity, Transition

There is scientific consensus that biological sex is determined by numerous elements, which can include chromosomal composition, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, hormone prevalence, and brain structure. [Footnote: The American Psychology [sic] Association defines sex as “one’s biological status as either male or female” that “is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy.” Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression, American Psychological Association (2018), http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx.] Sex determinations made at birth are most often based on the observation of external genitalia alone. For most people, this determination aligns with gender identity and gender expression. Of importance here, however, are instances where it does not.

Gender identity, also known as core gender, is the intrinsic sense of being male, female, or an alternative gender. Transgender is an adjective used to designate “a person whose identity does not confirm unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender.” Put another way, transgender is an adjective used to describe a person who has a gender identity that differs, in varying degrees, from the sex observed and assigned at birth.

 . . .

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

 1.      The Equal Protection Clause

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that all similarly situated people be treated alike. Equal protection requirements restrict state legislative action that is inconsistent with bedrock constitutional guarantees, such as equality in treatment. An equal protection claim is established when plaintiffs show they were treated differently than other similarly situated people. Yet, states are given significant leeway to establish laws to effectively govern citizens and remedy societal ills. Because of this, successful equal protection claims additionally require plaintiffs to show the difference in treatment was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination.

The whole case could have been settled at this point. Here is what Judge Dale could have said—but, unfortunately, did not:

Since there remains a scientific consensus that “sex” is an inherently different characteristic from “gender identity” or “core gender,” (the former being biological, the latter psychological), and since Idaho birth certificates note only the “sex” of the individual and not the “gender” or “gender identity,” the plaintiffs’ claims fail.

It is understandable that plaintiffs may experience hardships as a result of their “gender” or “gender identity” not matching the “sex” listed on their birth certificates. It is understandable that they might prefer that all identity documents, including birth certificates, should reflect only the male or female designation that they prefer as their “gender identity.” However, these are concerns that they must take to the legislature, not the courts.

For now, Idaho has made the policy decision that birth certificates should reflect the “sex” of the child, defined in biological terms. In the vast majority of cases, this is readily identifiable (and in the rare exceptions, Idaho law and policy already allows correction if the biological sex is identified incorrectly). This decision certainly has a rational basis, since it is hard to even conceptualize how anyone could identify or assign a “gender” or “gender identity” (as distinct from “sex”) to a newborn infant.

It would be within the power of the legislature to authorize retroactive changes to birth certificates in the way the plaintiffs desire. Some legislators may see an individual’s psychological “gender identity” as a more fundamental aspect of who the person is, and may favor the policy change requested by plaintiffs as a way of alleviating the inconvenience and suffering endured by transgender individuals. However, some legislators may see an individual’s biological “sex” as a more fundamental aspect of who the person is, and may prefer to preserve the integrity and accuracy of the birth certificate as a permanent factual record of the individual’s biological sex at birth.

This is a policy choice that only the legislature can make. The Constitution of the United States does not speak to the issue one way or the other. Plaintiffs argue that Idaho’s current policy violates the constitutional guarantee of “the equal protection of the laws.” Yet this claim surely fails, since the current policy treats everyone alike. All persons have their biological sex recorded at birth on their birth certificate. No one has the right to alter this portion of the birth certificate. And it cannot be claimed that this policy is “the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination” against transgender persons, since the policy was in place long before there was any legal or legislative awareness of “gender dysphoria.”

Plaintiffs may argue that the “unequal” treatment consists of the fact that transgender people are denied a birth certificate on which the designation of “sex” corresponds to their “gender identity,” while non-transgender people have birth certificates in which the two aspects of identity match. However, this situation is simply the result of the individual’s unusual transgender condition itself—not any intentional or irrational discrimination on the part of the state.

Case dismissed.

