1st Amendment battles involve both young and old

1st Amendment battles involve both young and old

1st Amendment battles involve both young and old

A former fire chief in California and a middle-schooler in Massachusetts have something in common: they're both fighting for First Amendment freedoms.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the City of Stockton, California in firing its former fire chief, Ron Hittle. He claims he was wrongfully terminated in late 2011 for attending a leadership conference the previous year hosted at a church. Although the city had requested Hittle attend a leadership training course of his choice, it later opened an investigation after he attended Willow Creek Church's Global Leadership Summit.

Chief Hittle sued, but in March 2022 a district court sided with the city.

First Liberty Institute is representing Hittle, a 24-year veteran of the fire department. The legal group describes the leadership summit as a "world-class conference with speakers from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds, including Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg."

Taub, Stephanie (First Liberty) Taub

Stephanie Taub, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, has described the city's actions as "clear evidence of religious intolerance and discrimination" – adding: "The religious association was too much for the city, and they illegally fired their fire chief."

In a statement to AFN, David Hacker – vice president of litigation at First Liberty – says it is a "tragic day for religious liberty in America when someone can be fired merely because they attend an event hosted within a religious institution's building."

According to First Liberty, the city listed Hittle's attendance at a "religious event" while on duty as the primary reason for his termination. According to Hacker, the city broke the law when it fired Hittle "due to clear religious bias."

First Liberty plans to seek further review of the Ninth Circuit's decision – and says it will take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Bigger than a 'dress code' issue

Meanwhile, a young Massachusetts boy is appealing his case to protect his freedom to wear a certain t-shirt to school.

Liam Morrison of Middleborough, Massachusetts wanted to wear a t-shirt to Nichols Middle School that says "There are only two genders." After being told he could not wear a t-shirt with such a message, he later arrived at school with a t-shirt saying "There are [censored] genders." (See earlier story)

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys are requesting that the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals prevent the school from prohibiting Morrison from wearing his shirts to school.

Spena, Logan (ADF attorney) Spena

"The school itself has 'Pride' flags in the hallways, it has posters supporting transgender identification, and it encourages students to wear gear to celebrate 'Pride' and things like that," ADF attorney Logan Spena told AFN in June when the case was before a lower court.

"You can clearly wear a shirt that says there are infinite genders or the like," the attorney continues. "So, that's what's going on here: the school is promoting that kind of expression from the students, but prohibiting Liam from speaking on the exact same topic [and] offering a different perspective."

The parties in the lawsuit agreed that further proceedings at the lower court were unnecessary in view of the disputed legal issues, so they mutually decided to ask the court to convert its previous ruling into a final judgment so that they could present the legal issue to the court of appeals.