Friday, August 30, 2019

Religious Freedom Win for Christians Who Refuse to Create Same-Sex Wedding Videos

On Friday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had wrongly dismissed a case involving free speech and religious freedom. Minnesota filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen, owners of Telescope Media Group, gladly serve all people but desire to make wedding videos that only include opposite-sex couples. Minnesota's Department of Human Rights ruled that this would constitute discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Penalties for violating the law include a civil penalty, triple compensatory damages, punitive damages of up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000, and up to 90 days in jail.

The Larsens sued and requested a preliminary injunction to prevent Minnesota from enforcing the law against them until their case could be decided. A lower court rejected the lawsuit and the request for an injunction, but the 8th Circuit remanded the case, insisting that the Larsens have a strong free speech and religious freedom claim and that they likely deserve an injunction.

"This is a significant win. The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs," Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing the Larsens, said in a statement. Tedesco argued for the Larsens before the 8th Circuit last October.

"Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages," Tedesco explained. "That’s why we’re pleased that the 8th Circuit has affirmed that the Larsens’ films are fully protected speech and that the state lacks a compelling interest to force them to express messages through their films that violate their deeply held convictions. All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment."

In Religious Freedom Case, State Says It Can Force a Muslim Tattoo Artist to Endorse Christianity
Telescope Media Group will not make films that, in their view, "contradict biblical truth; promote sexual immorality; support the destruction of unborn children; promote racism or racial division; incite violence; degrade women; or promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman."

The Larsens aim to "capture the background stories of the couples' love" and "the sacredness of their sacrificial vows at the altar" in their videos. Minnesota interpreted this as a violation of the state's non-discrimination law. If Telescope Media makes wedding videos, it must make same-sex wedding videos. Yet Minnesota's Human Rights Department went even further — the Larsens must depict same-sex and opposite-sex weddings in an equally "positive" light.

The Larsens objected, pointing to the First Amendment rights of free speech, religious freedom, freedom of association, and more. The district court had rejected the Larsens' argument, saying they failed to state a claim. In Telescope Media Group v. Lucero, the 8th Circuit ruled against many of the Larsens' claims, but upheld the validity of their free speech and religious freedom arguments.

"Carl and Angel Larsen wish to make wedding videos. Can Minnesota require them to produce videos of same-sex weddings, even if the message would conflict with their own beliefs? The district court concluded that it could and dismissed the Larsens’ constitutional challenge to Minnesota’s antidiscrimination law. Because the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, we reverse the dismissal of two of their claims and remand with instructions to consider whether they are entitled to a preliminary injunction," the 8th Circuit ruled.

Among other reasons, the court noted that if Minnesota could force the Larsens to make videos celebrating same-sex weddings, "there is no reason it would have to stop with the Larsens. In theory, it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service."

"In fact, if Minnesota were to do what other jurisdictions have done and declare political affiliation or ideology to be a protected characteristic, then it could force a Democratic speechwriter to provide the same services to a Republican, or it could require a professional entertainer to perform at rallies for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the same office," the court added. This is no idle warning.

"Angel and I serve everyone. We just can’t produce films promoting every message," Carl Larsen said after the 8th Circuit's decision. "We are thankful the court recognized that government officials can’t force religious believers to violate their beliefs to pursue their passion. This is a win for everyone, regardless of your beliefs."

Contrary to the LGBT narrative, refusing to celebrate a same-sex wedding is not the same thing as discriminating against a person because he or she identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Americans have the free speech right not to be compelled to endorse an event they disagree with. This is quite different from posting a "no gays allowed" sign on a business — that would be the kind of discrimination illegal in many states.

While few gay or lesbian people might trust the Larsens to make them a wedding video, the government has already threatened to compel them to speak in favor of same-sex marriage. The 8th Circuit rightly noted that this likely violates the First Amendment, but the Larsens' battle is far from over.


The British government’s madcap plan to Britons' calories

Food reformulation is the most cretinous, authoritarian public-health policy yet.

Of all the bad policies that have flown under the radar while the country has been consumed by Brexit, none is more bizarre than food reformulation. Imagine a policy dreamt up by Caligula and implemented by the Politburo and you still wouldn’t capture the barking-mad insanity and bureaucratic dogmatism of Public Health England’s flagship anti-obesity policy.