Unfortunately, this judge substituted her own hazy (but politically correct) philosophy for such a straightforward reading of the law. This philosophy does not reflect that “our medical understanding of biological sex and gender has advanced,” as Judge Dale asserts. In fact, her declaration that “there is medical consensus that gender identity plays a role in an individual’s determination of their own sex” is directly contradicted by her earlier acknowledgment that “sex” and “gender identity” remain defined by major medical and psychological associations as two different things. What her decision reflects is not the latest in medical science, but is instead a purely metaphysical view that the mind is everything and the body is nothing when it comes to deciding who is male or female.

She is entitled to hold (or blindly accept) this trendy opinion, but she has no right or power to impose it as law upon the state of Idaho.

How Billy Graham’s Invitation Forever Changed My Life

by Peter Sprigg

February 21, 2018

To honor the life of Billy Graham, here is a personal testimony from Peter Sprigg, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies. This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on June 15, 2016.

Prayer—my own, and that of others—has played a crucial role in my spiritual development.

My parents were missionaries before I was born. My father served as a pastor and a denominational executive while I was growing up. I am sure that my parents prayed for me, including for my spiritual life. Ironically, those prayers did not bear their fullest fruit until I was in my mid-20’s—my mother had died, my father was again serving overseas, and I was living alone.

My passion growing up was not for my faith, but for politics. After getting my degree in political science and economics, I got a job with my Congressman. When that job ended because he did not seek re-election, I decided to take the plunge and run for office myself. At 24, I ran for the School Committee in my home town in Massachusetts.

My dreams were dashed, however, by a decisive defeat. That loss started me on a period of soul-searching—first in terms of my career goals, but eventually in a more literal, spiritual sense. Over a period of several months, a number of key events led me to a turning point in my life.

One of those events took place at my church, where I remained a regular attender. One Sunday, two men did a dramatic reading about the Lord’s Prayer—the one taught by Jesus to his disciples. One repeated the memorized words—while the other, off-stage with a microphone, played the voice of God, actually answering. The man would say, “Our father, who art in heaven …”—and the voice answered, “Yes, what can I do for you?” Startled, the man continues, “Hallowed be thy name.” The voice asks, “What do you mean by that?”

Continuing in the same vein, this short, humorous reading made me realize how easy it is to go through the motions of religion without thinking about it. I went home from church that day and began to pray and read my Bible daily—disciplines I had never before adopted.

Another event came when my pastor invited me to a special gathering. The Billy Graham Crusade was coming to Boston, and his team was working to mobilize pastors and churches to support it. The pastor knew of my interest in politics, and invited me to an event where the guest speaker was someone with political experience—Charles Colson, the former aide to President Richard Nixon who had spent time in prison, had come to Christ, wrote his story in the book Born Again, and then founded the ministry Prison Fellowship after his release. At the time, I found his politics distasteful, but his testimony compelling.

At the same event, we were urged to pray, and were given something to help us. It was a small round sticker to place on your watch. The challenge was to “pray on the spot when you see the dot”—in other words, every time you look at your watch.

Thus, my relatively new habit of daily prayer became one of nearly constant prayer throughout the day. Sometimes I would pray for Billy Graham, sometimes for loved ones, and sometimes just, “Lord, be with me.” And He was—as I became increasingly aware.

All of this climaxed for me when I attended the Billy Graham Crusade with others from my church in June of 1982. Although I was hesitant about going forward—having already attended church all my life!—those doubts were eliminated by Rev. Graham’s invitation, which directly addressed people like me. I went forward, giving my life to Jesus Christ in a decision that has shaped the remainder of my life.

A year or two later, I got to visit an aunt and uncle who lived far across the country from me, and shared with them my testimony. It turned out that my aunt was a long-time supporter of Billy Graham’s ministry and subscriber to his Decision magazine. When she saw that a Crusade was scheduled for Boston, knowing my location (but not my spiritual state), she began praying for me.

I will always be grateful that her prayers—and mine—were answered. 

New York Times Spreads Fake News About Sexual Orientation Therapy

by Peter Sprigg

January 30, 2018

On January 25, 2018, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Sam Brinton under the headline, “Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy.” (The online version posted January 24 read, “I Was Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy. And It’s Still Legal in 41 States.”) Brinton frequently speaks and testifies in favor of laws to prohibit licensed therapists from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts (which opponents refer to as “conversion therapy”) with minors. (FRC’s defense of the right to choose such therapy can be found here).

