Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ADF continues the factually dishonest Vander Boon narrative

Donald Vander Boon
Wednesday, Alliance Defending Freedom is again pushing a factually discredited story of Christian victimization at the hands of the USDA. ADF blogger Sarah Kramer writes: “What’s the Beef? Family Meatpacking Business Threatened with Closure for Religious Beliefs.” That is untrue and Kramer makes matters worse with her explanation of alleged events:
Enter Don and Ellen Vander Boon, who own West Michigan Beef Company. As Christians, they try to live out their faith in every aspect of their lives. It’s no secret. Even their website states: “Above all, West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do.”

In 2015, Don noticed that there were several articles and op-eds set out on a breakroom table celebrating the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. Since there was only one perspective represented, Don set out an article that discussed his Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Apparently, the government sees no place for that particular viewpoint.

Two USDA officials confronted Don about the article, and they gave him an ultimatum: remove the article from the breakroom, or the USDA officials will be removed from the premises. (Meatpacking businesses cannot legally operate without an onsite USDA inspector.)

What really happened:

The only part of that narrative that appears to be true is that the USDA did an inspection of Vander Boon's facility in the summer of 2015. Furthermore, the USDA has notified Vander Boon of an intended enforcement action having nothing to do with gay marriage. According to the USDA on August 15, 2015 at 1:10PM the supervisory public health veterinarian witnessed a Vander Boon employee euthanize a downed dairy heifer inhumanely and not in accordance with USDA regulations. The intended enforcement letter goes on to state:
… the occurrence of this inhumane handling incident constitutes an egregious violation of the humane handling requirements specified within the provisions of 21 U.S.C. 603 , Section 3 (b) of the FMIA, and 7 U.S.C. 1901 and 1902 ofthe HMSA of 1978.
The USDA goes on to explain that, rather than suspend the operation, they were giving Vander Boon an opportunity to submit a remediation plan. The intended enforcement was conveyed to Vander Boon verbally an hour after the incident by a deputy district manager, Dr. Tamara Davis. The letter, by the way, is dated a year later. The USDA moves very slowly. For example, in 2012 Vander Boon entered into a consent decree for a 2009 incident.

If you read the USDA letter (signed by another veterinarian) in its entirety it is abundantly clear that the Department places a high regard on due process. This flies in the face of the alleged “ultimatum” over same-sex marriage. I doubt that USDA field managers could withdraw their inspector without an immediate threat to public safety being present.

Apparently Vander Boon and the USDA have not finalized this matter. I am basing that on the fact that there is no additional official correspondence. Routine correspondence would require a FOIA request; something that I am considering have submitted. The alleged incident over the same-sex marriage materials has not generated any official notifications and there is no mention of the alleged incident in the intended enforcement notification.

In 2012 Vander Boon was seemingly on a very tight budget. A $3,750 fine was split into four payments. It would appear that Vander Boon is trying to claim that the real problem was not animal cruelty but that the inspectors were offended by materials opposing same-sex marriage. Call me a cynic but now Vander Boon has a free lawyer who might contest that the inhumane treatment of an animal ever happened.

The title of ADF's piece claims that Vander Boon has been threatened with closure. There is no official correspondence that I can find which confirms any enforcement action of that nature for same-sex marriage materials; or anything else for that matter. ADF, in turn, fails to mention the actual pre-enforcement action from what is presumably the same inspection. Do ADF's lawyers even know? Do they make any effort to vet a story that they like?

A byproduct of Vander Boon's business is bovine excrement. I would argue that he has re-purposed some of this material and provided some to ADF as well.

I think that this is an important issue. The religious right is using this as a pretext to appeal to Trump for an executive order that would diminish our rights.

Note: The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Alliance Defending Freedom as an anti-LGBT hate group.

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