The basic idea is cretinously simple. People are obese because they eat too much, but it is difficult to get them to eat less, so the government has instructed the food industry to remove 20 per cent of the calories from food. Food companies have been told to do this ‘voluntarily’ by 2024 or face further regulation and a legally binding target — ie, it is not really voluntary.

The calorie-reduction target is effectively a fat-reduction target, as it comes on top of a diktat demanding a 20 per cent reduction in sugar content by 2020 and a long-running salt-reduction scheme. This leaves protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners as the handful of food groups of which the government still approves, but using them as substitutes to appease Public Health England poses a number of intractable problems. Protein, fibre and carbohydrates contain the same amount of calories per gram as sugar, so they would not reduce the energy content of food even if they were realistic replacements, which they are often not. Artificial sweeteners are a hundred times sweeter than sugar and are only really useful substitutes in soft drinks where texture and weight do not matter. To be used in food, something else must be used to add volume, and that brings us back to the problem above. In any case, most people prefer the taste of sugar.

The food-reformulation scheme is presented as a collaboration between Public Health England (PHE) and the food industry, but since PHE doesn’t know the first thing about food manufacturing – or even, it seems, basic cooking – it amounts to a government agency barking orders from its bunker while the companies try to explain that it’s a bit more complicated than that. In the four years since the sugar-reduction target was set, reality has repeatedly collided with the bureaucrats’ plans. The proposal to take sugar out of jam, for example, had to be abandoned when PHE learned that it is a legal requirement for jam to contain at least 50 per cent sugar.

Initially, the idea was for industry to reformulate cakes, biscuits and sweets with magical, low-calorie ingredients, but when these proved elusive and it was explained to PHE that you can’t replace sugar in a Mars bar with aspartame, the agency allowed the companies to reduce portion size instead. Hence the shrinkflation that has been particularly noticeable in the confectionery sector in recent years. There is more to come as the 2020 deadline approaches, with Cadbury’s Fudge, Chomp and Curly Wurly among the chocolate bars that will get smaller next year.

Reducing portion size has given the industry a get-out-of-jail-free card for some foods, but for the many products that do not come in standard sizes, such as sauces, cereals and baked beans, the problem remains. Reformulating to meet PHE’s targets is either physically impossible or only possible by making a product that nobody wants to eat.

Public Health England has charged food manufacturers with the task of ‘finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy’, as if this were a novel idea that had never occurred to the industry before; as if the only thing holding the industry back from finding this Holy Grail was a lack of government targets. PHE seems unaware that supermarket shelves are full of low-calorie, low-fat and low-sugar versions of popular brands, most of which do not sell particularly well because they are not as tasty as the original recipes. Any company that invented a tasty, low-sugar chocolate bar would become fabulously wealthy. The financial incentives have been in place for decades. It has not happened because it is not possible.

At the heart of the reformulation delusion is an ignorance of market forces, a deep suspicion of industry and a naive faith in the power of bureaucracy to remedy supposed market failures. One of David Cameron’s greatest mistakes as prime minister was creating Public Health England in 2013. This quango, which relieves the taxpayer of over £4 billion a year, was always going to attract ideologues and activists from the clown show that is ‘public health’ academia. These people are relatively harmless when confined to their echo-chamber conferences and rinky-dink journals, but are a menace when allowed off the leash. At Public Health England, they have real power and influence. It is telling that the only ‘stakeholders’ from civil society involved in the reformulation work are Action on Sugar and the Obesity Health Alliance, two mouthpieces of the fanatical Graham MacGregor, who flood the media with hysterical claims about the ‘shocking’ levels of various ingredients in normal, everyday food.

As Josie Appleton showed in her superb report for the IEA last week, these activist groups are the outriders of reformulation, working hand in glove with PHE to soften the public up for further interventions in the food supply. The bone-headed approach of these extremist pressure groups has been bought wholesale by the apparatchiks at PHE. They allow no room for personal autonomy. As they see it, the public will buy whatever products the food industry throws at them. For some mysterious reason, the industry has traditionally chosen to put lots of unnecessary fat, sugar, salt and, er, calories in these products. Therefore, all the government needs to do is to tell them to use saccharine and brown rice instead and the British public will lose weight without even noticing.

