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Liberty for some … but not all


WORLD Radio - Liberty for some … but not all

Religious liberty cases about conscientious objection to race-based mentoring, sexually explicit books in school libraries, and septic tanks

A stack of books that parents in Florida have complained are inappropriate for children to access in school libraries. Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer, File

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It:

New fronts in the fight to preserve religious liberty and free speech.

WORLD legal reporter Steve West joins us now to talk about three cases related to first amendment rights in the public square.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Steve, good morning.

STEVE WEST, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: Well, let’s start with the case of Courtney Rogers. She was a human resources recruiter at Compass Group…a global food services company with over 400,000 employees. Her job was to focus on the upward mobility of employees inside the company. But then last year, the company launched a race-based diversity initiative. That didn’t sit well with Rogers, and so she went to her superiors. Steve, what was wrong and how did her boss respond?

WEST: Well, initially, she was assured that there wouldn't be any blowback if she came forward with her concerns. And so she just laid it out. White males were specifically excluded from a mentorship and training program meant to help employees advance their careers. So she told him, her supervisor, that this was illegal, unethical, and violated her religious beliefs, and so she could not work on the program. And once she shared her concerns, her supervisor pretty much assured her that while he disagreed with her, she wouldn't have to work on the program.

REICHARD: As I understand it, though, that didn't last, right?

WEST: Right. In less than a month, he was back this time to tell her there would be no accommodation even though she had arranged for a coworker to swap duties with her. His last words were take the weekend and decide what she wants to do, implying that she either needed to get on board, resign, or be fired. So she stuck to her guns. They fired her. She sued. And she seems to have a good case. But it's only just begun. The company has not yet responded to the complaint. So this is one we'll have to continue to watch.

REICHARD: Yeah, definitely. Well, from work to school. When COVID forced kids to learn from home, parents saw up close the disturbing resources many schools provided to them. Groups of concerned parents like Moms for Liberty have been advocating for schools to remove those explicit materials, or at least set some age limits. In states like Florida, they're even seeing some success in getting laws passed. But some of those efforts have run into legal challenges. Steve, tell us about those challenges.

WEST: Well, states are responding to parents concerns about very graphic sexually explicit books—books no one listening to this program would want their kids to have access to. Opponents like the American Library Association or PEN America trumpet free speech and call these laws book bans. They're hardly that. School boards and government officials are defining what is age appropriate to be in school libraries and limiting access to certain books. The books are available everywhere else. The latest challenge, for example, is to a Texas law that requires book vendors to assign ratings to books based on the presence of or depictions or references to sex. Books with a sexually explicit rating will be removed from bookshelves, books with a sexually relevant rating can be checked out by students with parental permission. That doesn't sound like a book ban.

REICHARD: So, how have these attempts fared in the courts?

WEST: That's still to be determined. In 2022, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over a Missouri county school board’s removal of books from a school library and a federal judge sidestepped that one saying that that was really a matter for school boards. Challenges are ongoing in Florida and Arkansas. But I think this indicates the importance of parents being involved, showing up at school boards, being aware of what's in the school library and what your child is reading. And while some laws may need some tailoring, there should be a legal way to get at this.

REICHARD: Well, to wrap this up, we do have a win to report for the Amish. And as you know, the Amish are a religious group that live by strict guidelines that limit their use of modern technology like cars, phones…and some aspects of indoor plumbing. Steve, tell us about this case, and why it matters for the rest of us.

WEST: For many people, the Amish community’s low-tech lifestyle seems a bit peculiar. And yet for Minnesota’s Schwartzentruber branch of the Amish, not using septic tank systems to treat greywater—non-toilet household waste—is an article of faith. But that’s what got them into hot water with county officials who were seeking to enforce septic tank regulations. The Amish wanted to treat their waste through mulch ponds, but the county rejected that idea. So, a lawsuit followed. Initially, the Amish community lost, but last month a state appeals court ruled in its favor, finding that the state did not have a compelling enough reason to overcome their religious liberty interest.

REICHARD: Well, Steve, are there any lessons that we can learn from these three cases we've discussed?

WEST: Oh, sure. One is the importance of defending religious liberty and free speech. You know, 28-year-old Courtney Rogers has the courage to stand up to a global corporation peddling a racist program, and parents who have jobs and homes to take care of her going to school board meetings to voice concerns. And an Amish community that would like to mind its own business is fighting a court battle because their religious beliefs matter. You know, it all reminds me, just to echo Francis Schaeffer, that there are no little people and no little places. And I'd add, no little stories.

REICHARD: No little stories. Steve West is a legal reporter for WORLD. You can keep up with stories like these in his weekly Liberties newsletter. We’ve included a link in today’s show notes:

Thank you so much Steve!

WEST: Thank you, Mary.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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