Connect with us

U.S. Federal Courts

New York man pleads guilty to bomb threats to LGBTQ+ Organizations

Defendant admitted that he threatened mass shootings, bombings and other fatal attacks, on the LGBTQ+ community

Published

on

U.S. Justice Department seal on podium (Photo Credit: U.S. Justice Department)

LONG ISLAND, Ny. – In federal court in Central Islip, New York, on Thursday Robert Fehring, 74, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Joanna Seybert to mailing more than 20 letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations and businesses.  When sentenced, Fehring faces up to five years’ imprisonment. 

The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Rodney K. Harrison, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the guilty plea in a press statement.

“In pleading guilty today, the defendant admits that he sent hate-filled communications that threatened mass shootings, bombings and other fatal attacks, to members of the LGBTQ+ community,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace.  “This Office will use all of its available law enforcement tools to protect the safety and civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community and every other community. We will not tolerate hateful threats intended to invoke fear and division, and we will hold accountable those who make or act on such threats.”

Mr. Peace also expressed his gratitude to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for their assistance in the investigation.   

“Today’s guilty plea further highlights Fehring’s intentions, and underscores the FBI’s commitment to vigorously investigating civil rights violations. Anonymous threats against members of our community will eventually be uncovered, and those who are responsible for them will be held accountable,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.

“We have absolutely no tolerance for hate incidents of any kind here in Suffolk County and I hope that this guilty plea gives peace of mind to both the victims and the entire LGBTQ+ community,” stated SCPD Commissioner Harrison.  “Our department remains laser focused on holding individuals who carry out acts of hate accountable and I thank all of our law enforcement partners who helped bring quick closure to this case.”

As set forth in the court filings and today’s proceeding, from at least 2013 to 2021, Fehring sent letters threatening violence to individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community.  In those letters, Fehring threatened to use firearms and explosives against the recipients.

One such letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 

Fehring also sent a threatening letter to the owner of a barbershop affiliated with the LGTBQ+ community in Brooklyn, New York, which stated, in part, “your shop is the perfect place for a bombing . . . or beating the scum that frequents your den of [expletive] into a bloody pool of steaming flesh.” 

Fehring mailed dozens of additional threatening letters to individuals, businesses, and elected officials associated with the LGBTQ+ community.

On November 18, 2021, the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport and recovered copies of letters containing threats, supplies used to mail threatening letters, 20 LGBTQ+ related Pride flags that appeared identical to flags stolen from flagpoles in Sayville in July 2021, and reconnaissance-style photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow. 

Law enforcement officers also recovered electronic devices owned by Fehring that contained internet searches for Fehring’s victims and related LGBTQ+ affiliated individual, events, and businesses. 

Law enforcement officers also recovered from Fehring’s residence two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

U.S. Federal Courts

LGBTQ Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court blocks Biden Title IX rules, says ‘sex,’ ‘gender identity’ not the same thing

Published

on

Los Angeles Blade graphic

By McKenna Horsley | LEXINGTON, Ky. – A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff-states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head. … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the Department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The Department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

related

“As a parent and as Attorney General, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The Department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The Department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

******************************************************************************************

McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

Published

on

A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

******************************************************************************************

Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas

Published

on

The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

Related

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

ACLU of Indiana sues City of Loogootee for blocking Pride

The First Amendment lawsuit calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024

Published

on

Photo Credit: Loogootee Pride 2024

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The ACLU of Indiana filed suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the City of Loogootee, a community of about 2,600 in the southwestern part of the state, on behalf of the sponsors of PrideFest 2024.

After initially approving a permit for PrideFest 2024 to take place on September 7, the Loogootee City Council has since passed two new ordinances changing the application process for using city property, rescinded its prior approval of PrideFest 2024, and failed to vote on the new application the sponsors properly submitted in February 2024.

The first Loogootee Pride Festival was successfully held in June 2023 at the Public Square, in the center of town. where numerous community events have been held over the years. About 200 people attended the 2023 festival, and organizers had no reason to suspect that the town’s leadership would not approve a permit for a festival in 2024.

Since submitting a new application for PrideFest 2024 in February, the organizers of PrideFest, Patoka Valley AIDS Community Action Group, have attended each subsequent Loogootee City Council meeting.

