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A Faustian Bargain Revisited

October 14, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By DEACON MIKE MANNO, JD

It is gratifying to see that the legal system is still able to recognize the differences between right and wrong and will actually move to correct situations where those differences were blurred. The Michigan attorney general and the University of Iowa are cases in point.
Back in April, I wrote about the underhanded actions of Michigan’s anti-Catholic Attorney General Dana Nessel and how she manipulated the legal system to exclude a Catholic adoption agency from state contracts, which would force it to close.
The long and short of the matter is as follows: St. Vincent Catholic Charities partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to recruit and support foster and adoptive families. Under contract with the state, St. Vincent provided more adoptive families than ninety percent of what similar agencies in its service area provided.
St. Vincent, however, being a Catholic organization, would not place children with unmarried cohabitants or same-sex couples. When inquiries were made by these individuals, St. Vincent would politely decline and referred the inquirer to a facility that did make such placements. Well, the inevitable happened; the state was sued by a same-sex couple for partnering with St. Vincent and thus discriminating against LGBTQ individuals.
St. Vincent intervened in the suit since it had a stake in the outcome and the state defended its policy of contracting with Christian and Catholic adoption agencies by citing a state law that allowed it to do so. However, that ended when Democrat Dana Nessel, herself in a lesbian marriage, was elected attorney general. As the state’s new lawyer she switched sides and entered into a stipulated agreement with the ACLU, representing the same-sex couple, literally ignoring the rights of St. Vincent’s, which prohibited the state from further contracts with St. Vincent’s and other similar agencies.
St. Vincent didn’t take that sitting down. It went back to court to undo the “consent decree” Nessel negotiated. On September 26 St. Vincent not only won, but U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker — in street lingo — ripped Nessel a new one.
“Based on the record to date, Defendant Nessel is at the very heart of the case. She referred to proponents of the 2015 law [which sought to protect Christian adoption agencies] as ‘hate mongers’ and said the only purpose of the 2015 law was ‘discriminatory animus.’ She described the 2015 law as ‘indefensible’ during her [election] campaign.
“These statements raise a strong inference of a hostility toward a religious viewpoint. Based on the present record, she was also a pivotal player in the state’s total reversal of position in the [earlier] litigation. It was her assessment of risk that led the state to move from defending St. Vincent’s position to abandoning it in the first month of her term….All of this supports a strong inference that St. Vincent was targeted based on its religious belief, and that it was Defendant Nessel who targeted it,” the judge wrote.
Continuing, “Plaintiffs were not parties to the settlement agreement. Moreover, even though the state defendants call the settlement agreement a ‘consent decree,’ it was no such thing. It was a private contract between the state and the plaintiffs in the case. . . . There is no basis to conclude that the settlement agreement is a consent decree, or that it binds any non-party to the settlement agreement, including St. Vincent.”
The judge entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the settlement agreement while the case continues to be litigated.
On another “what goes around” front, the University of Iowa had been subject to two federal suits for de-recognizing two Christian groups. University recognition allows student groups to participate in campus-wide programs, receive financial support from student activity funds, use university facilities and the like. De-recognition strips a group of those privileges.
One of the groups was Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) and the second was Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Both were removed from recognized status because they required their leaders to adhere to and espouse Christian beliefs and principles.
The complaint against BLinC was that it discriminated against a gay student, who was involved in a relationship with another man, who wanted to run for vice president but was denied, he claimed, because he was homosexual. The group defended itself by noting that while the student could be a member, he could not be an officer because he did not adhere to Christian beliefs on sexuality and marriage.
The case went to a federal court which noted that the anti-discrimination rule the university was trying to enforce was not being enforced against other groups. In ruling for BLinC, it pointed out that several student groups had requirements that their leaders adhere to certain principles and the challenge to BLinC was “selective enforcement.”
Of course that didn’t stop the administrators at the university. It took the same action against Intervarsity, with the same results.
The court said, “[T]he constitutional issue in this case is whether a university violates a student group’s right to free speech in a limited public forum when it enforces its nondiscrimination policy to limit the group’s ability to choose its leaders, but allows other groups to restrict membership or leadership in a manner that would similarly violate policy….The broad contours of the relevant laws have been established for some time; that is, the selective application of regulations by a university in a limited public forum can constitute impermissible viewpoint discrimination.”
Noting that the same three administrators who tried to ban BLinC and lost were the same folks that tried the same thing on Intervarsity, the court assessed the three individual administrators nominal damages, making them personally responsible for their actions. More damages may be assessed as the case progresses, but for now we’ll take it as a win.
Update: In last week’s column I reported on the case of Carson King whose GameDay gag sign asking for beer money went viral. As money poured into King’s Venmo account, he decided to donate the money to Stead Children’s Hospital at the University of Iowa. Anheuser-Busch and Venmo offered to match what was raised. All went well until the Des Moines Register decided to do a routine “background check” on King and found some seven-year-old posts by King when he was a sophomore in high school that the Register determined were racist.
Editor Carol Hunter decided it was in the public interest to print the facts about the old posts; then the roof fell in on everyone. The Register was pilloried, the reporter’s shameful past posts were uncovered, he was fired, and Anheuser-Busch cut ties with King. King admitted the posts, apologized for them, and was embraced by the state.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, saying, “You can make a mistake in your life and still go on to do amazing things,” declared September 28 as Carson King Day in Iowa.
Total haul for the kids’ hospital: A cool $3 million! And Carol Hunter is still editor of the Register.
You can reach Mike at: Deacon
Mike@q.com.

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