A federal judge in Texas has ordered three lawyers for Southwest Airlines to undergo religious-liberty training by a conservative Christian group as a sanction for violating his order in a religious discrimination case. The judge, Brantley Starr, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, said the airline did not comply with his ruling that required it to inform its employees of their rights to express their religious beliefs, including those concerning abortion.
The case involved a flight attendant, Charlene Carter, who sued Southwest Airlines for wrongful termination after she was fired for criticizing the trade union president for attending the 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC. Carter, who is opposed to abortion, claimed that the airline violated her right to religious free speech. A jury in Dallas agreed with her and awarded her $5.1 million in damages and reinstated her job.
Judge orders training by Alliance Defending Freedom
In his order issued on Monday, Judge Starr said that Southwest Airlines “didn’t come close to complying” with his previous order that required the airline to send a statement to its flight attendants saying that it “may not discriminate against… flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs, including – but not limited to – those expressed on social media and those concerning abortion”. He said the airline’s statement was vague and misleading and did not reflect the federal law that protects religious freedom.
As a punishment, he ordered three of the airline’s lawyers to attend a religious-liberty training course by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that has been involved in several high-profile cases opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights. The judge said that ADF “is particularly well-suited” to provide the training because of its expertise in religious liberty law.
The judge’s decision to choose ADF as the trainer has sparked controversy and criticism from some legal experts and civil rights groups, who have accused the group of being an anti-LGBTQ hate group and promoting a narrow and discriminatory view of religious freedom. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has listed ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group since 2016.
Southwest Airlines appeals the order
Southwest Airlines has appealed the judge’s order, saying that it disagrees with his findings and sanctions. The airline said that it respects the religious beliefs of its employees and does not discriminate against them based on their views. The airline also said that it is appealing the jury verdict in favor of Carter, arguing that she was fired for harassing the union president and posting offensive messages on Facebook, not for expressing her religious opinions.
The case is one of the latest examples of the clash between religious liberty and other rights in the US, especially in the context of employment discrimination. The Supreme Court has recently ruled in favor of religious employers or individuals in several cases involving health care, education, and public accommodations. However, some lower courts have also sided with employees or customers who claimed that their religious rights were violated by their employers or service providers.