The PrideFest application has been on the Council’s meeting agenda but Council members never discussed or voted on it. On June 10th, the Council passed the most recently revised ordinance setting up numerous roadblocks to PrideFest.

Another event, Summer Fest, is scheduled to be held in the Public Square next week, apparently without the organizers of that event even applying for a permit.

The First Amendment lawsuit filed today calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024 at the Public Square on September 7, 2024.
 
ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director Ken Falk said:
 
“The City of Loogootee’s revocation of its November 2023 permission to hold PrideFest 2024 and its actions since that time violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest city special events ordinance is unconstitutional in many ways. It, and the actions of the City Council, clearly indicate that Councilmembers are trying to deny our plaintiffs the ability to hold their event because they disagree with a celebration of the LGBTQ community..

The complaint can be found here.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks expanding Title IX rules for LGBTQ+ students

Federal Judge Reed O’Connor said Biden admin didn’t have the authority to make changes, which would expand anti-discrimination protections

Published

on

A protester waves a transgender pride flag during a protest at the University of North Texas in Denton on March 23, 2022. (Photo Credit: Emil Lippe/The Texas Tribune)

By Juan Salinas II | DALLAS, Texas – A Texas federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ students.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Reed O’Connor said the Biden administration lacked the authority to make the changes and accused it of pushing “an agenda wholly divorced from the text, structure, and contemporary context of Title IX.” Title IX is the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings.

“To allow [the Biden administration’s] unlawful action to stand would be to functionally rewrite Title IX in a way that shockingly transforms American education and usurps a major question from Congress,” wrote O’Connor, a President George W. Bush appointee. “That is not how our democratic system functions.”

The Biden administration’s new guidelines, issued in April, expanded Title IX to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes would make schools and universities responsible for investigating a wider range of discrimination complaints. The rule changes came as several states, including Texas, have approved laws in recent years barring transgender student-athletes from participating in sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. The Biden administration hasn’t clarified whether the new guidance would apply in those cases.

Texas and several other states have sued the Biden administration over the new rule. Carroll ISD also filed a separate suit over the change. A month after the guidelines were released, Gov. Greg Abbott called on school districts and universities to ignore them.

“Threatening to withhold education funding by forcing states to accept ‘transgender’ policies that put women in danger was plainly illegal,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement applauding Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas has prevailed on behalf of the entire Nation.”

An U.S. Education Department said in a statement it stands by its revised guidelines.

“Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school,” the statement reads.

******************************************************************************************

Juan Salinas II’s staff photo

Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow based in Arlington. He is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington majoring in journalism and a transfer student from Tarrant County College, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian. As an intern at public radio station KERA, he covered state politics and local governments, and he was a year-long reporting fellow at the Fort Worth Report. Juan was born and raised in the North Side neighborhood of Fort Worth.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

We’ve got big things in store for you at The Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Join us for three days of big, bold conversations about politics, public policy and the day’s news.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Independent Texas reporting needs your support. The Texas Tribune delivers fact-based journalism for Texans, by Texans — and our community of members, the readers who donate, make our work possible. Help us bring you and millions of others in-depth news and information. Will you support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation of any amount?

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Court hears arguments on injunction blocking Iowa school book law

The law was blocked before enforcement began, but, a significant number of books were removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law

Published

on

Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)


By Robin Opsahl | ST. PAUL, Minn. – Attorneys for the state of Iowa and civil liberties groups clashed in court Tuesday over an injunction blocking enforcement of a law that restricts school libraries from carrying books with material related to sex acts, sexuality and gender.

The injunction was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher in December 2023, days before enforcement of the law was expected to begin. It was issued after Penguin Random House Books and the Iowa State Education Association sought an injunction in one of the two lawsuits now challenging the measure, with the other lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit filed by Penguin Random House in conjunction with the ISEA, educators and authors argues that Iowa students’ constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection are restricted by the law, as the measure unreasonably limits their ability to freely access and share ideas.

Books removed from schools due to the law include classics like “Brave New World” and “Ulysses,” but also include several books focused on LGBTQ+ and race issues, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Gender Queer.”