Brinton gives a shocking, first-person account. It includes this:

The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy.

I have just one question for the New York Times. Did you make any effort to fact-check Brinton’s claims?

This is an opinion piece, you might respond. Since it reflects the writer’s opinion, it does not require fact-checking the way a news story does—does it?

The truth is, newspapers fact-check opinion pieces all the time. Various publications and websites routinely ask for links or other documentation for factual claims made in an opinion piece.

Brinton’s piece, though, was a first-person account of his own experience. How can you “fact-check” someone’s personal life experience?

One way might be by checking it against previous accounts that Brinton himself has given of his own story. He has, after all, been sharing these allegations in the public square since 2010. If there are inconsistencies in the way he has described his own experience on different occasions, it might at least raise some doubts about the credibility of the overall account.

Brinton’s Story Unverified

I first wrote about Brinton’s story three and a half years ago on the FRC Blog, in an August 2014 piece titled, “Truth Matters in Ex-Gay Debate.” Part of what follows is an edited version of what I wrote then, with added comments at the end.

Brinton’s story was apparently first captured, when he was a student at Kansas State, in a video interview by Nathan Manske of the “I’m from Driftwood” project, which seeks to create an “archive of stories” on “what it’s like to be LGBTQ throughout the world.” Brinton’s story was captured on video in 2010, but received a burst of attention in October of 2011, when Manske shared it in the Huffington Post. Although the Huffington Post article remains online, a passage I quoted in 2014 does not (the web page says it was “updated” December 6, 2017). However, a detailed recounting of Brinton’s story (along with an edited version of the original video) remains online at the website of The New Civil Rights Movement. That account includes these details:

Physical therapy was my hands being tied down and blocks of ice being placed on my hands. Then pictures of men holding hands would be shown to be so that way I would associate the concept of the pain of the ice with a man touching me.”

Then we went into heat. Coils would be wrapped around my hands and you would be able to turn the heat on or off. So now if we had a picture of a guy and a girl hugging, there was no pain. If we had a picture of a guy and a guy hugging, we had physical pain.”

We then went into the ‘Month of Hell,’” Brinton explains in the video below. “The ‘Month of Hell’ consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.”

This report was so shocking that even some pro-“gay” media tried to verify this report—but couldn’t.

One of the inconsistencies pointed out by commenters on this article (on a gay website) was that “Brinton’s Facebook page ‘has a picture of the entire happy family at his college graduation ceremony, May 31, 2011’”—despite the fact that Brinton said on the video that “my dad has held a gun up to my head multiple times” and warned Brinton that “he would shoot me if I ever tried to walk in the door again.” (Brinton responded in the comments section that “my parents did come to my graduation since I am the very first person to graduate from college in my family. I am working on building a relationship to them … I was shocked they were there but so happy to see the love starting to rebuild.”)

The Mystery Therapist

More importantly, Brinton, had not (in 2011) and (as far as I know) still has not, identified the counselor who allegedly engaged in these horrific practices—not by name, not by address, not even by city and state where they occurred (more on that later).

Such omissions made even Wayne Besen, a prominent “anti-ex-gay” activist, reluctant to use Brinton’s story without further verification. Here’s the full statement Besen posted in the comments section of the Queerty article which questioned Brinton’s story.

[emphasis added] 

Wayne Besen

Samuel came forward and told a story presumably in an effort to help others. There are groups like mine who would be thrilled to use his example to demonstrate the harm caused by “ex-gay” therapy. We live for real life examples like this.

However, until he provides more information to verify his experience, he makes it impossible for us to use him as an example. Indeed, it would be grossly irresponsible for us to do so.

