The dispute over a court decision approving a governmental resolution virulently condemning the Catholic Church will be reviewed by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, following a ruling from that judicial body.
WND reported in June when a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit upheld a decision by officials in San Francisco formally to call Catholic beliefs “hateful,” “callous” and an “insult.”
The court panel concluded the criticism served a “secular” purpose.
But now a petition from the Thomas More Law Center for an en banc hearing by the full court has been granted.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian legal advocacy group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been challenging the city’s diatribe against the faith.
The San Francisco resolution was adopted March 21, 2006, and taken to court by the Law Center working on behalf of the Catholic League and two Catholic residents in San Francisco.
The resolution refers to the Vatican as a “foreign country” and charges it with meddling in the affairs of the city. It condemns the church’s moral teachings on homosexuality as “insulting to all San Franciscans,” “defamatory,” “absolutely unacceptable” and “insensitive.”
The 9th Circuit panel’s decision upholding the resolution now has been struck.
“The three-judge panel opinion shall not be cited as precedent by or to any court in the Ninth Circuit,” the court said in its new ruling, meaning the case now will be argued again to the full court of 11 judges.
“In total disregard for our Constitution, homosexual activists in positions of power in San Francisco abused their authority as government officials to attack the Catholic Church,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the Law Center.
“Our Constitution plainly forbids government hostility toward religion, including the Catholic faith. And we are fully committed to fighting homosexual activists who seek to promote their personal political agenda at the expense of our constitutional freedoms.”
The city’s resolution urged Catholic officials in San Francisco to “defy” church teachings.
“This is a significant case on many fronts,” said Robert Muise, the attorney who handled the case for the Law Center.
“Should the full court ultimately render a decision in our favor, this case will establish much needed precedent for claims alleging government hostility toward religion. If the full court allows this government attack on Catholics to stand, it will likely further embolden anti-Christian attacks by government. However, the fact that a majority of judges vacated the unanimous ruling and agreed to rehear the case en banc is a very good sign,” he said.
“Catholic doctrine teaches, for example, that allowing children to be adopted by homosexuals would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development,” the center explained. “Such policies are gravely immoral and Catholic organizations must not place children for adoption in homosexual households.”
The Law Center argued that the “anti-Catholic resolution sends a clear message to plaintiffs and others who are faithful adherents to the Catholic faith that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message that those who oppose Catholic religious beliefs, particularly with regard to homosexual unions and adoptions by homosexual partners, are insiders, favored members of the political community.”
The Law Center’s lawsuit said the resolution violated the First Amendment, which “forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs, or of religion in general.”
In defending its statement, the city argued in court it was pursuing the “secular” purpose of advocating for same-sex adoptions. The court agreed.
“To be sure, the board could have spoken with a gentler tone, but the strength of the board’s language alone does not transform a secular purpose into a religious one,” said the court panel’s opinion, written by Judge Richard Paez and joined by Procter Hug Jr. and Marsha Berzon.
Catholic League spokesman Bill Donohue told WND at the time the comments denouncing church doctrine were “incredible, invective and bigoted comments.”
“This is beyond belief. It clearly is a hostile environment,” he said.
He said it also, just as clearly, is a telling of what will be happening under a “hate crime” law recently signed by President Obama.
“No question about it. The Mormons spoke out on Prop 8 (which defined marriage as one man and one woman), as did evangelicals (and were attacked),” he said.
“If you had a Catholic using this type of inflammatory language maligning the character of the government, the entire city would be up in arms,” he said.
But the court had said, “An objective observer would conclude that the
board’s purpose was to champion needy children, gays, lesbians,
and same-sex couples within its jurisdiction; not to officially
disapprove of the Catholic faith or its religious tenets.”
The ruling cited from its own earlier decision in a case in which city officials criticized other Christian organizations.
“We concluded that the
defendants’ actions had a plausible secular purpose and the
primary effect of the documents in question was ‘encouraging
equal rights for gays and discouraging hate crimes,'” the court said.
The fact that San Francisco’s “secular” position regarding homosexuality is “at odds with certain religious views” isn’t a factor, the court said.
“It is well within the board’s secular purview to promote adoptions of children by same-sex couples and denounce discrimination for the ‘general welfare of society,'” the court panel had written.
The new “hate crimes” law was dubbed by critics the “Pedophile Protection Act” as it moved through Congress, because of several GOP attempts to insert language exempting pedophiles from any protection that were blocked by Democrats.
In fact, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., a “hate crimes” supporter, said, “This bill addresses our resolve to end violence based on prejudice and to guarantee that all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability or all of these ‘philias’ and fetishes and ‘isms’ that were put forward need not live in fear because of who they are. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this rule.”