The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted the Thomas More Law Center’s petition [last week] for en banc (full court) review of a three-judge panel opinion, which upheld a San Francisco City Board resolution virulently condemning the Catholic Church for its moral teachings on homosexuality.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian legal advocacy group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, promptly filed a petition for en banc review. Click here to read Law Center petition. In its order granting the petition, the Ninth Circuit vacated the prior ruling, stating, “The three-judge panel opinion shall not be cited as precedent by or to any court in the Ninth Circuit.” Click here to read the order. The case will now be reargued to the full court, which will consist of all judges eligible to hear the case (approximately 11 judges).
The anti-Catholic resolution, adopted March 21, 2006, was challenged by the Law Center on behalf of the Catholic League and two Catholic residents of San Francisco. The Board’s resolution refers to the Vatican as a “foreign country” meddling in the affairs of the City and proclaims the Church’s moral teaching and beliefs on homosexuality as “insulting to all San Franciscans, ” “hateful, ” “insulting and callous, ” “defamatory, ” “absolutely unacceptable, ” “insensitive and ignoran.” Click here to read the City’s resolution.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, commented, “In total disregard for our Constitution, homosexual activists in positions of power in San Francisco abused their authority as government officials to attack the Catholic Church. Our constitution plainly forbids government hostility toward religion, including the Catholic faith. And we are fully committed to fighting homosexual activists who seek to promote their personal political agenda at the expense of our constitutional freedoms.”
The Law Center’s lawsuit claimed the City’s anti-Catholic resolution violated the First Amendment, which “forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs, or of religion in general.” The Board’s resolution went so far as to urge the Archbishop of San Francisco and Catholic Charities of San Francisco to defy Church directives. Click here to read the Law Center’s complaint filed on behalf of the Catholic League against the City.
The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel did have an interesting concurrence from Judge Berzon. Click here to read the three-judge opinion. In Judge Berzon’s concurring opinion, she states in part, “All of that said, I do find the result troublesome, and find much to agree with in Judge Noonan’s eloquent dissent in American Family. . . In particular, I am acutely aware that ‘the Constitution assures religious believers that units of government will not take positions that amount to the establishment of a policy condemning their religious belief, ’ . . . and that resolutions such as the ones in American Family and the one in this case are near – if not at – the line that separates establishment of such a policy.”
Robert Muise, the Law Center attorney who is handling the case, stated, “This is a significant case on many fronts. Should the full court ultimately render a decision in our favor, this case will establish much needed precedent for claims alleging government hostility toward religion. If the full court allows this government attack on Catholics to stand, it will likely further embolden anti-Christian attacks by government. However, the fact that a majority of judges vacated the unanimous ruling and agreed to rehear the case en banc is a very good sign.”
According to Catholic doctrine, allowing children to be adopted by homosexuals would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. Such policies are gravely immoral and Catholic organizations must not place children for adoption in homosexual households.
The Law Center argued that the “anti-Catholic resolution sends a clear message to Plaintiffs and others who are faithful adherents to the Catholic faith that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message that those who oppose Catholic religious beliefs, particularly with regard to homosexual unions and adoptions by homosexual partners, are insiders, favored members of the political community.”