It is the kind of idea you might hear from someone who owns a collection of bongs, but thanks to Public Health England it is official government policy. As if to mask the essential stupidity of the scheme, PHE has introduced layers of bureaucracy and issued hundreds of pages of technical notes to give it the veneer of science. Once the calorie programme is fully underway, there will be no fewer than 299 different targets, covering most food products sold in shops and supermarkets as well as the dishes served in pubs, cafés and restaurants.

The preposterous way in which these targets are created is a classic illustration of the dead hand of the state. PHE bundles a bunch of dissimilar products together, takes the average calorie count and knocks 20 per cent off. Voila! There’s the food industry’s target for cakes or sandwiches or whatever. This often leads to targets being set far below anything the market can withstand.

In an effort to demonstrate that such radical targets are achievable, PHE’s henchmen at Action on Sugar issue frequent press releases applauding whichever brand has the lowest sugar content and demanding every other brand drop to the same level. These are usually chalk-and-cheese comparisons, putting cheap, artificially sweetened ice cream up against delicious, luxury ice cream, or contrasting specialised biscuits for diabetics against market-leading brands.

PHE adds to the confusion by throwing fundamentally different products into the same category to create meaningless averages, taking off 20 per cent and handing the final figure to food companies as an evidence-based target. For example, PHE’s ‘sweets’ category includes nougat (which contains nuts and egg whites), popcorn (which is 50 per cent fibre) and boiled sweets (which are almost entirely made of carbohydrates, mostly sugar). The amount of sugar in these ‘sweets’ ranges from 0.1g to 99g per 100g, leading to a nonsensical average of 60.6g per 100g and a ludicrous target of 48.4g. If enforced, this would mean taking a large part of the confectionery market off the shelves.

Could the government not simply advise people to avoid eating sweets if they are trying to lose weight instead? A crazy idea, I know, but it has the advantage of recognising human agency and respecting free choice. It is also less likely to end in tears than Public Health England’s madcap attempt to remake the food supply according to arbitrary numbers spewed from a spreadsheet.

Britain is the only country to be attempting such an assault on the food supply, and no wonder. Its many absurdities are only beginning to come to light. The public has only begun to encounter the fruits of reformulation and they are not impressed.

State control of recipes is what you get when the ‘public health’ lobby is given free rein. In the next few years, it will become clear that ‘reformulate’ is a euphemism for degrade and destroy. By the time this farce has played itself out, the British public will be ready to reformulate Public Health England.


Mormon church warning: Beware of those fancy coffee drinks

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a warning to members that coffee is prohibited no matter how fancy the name, that vaping is banned despite the alluring flavors, and that marijuana is outlawed unless prescribed by ‘‘competent’’ doctors.

The new guidance in the August issue of a church youth magazine does not include fundamental changes to the religion’s strict health code, but the clarifications are significant and seem to reflect growing concern about young Latter-day Saints’ adherence to the rules.

The article says it aims to clear up issues that could be confusing for young people within the religion’s ‘‘Word of Wisdom,’’ a set of rules about what foods and drinks are good for members and what substances they should avoid.

The rules prohibit alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and coffee and tea. They are based on what church members believe was a revelation from God to founder Joseph Smith in 1833. The faith’s rejection of coffee has long generated curiosity and more than a few jokes, including a scene in the biting satirical Broadway musical called ‘‘The Book of Mormon,’’ where dancing cups of coffee appear in missionary’s nightmare.

The new instructions about coffee make clear that there’s no gray area allowing coffee-infused drinks and allude to the wide variety that could tempt members of the faith, widely known as the Mormon church.

‘‘The word coffee isn’t always in the name of coffee drinks. So, before you try what you think is just some new milkshake flavor, here are a couple of rules of thumb: One: If you’re in a coffee shop (or any other shop that’s well known for its coffee), the drink you’re ordering probably has coffee in it, so either never buy drinks at coffee shops or always ask if there’s coffee in it,’’ the article said. ‘‘Two: Drinks with names that include cafe or caffe, mocha, latte, espresso, or anything ending in -ccino usually have coffee in them and are against the Word of Wisdom.’’

As coffee shops have become common in the United States, more young church members feel comfortable going to places like Starbucks and drinking iced coffee, said Patrick Mason, a church member and religious scholar who is the Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. For past generations, just entering coffee shops was considered taboo, he said.

