Los Angeles Times on there being no ‘gay wedding cake’ exception to anti-discrimination laws
With support from the Trump Justice Department, a Colorado baker who describes himself as a “cake artist” is arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that he should be allowed to refuse to supply a wedding cake to a gay couple, despite a state law prohibiting discrimination by businesses on the basis of sexual orientation. He argues that his religious objection to gay marriage entitles him to protection under the 1st Amendment.
Jack Phillips may be utterly sincere in his opposition to same-sex marriage. But a ruling permitting him to opt out of such an important anti-discrimination law on the grounds of free speech or freedom of religion would undermine the enforcement of laws against all sorts of discrimination in restaurants, hotels and other so-called public accommodations.
Phillips, his lawyers and the Justice Department emphasized in their arguments that it was a “custom” cake Phillips refused to bake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins when they came into his shop in 2012.
Creating such an artistic cake, Phillips’ lawyers say, is a form of speech; it is “not just baking batter and applying icing from a tub.” If he were compelled to provide the cake, Colorado would be in effect compelling him to use the “expressive” art form of cake-baking to express a message he didn’t agree with. (According to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled against Phillips, the couple left after Phillips conveyed this information “without discussing with Phillips any details of their wedding cake.”)
In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty suggests that requiring Phillips to sell a custom cake for use in a same-sex celebration coerces him “to personally support a marriage ceremony against his religious convictions.” But the “support” argument could be used to exempt a baker from anti-discrimination laws even if he sold a generic cake consumed at a same-sex wedding celebration.
Either way, the compelled-speech argument is unconvincing.
It’s true that the 1st Amendment protects not only the right to express one’s own views but also a right not to be compelled to convey someone else’s. But when does serving a customer, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, become “compelled speech”?
No one would argue that a worker at a photocopy shop is endorsing the sentiments contained in documents that he duplicates. Likewise, a limousine driver conveying a newly married couple from the church to the reception hall wouldn’t be thought to be endorsing the union.
A few years ago a wedding photographer unsuccessfully made an argument similar to the baker’s, saying she shouldn’t be required to shoot pictures at a gay marriage. At the time, we expressed the view that the practitioners of a small number of “expressive” professions - political speechwriting for example - might well have a right to refuse to craft a message they considered offensive because the product was as much their expression as that of their client. We do not believe that bakers of wedding cakes, however artistic, fall into that category.
The Justice Department suggests that providing Phillips with an exemption from anti-discrimination laws wouldn’t be a problem because, unlike the art of cake-baking, most commercial transactions wouldn’t satisfy the requirement that “the product or service be inherently communicative.”
But if a baker qualifies for such an exemption, we can imagine several occupations that might also assert such a claim. The court is now considering whether to hear a similar case brought by a florist who didn’t want to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding. Calligraphers who design wedding invitations could also claim to be artists entitled to be free of “compelled speech.” Or chefs who do the catering.
A decision equating the provision of regular commercial services such as baking with “compelled speech” could undermine protections against discrimination in circumstances far removed from wedding cakes. The court shouldn’t venture into that unknown territory.
San Diego Union-Tribune on San Diego residents being a threat to smart STEM school in Los Angeles
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has repeatedly called for a bigger emphasis on science and technology in public education as part of an ambitious all-around academic agenda. That’s why we’ve long admired great local examples of such schools, starting with The Preuss School UCSD and the various branches of High Tech High.
So it sounded like a great idea when two San Fernando Valley Democrats - Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and state Sen. Anthony Portantino - introduced a bill to build a pioneering state-run STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) middle and high school in downtown Los Angeles. The idea is even more appealing because it called for educating talented minority students from poor communities without the same opportunities enjoyed by students in wealthier areas. The cherry on top was that deep-pocketed Angelenos with a desire to make the California tech world more diverse are behind this concept - that could be a model elsewhere - and are eager to provide supplemental funding.
But while Assembly Bill 1217 won a crucial Senate committee endorsement last week, it may not survive the now-unfolding final days of the legislative session - and San Diegans could be part of the reason why.
The major blame would of course fall with the state’s education establishment - which includes the California Teachers Association, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and associations representing California school boards and school administrators, all of whom argue a state-run school would unfairly sidestep “local control” policies. But some blame would also lie with the San Diego Unified School District, the only large district in California to formally oppose the bill. District spokesman Andrew Sharp said that’s because San Diego Unified’s leadership remains committed to education policy shaped at the local level. He also noted that the language of the bill would allow for establishing such a unique school in San Diego County when it tops 3.5 million in population in coming years.
In a state as big as California, what would be wrong with education experimentation driven by ideas from many sources? In a city as rich in the sciences as San Diego, what would be wrong with having another superlative science-oriented public school devoted to helping underrepresented minorities?
Which brings us to the final San Diego connection. If the L.A. STEM school measure manages to reach the Assembly, onlookers think two local Democrats - Shirley Weber and Todd Gloria - may determine whether the proposal passes the seven-member Assembly Education Committee.
Unfortunately, a Gloria spokesman said he does not currently support the bill because it doesn’t seem necessary; he said there are processes in place to establish STEM schools and that 142 STEM schools or STEAM schools, which focus on the arts, are already authorized in L.A. County.
We hope that in deciding how to vote, Weber and Gloria consider the kids for whom they could provide a path to a better life - not the special interests who have spent decades resisting reformers’ efforts to improve California education. Lawmakers should give a bold education plan a chance in a state school system that could benefit from boldness.
San Francisco Chronicle on a more workable sanctuary state law serving California better
From street protests to court suits, California is leading the resistance to the Trump administration’s harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants. But this fight carries the risk of going too far in shunning federal law in the name of protecting those fearful of deportation.