Books related to sexual assault and rape have also been removed from several Iowa school library shelves. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak” and “Shout” and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told reporters in November that restrictions on books like hers on sexual assault and violence could isolate and harm students looking for support in the aftermath of traumatic incidents.

During Tuesday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Eric Wessan of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the judges the law is not violating constitutional free speech protections, as these books can still be found and obtained at a bookstore. The law’s restriction of materials in public-school libraries is a regulation of government speech, not private speech, he argued.

“The government’s interest in ensuring an education suitable to students’ age and in preventing minor students’ exposure to inappropriate material is a legitimate, compelling, even substantial one,” Wessan wrote in his brief on the case. “And removing from school library shelves books that describe or depict ‘sex acts’ is reasonably related to that legitimate interest.”

Christy Hickman, ISEA chief legal counsel, said in a news conference that U.S. Supreme Court precedent has not favored arguments that books can still be found by students outside of school libraries as a reason for allowing the removal of books from the schools’ shelves.

“Public school libraries are intended to provide access to books to all children, regardless of whether or not they can buy it at the bookstore,” Hickman said. “So such an argument, while it might make sense in other contexts, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of our K-12 public schools, because some of our kids can’t afford to go across the street … to the bookstore and buy it. That’s the purpose of our public school libraries.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and seven students and families in the state, similarly argues that the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution. Wessan argued that the student plaintiffs did not have standing in the lawsuit, because the law is enforced against school districts and school employees, not students.

While the law was blocked before enforcement began, there have been a significant number of books removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law and potential violations. The Des Moines Register found school districts across the state have removed nearly 3,400 books from their libraries. While the state has repeatedly argued that not all of the books were removed correctly or would count as violations of the law, education advocates have said that ambiguity about the law’s scope have caused school districts and teachers to err on the side of caution.

In August 2023, the Iowa Department of Education chose not to release any guidance on schools should proceed in light of the law, despite requests from educators for more information to ensure compliance.

Bird calls book ban a ‘common sense’ law

During Tuesday’s court arguments, a judge said that school districts could be sued on an individual basis for removing books that do not fall under the law’s restrictions as a means to address inappropriate removals. But Hickman, the ISEA attorney, said the lawsuit against the state is the appropriate action, as individual school districts are trying their best with current resources to follow the law as intended.

“If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts — think about the court and school and public resources that go in into that,” Hickman said. “I hope that that is not where we end up. What the education community needs, what our members need, is some guidance in how to implement this law.”

Another judge expressed concerns about questioning the law’s constitutionality before it has been implemented, an argument presented by Wessan. The law was created to help address the way Iowa students learn, he said, and the injunction against portions of the law has “stymied that” objective.

“The state believes that if this injunction is vacated, the school districts, the schools and the students will understand what the law means,” he said. “And as time moves forward, this will become an integral part of Iowa’s educational landscape.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office is defending a “common sense” law that she said “protects kids, families, and parental rights.”

“Inappropriate books do not belong in the hands of school children,” Bird said. “As a mom, I know how important it is for parents to have a say in what books and materials their kids have access to.”

Attorney Thomas Story with the ACLU said that the law has already had a negative impact on Iowa schools and students.

“It restricts expression in terms that are so vague and overbroad that no two schools seem to agree on what they mean,” Story said in a news conference. “But the fact is that over 3,000 books were removed, student (gay-straight alliances) were closed, and LGBTQ+ students across the state were forced into silence. That is unconstitutional and we will continue to defend the rights of Iowa students as this case moves forward.”

The Eighth Circuit appeals panel did not provide a timeline as to when it might issue a ruling.

******************************************************************************************

Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

Iowans value integrity in their government. Free and independent journalism is what keeps our public servants accountable and responsive to the people. That’s why Iowa Capital Dispatch, a nonprofit, independent source for quality journalism, is working every day to keep you informed about what government officials are doing with your money, your freedom and your safety.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court: Mass. school can enforce ban on anti-trans T-shirt

Denying the existence of the gender identities of trans & gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact

Published

on

Liam Morrison courtesy of the Alliance Defending Freedom

BOSTON, Mass. – A three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled earlier this week that Middleborough, Massachusetts, middle school is able to enforce its ban on clothing apparel that could potentially demean LGBTQ+ students.

