A U.S. district court ruled two employees of Oakland can go forward in their case against city supervisors after they were barred from advertising an informal group that respects “the natural family, marriage and family values.”

The city contended the bulletin-board flyer was “homophobic,” although it makes no mention of homosexuality.

The case is significant, because a decision against the employees could result in silencing debate about homosexuality and related issues in the state of California, says Richard Ackerman, whose public-interest law firm is representing the two women.

“The court bordered on saying references to ‘family values’ could be hate speech if it were to be proved those words were disruptive,” Ackerman told WorldNetDaily.

“If we are silenced on the issue of speaking out against same sex marriage, it’s all over,” said Ackerman of Lively and Ackerman.

Regina Rederford and Robin Christy filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Oakland last July against the city of Oakland and two city supervisors who enforced a policy they insist is unconstitutional.

The judge dismissed claims against the city of Oakland but allowed the claims to proceed against the supervisors, Joyce Hicks, deputy director of the Community and Economic Development Agency, and then-City Manager Robert Bobb.

On an employee bulletin board where a variety of political and sexually oriented causes are promoted, Rederford posted a flyer Jan. 3, 2003, 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 Hicks.

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.”

While a ruling against Rederford and Christy might restrict debate about homosexuality, a decision in their favor could set a precedent that would overturn anti-discrimination policies in the state.

Ackerman’s firm said that could happen if the judge approaches this case as a contest between the First Amendment and the anti-discrimination policy.

“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,” said attorney Scott Lively.

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.

The complaint charges Hicks and Bobb violated their clients’ constitutional right to “pray, associate, communicate religious ideas, and worship” according to the U.S. Constitution and the laws and regulations of the city of Oakland.

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