Trump judge orders lawyers to take ‘religious-liberty training’ from Christian ‘hate group’

A federal judge has ordered lawyers for Southwest Airlines to take “religious-liberty training” from a right-wing Christian legal group.

District judge Brantley Starr issued an order on Monday (7 August) that directs three senior Southwest lawyers to take eight hours of “religious-liberty training” as part of court-ordered sanctions in an employment law case.

The Texas judge described the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as “an esteemed non-profit organisation… dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom”. 

ADF refutes the hate group label and has accused SPLC of “propaganda”.

Reporting for the newsletter Law Dork, journalist Chris Geidner, the former legal editor at Buzzfeed News, said the case came about after a flight attendant was fired in 2017 for reportedly sending anti-abortion messages to her union’s former president. She argued that Southwest discriminated against her religious beliefs.

Last year, Starr – a Donald Trump nominee who joined the bench in 2019 – ruled that she be reinstated. He also ordered Southwest to issue a statement to its employees, explaining that the company “may not” discriminate based on religious beliefs.

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However, the statement from the airline used the words “does not” discriminate.

Based on the change in language, Starr found the airline in contempt and, in a seething report, ruled that additional sanctions, including “religious-liberty training”, must be undertaken.

ADL has become well-known in recent years for opposing LGBTQ+ rights, becoming involved in high-profile legal cases and drafting legislation. As well as supporting the legal effort to overturn the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe v Wade in 2022, the organisation represented a Christian wedding-website designer from Colorado, who was given the right by the Supreme Court to discriminate against queer couples.

It has helped draft trans sports bans and argued that sodomy should be illegal.

While the ADF was chosen to deliver the “training”, it is not directly involved in the case.

Jim Campbell, the organisation’s chief legal counsel, told The Independent: “ADF is pleased that the judge and jury protected the religious speech of the employee in this case. We are happy to help Southwest achieve that goal by providing training on Title VII and other applicable laws barring religious discrimination.”

Southwest Airlines said in a statement to PinkNews: “We plan to appeal the recent court order and are in the process of appealing the underlying judgment to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”