Thursday, January 17, 2002
Pro-Gay Resolution Didn’t Violate Rights of Religious Conservatives—Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
San Francisco officials didn’t violate the rights of conservative Christian activists by adopting resolutions linking them with violent crimes against gays and lesbians, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A divided panel affirmed U.S. District Judge Sandra B. Armstrong’s ruling that the resolutions, sparked by an advertising campaign urging gays and lesbians to seek help in changing their sexual orientation, were neither an establishment of religion nor a bar to the free exercise of religion.
The plaintiffs, including the Rev. Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, as well as the Family Research Council, were sponsors of the 1998 “Truth in Love” campaign. The campaign featured, among other things, a San Francisco Chronicle ad in which sponsors said they were offering “an open hand that offers healing for homosexuals, not harassment.”
The ad called homosexual behavior self-destructive, citing statistics purporting to show that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to contract sexually transmitted diseases and to became involved with “alcohol, drug abuse and emotional and physical violence.”
San Francisco supervisors responded with two resolutions. One criticized the murder of a gay man in Alabama and suggested that “the Religious Right…take accountability for the impact of their long-standing rhetoric denouncing gays and lesbians, which leads to a climate of mistrust and discrimination that can open the door to horrible crimes” such as the Alabama killing.
The other resolution took note of the “Truth in Love” campaign, denounced as unscientific the view that homosexual behavior can be changed, called the ads “erroneous and full of lies,” and claimed that efforts at “converting” homosexuals were responsible for a “marked increase in anti-gay violence.”
Armstrong dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, and the Ninth Circuit panel agreed.
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, writing for the Ninth Circuit, said the resolutions, read in context, were an attack on anti-gay violence, not on the plaintiffs’ religion.
While the supervisors may have over-generalized about religious conservatives’ views and misconstrued their message, the justice said, “a reasonable, objective observer would view the primary effect of these documents as encouraging equal rights for gays and discouraging hate crimes, and any statements from which disapproval can be inferred only incidental and ancillary.”
Judge A. Wallace Tashima concurred, but Senior Judge John T. Noonan argued in dissent that the plaintiffs pled triable claims. The judge drew an analogy to current events.
“Suppose a city council today, in the year 2002, adopted a resolution condemning Islam because its teachings embraced the concept of a holy war and so, the resolution said, were ‘directly correlated’ with the bombing of the World Trade Center,” the dissenting jurist wrote. “Plausibly the purpose might be to discourage terror bombings. Would any reasonable, informed observer doubt that the primary effect of such an action by a city could be the expression of official hostility to the religion practiced by a billion people?”
The case is American Family Association, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, 00-16415.l
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company