The panel in its ruling noted that school administrators did not act “unreasonably” when they concluded Nichols Middle School 12-year-old seventh-grader Liam Morrison’s shirt may be understood “to demean the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming” students.

According to local media reports, Morrison was wearing a T-shirt that read “There are only two genders,” which school administrators ask him take off. He later wore a T-shirt saying “There are only censored genders,” which officials also made him remove.

Liam Morrison wearing one of the two banned shirts in May of 2023. The shirt reads: “There are CENSORED genders” (Screenshot/WCVB.)

The Morrison family filed a federal lawsuit in 2023 represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute, which argued officials violated his First Amendment rights when they said his shirt was prohibited by the school’s dress code.

In the suit, ADF attorneys said:

Morrison attends Nichols Middle School in Middleborough. In March, he wore the shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology, that there are only two sexes, male and female, and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After Morrison politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a seventh grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”

Chief U.S. First Circuit Court Judge David Barron in the 70 page opinion wrote:

“We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and Lara Montecalvo joined in the 3-0 decision writing:

The school’s dress code bans clothing with messages that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target[s] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

“[W]e see no reason to substitute our judgment for Middleborough’s with respect to its application of its Dress Code here,” the opinion continues. “We conclude the record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would ‘poison the educational atmosphere’ and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school.”

In a press statement released after the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman said there likely will be an appeal the noting students “don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building.”

“This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own,” Cortman said. “The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events, and it encourages students to wear clothing with messages on the same topic—so long as that clothing expresses the school’s preferred views on the subject.”

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks Florida trans health care ban & restrictions

Florida plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for DeSantis. An appeal would go to U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

Published

on

Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Issac Morgan/Florida Phoenix)

By Jackie Llanos | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of transgender minors and transgender adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted transgender people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the Constitution and laws. The State of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

 FL Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of SB 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an eight-year-old (at the opening of the case) transgender boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination transgender people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Los Angeles Blade Editor’s Note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative Eleventh Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

******************************************************************************************

Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media and Virginia Mercury.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Vermont families sue DCF over LGBTQ+ foster care requirements

The case is the latest legal challenge to Vermont regulations from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative anti-LGBTQ +legal group

Published

on

Chris Winters chats before the Vermont Democratic Party’s unity press conference in Montpelier on Aug. 30, 2022. File Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

By Peter D’Auria | MONTPELIER, Vt. – Two Vermont couples are suing the state’s Department for Children and Families, alleging that foster parent requirements intended to protect LGBTQ+ youth are unconstitutional and discriminate against Christians.

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the prominent conservative legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, aims to strike down state regulations prohibiting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination among Vermont foster parents. 

“Vermont’s foster-care system is in crisis: There aren’t enough families to care for vulnerable kids and children born with drug dependencies have nowhere to call home,” Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom representing the couples, said in a press release about the lawsuit. “Yet Vermont is putting its ideological agenda ahead of the needs of these suffering kids.”

The suit names three top officials as defendants: Chris Winters, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families; Aryka Radke, deputy commissioner of the department’s Family Services Division; and Stacey Edmunds, the director of the department’s Residential Licensing & Special Investigations.

It’s the latest Vermont case filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative legal group. The organization has filed multiple suits in Vermont, targeting limits on public money in private schools, protecting employees accused of transphobia and seeking to strike down state restrictions on anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. 

In an emailed statement, Radke said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits. 

“That said, generally speaking, DCF takes the care and support of youth in our custody seriously, and we work to ensure that youth in foster care are placed in homes that support all aspects of what makes them who they are,” Radke wrote. “This includes their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It is the department’s responsibility “to ensure all children and youth will reside in a home with caregivers who are committed to fully embracing and holistically affirming and supporting them,” Radke continued, noting that the suit had been filed at the beginning of Pride month. “We need assurance that the foster and kin care homes selected for our children and youth can honor these personal facets of their being when they choose to share them with us.”

Tuesday’s case stems from the experience of two Windham County couples, Brian and Katy Wuoti and Bryan and Rebecca Gantt. Both couples had foster care licenses for years, having fostered and later adopted multiple children in the state. 

But in the past two years, both couples had their foster care licenses revoked because of their beliefs on LGBTQ+ issues, according to the lawsuit. The Wuotis and the Gantts are Christian, and Brian Wuoti and Bryan Gantt are both pastors, according to the complaint.

