The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, joined with other religious advocacy groups in filing a friend of the court brief with United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The brief was filed in support of landlords of residential properties in Anchorage, Alaska who choose not to rent apartments to unmarried couples because it is contrary to the landlords’ religious convictions.
The landlords, Kevin Thomas and Gary & Joyce Baker choose not to rent to unmarried couples because they believe to do so is to facilitate the sin of fornication in violation of their religious beliefs. Thus, they filed claims in federal court requesting prospective declaratory and injunctive relief against the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission’s enforcement of Alaska statutes that prohibit a landlord from discriminating upon the basis of marital status. The landlords claim that these statutes infringe upon their rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A federal district court ruled in favor of the landlords relying not only upon the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (struck down by the Supreme Court in June) but on earlier Supreme Court precedents that held that when “hybrid rights” (ie: a case involving more than one constitutional right) are at stake, the state must demonstrate a compelling interest before it may regulate the conduct at issue. The AERC has appealed this ruling.
The brief, submitted by the Union’s IPA, Christian Legal Society, Mormon Church and National Association of Evangelicals asks the Court of Appeals to reaffirm the concept of requiring a compelling governmental interest to restrict hybrid rights and to recognize the rights of landlords to remain faithful to their religious convictions.
IPA director Nathan Diament stated that “this is an important case in the wake of RFRA being struck down because it is the beginning of rebuilding in the courts the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion without governmental interference.”