The words “natural family,” “marriage” and “union of a man and a woman” can be punished as “hate speech” in government workplaces, according to a lawsuit that is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Briefs for Good News Employee Association vs. Hicks, which were filed June 5 with the nation’s highest court, lists D.C. school board President Robert C. Bobb as one of two plaintiffs. The case originated five years ago in Oakland, Calif., during his tenure there as city manager.
The dispute began in January 2003, when the two Oakland employees created a subgroup at their workplace called the “Good News Employee Association.” It was partly in response to a group of homosexual employees having formed their own group 10 months before and being given access to the city e-mail system. One e-mail, dated Oct. 11, 2002, invited city employees to participate in “National Coming-Out Day.”
When several employees asked whether such a posting was legitimate city business, they got an e-mail from City Council member Danny Wan, reminding them that a “celebration of the gay/lesbian culture and movement” was part of the city’s role to “celebrate diversity.”
In response, the Good News employees posted an introductory flier on the employee bulletin board Jan. 3.
It said: “Preserve Our Workplace With Integrity: Good News Employee Association is a forum for people of faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day.” It said it opposed “all views which seek to redefine the natural family and marriage,” which it defined as “a union of a man and a woman, according to California state law.”
Anyone who wanted to help preserve “integrity in the workplace” was invited to contact the two employees: Regina Rederford and Robin Christy.
A lesbian co-worker, Judith Jennings, spotted the flier and complained to the city attorney’s office that it made her feel “targeted” and “excluded,” according to a deposition. The flier was removed by a supervisor because it violated the city’s anti-discrimination rules.
A U.S. District Court for Northern California ruling said the words “natural family” and “marriage” had “anti-homosexual import.”
However, Miss Rederford was told she could announce the group’s presence on the city’s e-mail system if she removed “verbiage that could be offensive to gay people.”
In late February 2003, Joyce Hicks, a city deputy executive director and the other defendant in the suit, sent out a memo to city employees. It cited recent incidents where “fliers were placed in public view which contained statements of a homophobic nature” and warned employees they could be fired for posting such material.
Miss Rederford and Miss Christy sued the city, claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated. According to court documents, employees had posted bulletin announcements on everything from terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden to local sporting events, yet those had not been removed.
The district court disagreed, saying the women had other venues in which to proclaim their message. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said employees’ freedom of speech takes a back seat to employers’ “legitimate administrative interests.” They were allowed to submit a new flier, subject to “certain editorial constraints.”
“This incredible and devastating ruling has had the practical effect of silencing hundreds, if not thousands, of City of Oakland employees who simply wish to talk about marriage and family values,” said a statement from the Pro-Family Law Center in Temecula, Calif., which represents the plaintiffs.
“To the extent that this ruling has been shared by Oakland with other cities, there is a huge risk that these rulings are being treated as precedent by other cities across the nation,” the statement continued.