No example better fits this predicament than a statewide sanctuary law designed to shield immigrants with minor arrests or convictions from being turned over to federal border authorities. But public safety and basic fairness need to be considered. Serious or repeat offenders don’t deserve the sanctuary shield.
That was the challenge that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Senate’s top leader, Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat, faced in tweaking SB54. As written by de León, the bill was offered as a comprehensive way to mold all this state’s local sanctuary rules into a statewide package.
But it went too far, certainly for a governor who heard from law enforcement agencies caught between their duties and pressure to cooperate with federal border agents.
Now the two leaders have cut a deal that both deepens the state’s commitment to immigrants and balances public safety. The measure adds some 800 crimes, many of them serious and violent, that won’t be given the hands-off sanctuary status. At the same time, sheriffs and police won’t ask suspects about their legal status nor keep an inmate once a state criminal case finishes.
Public safety is served when all immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crime are not afraid to cooperate with authorities. The revised SB54 is a workable rebuke to Washington’s heavy handed and sweeping crackdown on immigrants.
The Sacramento Bee on if legislators are penalizing Tesla for operating in California
California’s last big auto manufacturer, a General Motors-Toyota joint venture, closed its Fremont factory in 2010. This year, Toyota is vacating its North American headquarters in suburban Los Angeles as it decamps to Texas.
Yet in the final week of this legislative session, lawmakers inserted language that takes aim at Tesla Motors, the upstart that builds its electric vehicles in the Fremont factory that Toyota and GM abandoned.
As legislative language goes, it’s mild. But it suggests that an automaker that runs afoul of the fine print could lose out on $140 million in rebates issued to consumers who want to help fight climate change by purchasing zero-emission vehicles.
The amendment directs the Air Resources Board to work with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to “develop procedures for certifying” that companies that make autos that qualify for rebates are “fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers.”
Further, the Legislature’s “intent” is that the state labor secretary will “certify (auto) manufacturers as fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers” before companies’ vehicles qualify for the rebate program.
Legislators are within their rights to tie rebates to state-only standards. But the language, part of broader legislation, Assembly Bill 134, to divvy up $1.5 billion in cap-and-trade revenue, emerged in the final week of the legislative session, rarely a good sign. Why not include it in separate legislation, subject to full legislative review?
Although the bill is aimed at Tesla, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Ford, GM, Toyota, Fiat and others, opposes the language. The Global Automakers, which represents Nissan, called the amendment “counterproductive to building a sustainable market for zero emission vehicles.”
Counterproductive or not, Gov. Jerry Brown, the internationally recognized champion of the fight against climate change, blessed the deal, The Sacramento Bee’s Jim Miller reported.
We support treating workers fairly and responsibly. We believe Tesla probably would gain market share if it attained labor peace. But what exactly constitutes “fair and responsible” treatment? Why limit the standard to car makers? Why not include manufacturers of zero-emission buses, and bio-digesters, and any company that receives cap-and-trade revenue?
And why should lawmakers step into the middle of a labor dispute with Tesla?
If the language becomes law, California would need to enforce it equally, whether zero-emission vehicles are made in Fremont, or Michigan, or right-to-work states, or foreign countries. How state regulators here would enforce workplace standards in far-flung plants remains to be seen.
As is their right, Tesla and its founder Elon Musk are fighting the United Autoworkers’ organizing effort. The National Labor Relations Board detailed Tesla’s rough tactics in a complaint two weeks ago.
Most definitely, Musk rubs some officials here wrong. His company benefited mightily from California subsidies and from consumers’ green attitudes, but Musk located his battery factory in Nevada three years ago.
Nonetheless, Tesla employs 10,000 Californians in Fremont, unlike Toyota, GM, Ford, Nissan and all the others without factories here. It’s as if lawmakers are penalizing Tesla for operating in this state. They wouldn’t do that. Would they?
Ventura County Star on victim center being a top priority
When it comes to domestic violence and child, elder, sexual and other types of abuse, Ventura County faces some daunting statistics. The county in 2014 had the highest rate of domestic violence reports of any county in California with a population higher than 650,000 - more than twice the state average, according to Kidsdata.org. A county Human Services Agency report says we had 5,500 cases of alleged child abuse, 3,900 elder abuse cases and 200 alleged sexual assaults in 2015-16.
Nationwide, 27 percent of women and 12 percent of men experience some type of domestic violence, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Local and national polls show 30 percent of young people have suffered abuse in a dating relationship.
The magnitude of these problems obviously demands some new approaches by our law enforcement, judicial and social service systems, and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has answered the call. The office is moving forward, albeit slowly, on garnering community input and support for a Ventura County Family Justice Center. We believe our county desperately needs such a facility and encourage all those involved to make this a top priority if they have not already.
The proposed “one-stop” center is based on a national model where victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, child abuse or human trafficking can receive legal, medical and other services under one roof. The staff at such centers may include rape crisis and domestic violence counselors, law enforcement, prosecutors and civil attorneys, social workers, and medical and mental health professionals, according to the Family Justice Center Alliance and the Alliance for HOPE International.
These advocates say the centers have led to better victim safety and fewer homicides, less fear and anxiety for victims and their children, improved efficiency for service providers, and increased prosecution of offenders, among other benefits. The U.S. Department of Justice has praised the Family Justice Center model, and there are now 18 such centers in California and more than 100 around the world. The first one opened 15 years ago in San Diego.
The District Attorney’s Office held a strategic planning session two weeks ago in Ventura with 130 community leaders and service providers, and now a study is being conducted that will take an additional three or four months. Potential sites, costs and other details of a Ventura County center remain undetermined.
Excuse our impatience, but officials here have been contemplating a Family Justice Center since at least 2007, according to our newspaper archives. This is a proven model that works and seems to have widespread support among various agencies. We believe it’s time to pick up the pace and provide this important facility for victims sooner rather than later.
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