Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Liberty Ridge Farm owners drop appeal of discrimination case

Robert and Cynthia Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm,  an event venue in upstate New York have decided not to appeal a 2013 judgment that fined them $13,000 for discrimination. The Giffords are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

In 2012 the Giffords ran afoul of New York State law when they turned away a same-sex wedding. Their lawyers at ADF tried to portray the Giffords as simple Christian farmers who rent out their home from time-to-time for special events. One look at the Liberty Farm website belies that notion.

In January the New York State Supreme Court affirmed a ruling by the New York State Division of Human Rights that the Giffords violated the state's nondiscrimination law. The state's Supreme Court is not the highest court in New York. That would be the Court of Appeals (a New York oddity). In January I was certain that we were headed there. I was demonstrably wrong.

ADF's defense was based primarily on asserting that the farm is not a public accommodation and that the Giffords had a First Amendment right to turn away the couple. Both contentions are easily rebutted. In fact, there is some sanity in the Scalia legacy in the form of Employment Division v. Smith. In writing the majority decision Scalia said that religious exceptions to otherwise valid laws would make those laws entirely unenforceable.

ADF doesn't seem to mind losing cases if they can generate more donations than their defense costs. In fact they are better fund raisers than lawyers. It is hard to tell if ADF pulled the plug or the Giffords decided that they had enough. The attendant publicity was probably bad for the business of those simple Christian farmers.

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