The guidance will dash the hopes of some members who hoped the church would loosen the rules about coffee, he said. Starbucks announced recently that it would open its first stand-alone shop in the heavily Mormon city of Provo near the church-owned Brigham Young University next year. Starbucks does offer some non-coffee drinks, including hot chocolate and lemonade.


Australian conservative politicians who backed homosexual marriage now back religious protections bill

The Liberal Party architects of Australia’s same-sex marriage laws have broadly backed Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination bill.

North Queensland MP Warren Entsch led the push towards the legislation of marriage equality from within the Liberal Party when it returned to power in 2013. WA Senator Dean Smith wrote the bill that was ultimately passed after 7.8 million Australians voted in favour of same-sex unions.

Today’s draft Religious Discrimination Act partly exists to address concerns from religious Australians who feared same-sex marriage could encroach on their beliefs and rights.

Senator Smith and Mr Entsch both said Attorney-General Christian Porter’s decision to avoid enshrining freedom of religion and instead molding his laws in the image of other anti-discrimination was the right move.

“I wholeheartedly support the introduction of a religious discrimination bill,” Senator Smith told The Australian.

“Pursuit of a religious discrimination bill was initially proposed by the Senate Select Committee which examined same sex marriage and has been comprehensively examined and endorsed by the Ruddock Review.

“Substantively the draft bill is a faithful expression of the Government’s response to the Ruddock Review released in December last year.

“The case for a positive rights approach has been poorly made and the Attorney-General is correct to have rejected the idea as inconsistent with Australia’s legal approach and fraught with inherent legal risk.

“Australia’s anti-discrimination architecture has served Australians well and enjoys broad endorsement across the community and it would be careless to dismantle it now.

Mr Entsch told The Australian today he was pleased the Attorney-General had avoided a freedom of religion bill, but he was still to read the full bill and wanted to consult with LGBTI groups.

“This bill is always what was intended. That’s what the Ruddock Review recommended and it couldn’t be anything else, otherwise we’d need a whole other review,” he said.

“I have to say Mr Porter has been good and he’s always kept me up to scratch. There is no reason to think the Attorney has done anything other than his absolute best on this.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has unveiled laws to protect Australians from discrimination on the basis of their religious belief, but the laws do not go as far as many church leaders want.

The Attorney-General’s Religious Discrimination Bill will take the form of similar anti-discrimination laws on gender, age, race and disability, and be brought before parliament in October.

It will not be a broader “religious freedom” act which Mr Porter said today would be too vague and lead to courts ultimately deciding what rights matter more in Australia.

“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability,” Mr Porter said.

“This draft Bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof.

“The Bill would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. The Bill does not create a positive right to freedom of religion.”

The Religious Discrimination Act would create a new Freedom of Religion Commissioner and provide comprehensive protection on religious belief and activity.

“Whilst there will always be competing views on issues such as this, the government considers the draft Bill presented today strikes the right balance in the interests of all Australians,” Mr Porter said.

“Consultation has already been undertaken through my office and the office of the Prime Minister with a range of stakeholder groups, including religious organisations.

“Further consultation with a wide range of stakeholders will now follow the release of the Bill and I look forward to working constructively with interested parties in settling a final Bill over the coming weeks. The first of these consultations will take place next week.

“I expect the Bills can be introduced in October and considered by both the House and Senate before the end of the calendar year, allowing time for a Senate inquiry.”

Some religious leaders boycotted the speech by Mr Porter at Sydney’s Great Synagogue because of his inclination against a broader act enshrining freedom of religion.

Mr Porter today said he was always opposed to such a broad law and this religious discrimination bill would provide courts with a better structure by which to weigh up religious issues.

He also said that some religious leaders did not understand the fallout any religious freedoms bill could entail.

“Aside from not being what was recommended from the extensive consultative analysis of the Ruddock Review, or indeed what was taken and promised at a full federal election, there are several obvious problems with the positive rights approach,” he said in Sydney.

“At several points of the consultations, I might respectively say, on this issue it appeared people had not thought through the positive rights approach — including those in church groups who were calling for it.

“I have always found vague and unconvincing ... a list of rights and leaving the courts to determine the outcomes.”



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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