If a group like mine puts out or promotes a story that turns out to be exaggerated or fake, the religious right would rake us through the coals and by extension the entire LGBT community. This would cast an ominous shadow on all of the legitimate ex-ex-gay testimonies that have helped so many people come out of the closet.

So, for the sake of the movement he is trying to help — it is critical that Sam reveal exactly who the therapist was that tortured him. He could do this publicly or privately, but we need more information before we can use his narrative.

We very much hope he will provide enough information so we can help people by sharing his compelling story.

Sincerely,

Wayne Besen

Truth Wins Out

Oct 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Here is part of Brinton’s reply to Besen:

I was indirectly in contact with Wayne and although I know he wants me to send the information of the therapist that is simply not an option. Counselor after counselor has seen me revert to near suicidal tendencies when I try to dig deep into the memories of that time and I simply don’t have his name. I can picture him clear as day in my nightmares but his name is not there. The movement can’t use me I guess.

I have no problem with people not believing my story. It is not for me to try to prove. I don’t want to be the poster-child of the anti-conversion therapy movement since graduate school at MIT is plenty tough as it is.

. . .

Oct 14, 2011 at 2:11 am

Memory and Forgetting

Note that Brinton says of his therapist, “I can picture him clear as day in my nightmares”—but, as far as I know, he has also never provided a physical description of this individual.

The entire subject of whether childhood trauma can result in repressed memories (as Brinton apparently asserts) is a controversial one. See, for example, the American Psychological Association’s Q&A on the topic here. It states:

Many clinicians who work with trauma victims believe that this dissociation is a person’s way of sheltering himself or herself from the pain of the memory. Many researchers argue, however, that there is little or no empirical support for such a theory.

Even if the former theory is accepted, in Brinton’s case his amnesia is hardly “sheltering [him] from the pain of the memory.” It seems illogical that Brinton would be able to remember—and repeatedly recount in detail before cameras, in paid speaking engagements, and at legislative hearings—the excruciating details of the “torture” he claims he experienced, while repressing (to the point of becoming “near suicidal” at efforts to retrieve them) only the memories of the details—such as name or city—which might allow some verification of his account.

Other Discrepancies in Brinton’s Story

Defenders of the right of people with same-sex attractions to pursue therapy aimed at reducing those attractions last year posted a YouTube video highlighting other problems with the story Brinton has told. For example, in one videotaped speech Brinton said that his therapy was provided by “a doctor.” Yet in one of the first written accounts of his story, from August of 2011, it says his therapy came at the hands of “the session leader¿who Sam specifies was a ‘religious therapist’ and not a doctor.” In yet another video—apparently of Brinton testifying in support of a legislative therapy ban—he says specifically that he was treated by “a licensed psychotherapist.” Note that legislative bans on “sexual orientation change efforts” or “conversion therapy” (a term never actually used by its practitioners) apply only to licensed professionals, not to “religious” counselors.

Even the state in which Brinton underwent his alleged therapy is unclear. In the 2010 “Driftwood” video, Brinton says he grew up in Perry, Iowa. When the video was re-posted at the Huffington Post in October 2011, the article repeated that “Sam was raised in rural Iowa.” However, the Bay Windows account from August 2011 (reposted at LGBTQ Nation) said that Brinton “endured years of reparative therapy designed to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality while living in Kansas.” Only two paragraphs later, however, it says, “Sam was a pre-teen, living with his parents in a conservative religious mission in Florida,” when his ordeal began. In his New York Times op-ed, he says it all happened “when I was a middle schooler in Florida.” So which was it—Iowa, Kansas, or Florida?

Has Brinton Changed?

There is one more discrepancy. In his Times op-ed, Brinton says his “conversion therapy” was “a trauma that was meant to erase my existence as a newly out bisexual.” This is the first time I have heard Brinton refer to himself as “bisexual.” The August 2011 Bay Windows article begins with the sentence, “Samuel Brinton is not afraid to say he’s gay.”

Ironically, if Brinton went from identifying as gay in 2011 to identifying as “bisexual and gender fluid” in 2018, maybe he himself is proof that change is possible after all.

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