The city of Oakland barred two employees from advertising an informal group that respects “the natural family, marriage and family values,” contending the bulletin-board flyer was “homophobic.”
In a case that could set a precedent challenging anti-discrimination laws, Regina Rederford and Robin Christy filed suit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Oakland against two city supervisors who enforced a policy they insist is unconstitutional.
“It’s ridiculous – the flyer doesn’t mention homosexuality whatsoever,” said Rederford’s attorney, Scott Lively.
“It’s a completely affirmative and positive statement about a Christian value system centered on the natural family,” Lively told WorldNetDaily. “For the city of Oakland to have interpreted that to mean an attack on homosexuality was really taking liberties.”
On an employee bulletin board where a variety of political and sexually oriented causes are promoted, Rederford posted a flyer Jan. 3 titled, “Preserve Our Workplace With Integrity.” The entire text said:
Good News Employee Associations is a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family values.
If you would like to be a part of preserving integrity in the Workplace call Regina Rederford @xxx-xxxx or Robin Christy @xxx-xxxx
The flyer was removed the same day, however, by order of Joyce Hicks, Oakland’s deputy director of the Community and Economic Development Agency, who is named in the lawsuit along with then-City Manager Robert Bobb.
In a Feb. 20 memo announcing a newly revised workplace anti-discrimination policy, Hicks noted recent incidents of employees “inappropriately posting materials” in violation of that policy.
“Specifically,” she wrote according to a copy obtained by WND, “flyers were placed in public view which contained statements of a homophobic nature and were determined to promote sexual orientation-based harassment.”
Lively said if the judge approaches this case as a contest between the First Amendment and the anti-discrimination policy, similar policies across the state could be overturned.
“This is one of the cleanest examples of blatant free-speech discrimination that I’ve ever seen – the fact that the city actually acknowledged that they were discriminating, based on content, in their own memo,” Lively said.
The state of California and many local jurisdictions have added sexual orientation as a protected category in areas such as housing and employment laws and school policies.
“Citizens should retain the right to criticize alternative sexual lifestyles without fear of retaliation or retribution,” Lively contends.
Rederford and Christy are defended by the United States Justice Foundation, the public interest group Lively, Ackerman and Cody, and the Pro-Family Law Center. They charge Hicks and Bobb violated their clients’ constitutional right to “to pray, associate, communicate religious ideas, and worship” according to the U.S. Constitution and the laws and regulations of the city of Oakland.
WND contacted the Oakland city attorney’s office for a response, but no one was available to comment.
Lively said the city, in its defense, could use one of two arguments. One is that the flyer is a violation of the city’s anti-discrimination policy.
“That’s a stretch,” he said, because “even if that type of policy was able to trump the First Amendment, this particular flyer does not fall within that policy.”
The other position is that they have a right to control the bulletin board.
“That’s a weak argument,” Lively asserted, “because once they’ve created a limited public forum by letting other employees post messages, they lose their right to censor what is on the bulletin board.”
The civil rights complaint says Rederford and Christy were denied equal accommodation when they asked to be given the same opportunity as others to communicate with employees.
Defendants Hicks and Bobb acted, the suit contends, “because they do not approve of the Christian beliefs, practices, and activities of plaintiffs.”
Without intervention, the complaint says, the defendants will “continue to engage in discriminatory behavior that persecutes, silences, and segregates Christian employees.”