Both couples “believe that God created humans as male and female and that a person’s sex is binary and fixed by God at conception,” the suit reads. And both couples “cannot attend, associate with, or participate in events like pride parades because they convey a message about human sexuality that goes against their faith.”

According to the lawsuit, after discussing those beliefs with the Wuotis and the Gantts, state officials became concerned that the couples would be unable to properly care for and support LGBTQ+ children. 

“I have no doubt that you would be welcoming to a child in your home; but if you are unable to encourage and support children in their sexual and gender identity, that essentially makes you ineligible for renewal of your foster parent license,” one DCF staffer wrote to the Wuotis in 2022, according to the suit. 

Per Department for Children and Families policy, “discrimination and bias based on a child or youth’s real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” is prohibited.

New rules implemented in 2023 made that policy more explicit. The rules “prohibit licensed foster parents from discriminating against foster children based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as other personal characteristics,” the department told foster parents in a 2023 email included as an exhibit in the suit. 

The lawsuit, filed in Vermont district court, asks a judge to strike down those DCF policies on LGBTQ+ discrimination. The revocation of the couples’ foster care licenses, according to the complaint, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and amounts to discrimination against those with Christian beliefs. 

“By categorically excluding the Wuotis and the Gantts from child welfare services because of their religious beliefs, the Mandate invidiously discriminates based on religion and treats the Wuotis and the Gantts worse than similarly situated persons who do not share their religious beliefs,” the complaint reads.

******************************************************************************************

Peter D’Auria is VTDigger’s human services and health care reporter.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the VTDigger and is republished with permission.

VTDigger is a news organization reporting daily on Vermont and Vermonters. Headquartered in Montpelier, we are dedicated to public service and investigative journalism. We primarily publish our news stories on our website, in our newsletters and through republishing agreements with other news organizations.

In 2011, VTDigger became a project of the nonprofit Vermont Journalism Trust, which has become a pioneer in finding new ways to support and sustain local newsgathering at the local and state level.

VTDigger is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Two UT Austin professors join Texas AG’s anti-trans Title IX suit

Daniel Bonevac, a philosophy professor and John Hatfield, a finance professor are alleging that the Federal government oversteps its authority

Published

on

Official biographies headshots of Professors Daniel Bonevac & John Hatfield. (Photo Credit: University of Texas, Austin)

AMARILLO, Texas – A pair of University of Texas at Austin professors have joined with Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton in his state federal lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Education over its “Final Rule” regarding interpretation of Title IX, which is slated to take effect later this summer on August 1.

Daniel Bonevac, a philosophy professor and John Hatfield, a finance professor are alleging in the revised lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, that the Federal government oversteps its authority by requiring “students and teachers to, for example, use someone’s ‘preferred pronouns’” and by “reinterpreting the word ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’” I

The suit also is asking the court to protect the plaintiffs’ rights to treat student absences from class for the purposes of getting an abortion as unexcused, to regulate the clothing their teaching assistants wear, and to decline to hire as teaching assistants students who have received abortion pharmaceuticals in the mail.

In the 81 page filing, Bonevac and Hatfield describe ways they plan to behave that they believe are rendered illegal by the Final Rule interpretation of Title IX—hence the lawsuit. These include:

  • Not honoring any student’s demands to be addressed by the singular pronoun “they”. (“I will not violate the rules of grammar or make a fool of myself to accommodate a student’s delusional beliefs.”)
  • Not allowing his teaching assistants to teach or otherwise interact with students while wearing clothing traditionally not associated with their genders.
  • Not treating absences to obtain an “illegal abortion” or “purely elective abortion” as an excused absence. (Note that in Texas, abortions are generally illegal with few exceptions.)
  • Not knowingly hiring teaching assistants who have received shipments of “abortion pills and abortion-related paraphernalia”.

The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointee who is the only sitting judge in the Amarillo courthouse. Kacsmaryk has with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, ruling often in their favor on issues ranging from abortion medication and immigration to LGBTQ worker protections.

In a recent case, Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said in an email to the Blade that the department does not comment on ongoing litigation and that all federally funded schools are obligated to comply with the new rules.

Read the complaint:

Continue Reading

Popular