Barr's Justice Department Files Court Brief Against Same-Sex Parents

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday June 5, 2020

U.S. Attorney General William Barr
U.S. Attorney General William Barr  (Source:Patrick Semansky / Associated Press / fi)

As teargas clears from American streets and the president's words about "dominating" cities where protests against lethal police brutality against African Americans took place — protests that were peaceful in many places but were hijacked in others by riots and marked by even more police violence, much of it targeting journalists — still ring, other battles in the ongoing struggle for full legal equality continue to rage.

Case in point: The Trump administration's targeting of gay and lesbian Americans in an adoption rights case that pits same-sex families against claims of religious freedoms to discriminate against sexual minorities.

NBC News explained the case this way:

The brief was filed by the Department of Justice in the case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which centers on the refusal of Catholic Social Services, a religious nonprofit that operates a child welfare agency in Philadelphia, to place adoptive and foster children with same-sex couples in violation of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

NBC News also notes that the brief, which runs 35 pages, leans on a previously tested argument: The claim that the city was "hostile" toward the Catholic adoption services provided on account of its religious convictions.

That argument won the day in a previous Supreme Court case, in which the court sided with a Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who said that he should not be required to provide wedding cakes to same-sex couples because he was an "artist" whose cakes were a form of "free speech." The court avoided a potentially thorny ruling on free speech issues by homing in on the contention that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been "hostile" toward Phillips' religious convictions.

Phillips found himself in court again this year for denying a transgender woman's order of a pink cake with blue frosting. NBC News reported in April that the woman claimed she was told Masterpiece Cakeshop ""did not make cakes for 'sex changes.'"

The brief hammered on that line of reasoning, arguing that that city's nondiscrimination law "lacks neutrality and general applicability" in part because of a "hostility toward religion" and also claimed that the law was unconstitutional.

US Attorney General William Barr, who heads the Justice Department, has prompted criticism for his interpretation of religious freedom.

In a speech delivered last October at Notre Dame University — a Catholic institution — Barr declared that "militant secularists" were attempting "to destroy the traditional moral order."

The speech sent shockwaves through religious and political spheres alike. British newspaper The Guardian quoted one Justice Department official as saying:

"At least it helps me understand why Barr has been so willing to put his own reputation on the line to defend Trump so fiercely in every battle... Trump is Barr's imperfect vessel in serving a much higher cause: The gospel."

Some fear that a Trump/Barr axis could threaten civil liberties of minorities and people belonging to non-Christian faith traditions, all under the guise of promoting "religious freedom."

The Trump administration has already created worry and drawn criticism for appearing to push laws and policies that would reward religious conservatives with special rights and exemptions.

The Guardian noted that in his speech last October, "Barr did not address the fact that many of the policies of the Trump administration are strongly opposed by the Vatican."

Meantime, Americans United for Separation of Church and State stated that Barr's speech sent the message that "US public policy will be guided by his personal religious beliefs," the Guardian reported.

Such anti-LGBTQ crusading might play well with the conservative religious base, but it does not serve the needs of children without stable, loving homes. NBC News noted that:

Studies show LGBTQ families foster and adopt at higher rates and are more likely to take in older, special needs and minority children. Over 21 percent of gay couples are raising adopted children, compared with 3 percent of straight couples...

NBC News drew those figures from a 2018 report by the Williams Institute.

There may be some reason to question Barr's commitment to substance as opposed to optics. Reports indicate that it was Barr who gave the order for police in riot gear to launch a sudden and unprovoked attack on a peaceful crowd of protestors in Lafayette Park earlier this week.

The attack served the purpose of clearing the park, enabling President Trump to walk from the White House to a nearby Episcopalian church, where he posed for photos with a bible in his hand.

Trump did not open the bible or quote scripture. Nor did he offer words of solace as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, with its devastating effects on the global economy. Nor did Trump offer a message of unity as protests continued around the country, sparked by the murder ofGeorge Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Instead, Trump has spoken numerous times of late about "dominating" the streets and crushing protestors with "overwhelming" force.

That attack on peaceful protestors sparked calls for Barr's resignation and also prompted a lawsuit from Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties union. The suit cites the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment — the very same amendment that guarantees religious liberty.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook