Judge rejects NRA bid to dismiss or move lawsuit by New York attorney general

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York state judge on Thursday rejected the National Rifle Association’s bid to dismiss or move a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James seeking to dissolve the gun rights group.

Justice Joel Cohen of Manhattan Supreme Court ruled six days after the NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect itself from lawsuits, and said it would reincorporate in the more gun-friendly Texas after 150 years in New York.

James had sued the NRA, Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre and others last August.

She accused the group of violating state laws governing nonprofits by diverting millions of dollars to fund luxurious trips for its officials, no-show contracts for associates, and other suspect expenses.

The NRA argued that if the case continued it belonged in the state capital of Albany, where it had its only New York office, and perhaps in federal court, where it has filed a countersuit accusing James of violating its members’ First Amendment rights.

“This is a case of historic constitutional importance,” the group’s lawyer Sarah Rogers argued.

The judge said accepting the NRA arguments would be “elevating form over substance,” and that it was a “big lift” to tell James she could not sue in state court.

“It would be inappropriate in these circumstances to find that the attorney general cannot pursue her claims in state court just because one of the defendants would prefer to proceed in federal court,” Cohen said.

The NRA has said it was “dumping” New York to escape its “toxic political environment.”

It accused James, a Democrat, of suing for political gain and because she dislikes what the group stands for.

Bankruptcy filings normally halt existing litigation, but the attorney general believes her lawsuit deserves an exemption because she is enforcing her “police and regulatory power.”

James Sheehan, a lawyer for James, told the judge a trial could occur early next year.

The case is New York v. National Rifle Association et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 451625-2020.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. appeals court blocks NY governor’s limits on religious gatherings

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The federal appeals court in Manhattan on Monday blocked New York state restrictions on the size of religious gatherings put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America and two synagogues in enjoining New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Oct. 6 attendance caps at “houses of worship.”

The governor limited attendance to the lesser of 10 people or 25% capacity in “red” zones where the coronavirus risk was highest, and 25 people or 33% capacity in slightly less risky “orange” zones, even in buildings that seat hundreds.

Circuit Judge Michael Park said the plaintiffs established irreparable harm by showing the restrictions impaired their free exercise of religion.

He also said “no public interest is served by maintaining an unconstitutional policy when constitutional alternatives are available to achieve the same goal.”

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Monday’s decision followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Nov. 25 against enforcing the caps.

The majority, comprising most of the court’s conservative wing, said the restrictions “strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” and that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

Cuomo has said that ruling had no practical effect because some restrictions were lifted as COVID-19 flare-ups eased.

The appeals court returned Agudath Israel’s case to a Brooklyn federal judge to decide, under a “strict scrutiny” standard, whether the 25% and 33% limits were constitutional.

Avi Schick, a lawyer for Agudath Israel, said Monday’s decision “will be felt way beyond the COVID context. It is a clear statement … that government can’t disfavor religious conduct merely because it sees no value in religious practice.”

Randy Mastro, the diocese’s lawyer, said the diocese was “gratified,” and will welcome parishioners to mass “under strict protocols” that keep them safe.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Judge exempts journalists, legal observers from Portland protest dispersal orders

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday against federal officers, exempting journalists and legal observers from orders to disperse after the officers declare riots at Portland protests.

The 61-page order prohibited federal officers from seizing any “photographic equipment, audio- or video recording equipment, or press passes” from reporters and legal observers.

A lawyer from the U.S. Justice Department had argued that the press does not hold any special right when police declare an unlawful assembly or riot and order crowds to break up.

“If military and law enforcement personnel can engage around the world without attacking journalists, the federal defendants can respect plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights in Portland,” U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said in the order filed in the United States District Court for Oregon.

Protests against racism and police brutality have swept the United States since the death on May 25 of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The protests, including those in Portland, have occasionally erupted in arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting its federal courthouse.

Portland Police had declared a riot for a second successive night on Wednesday and said they had fired crowd control munitions and tear gas to break up a gathering of about 200 people who threw rocks, lit fires and vandalized a U.S. immigration agency building.

Thursday’s order came in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, which called it “a crucial victory” for civil liberties and press freedom.

Separately on Thursday, Portland Police issued a timeline of protests, showcasing they had declared riots 17 times between May 29 and Aug. 19.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

NRA sues Los Angeles over law requiring that contractors reveal ties to gun group

An attendee speaks to representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association sued Los Angeles on Wednesday over a new law requiring that contractors seeking to do business in the second most-populous U.S. city must disclose their ties to the gun rights group.

The NRA said the law violates its First Amendment free speech and association rights and its equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, according to its complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.

Mayor Eric Garcetti was also named as a defendant.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and Garcetti’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit challenges an ordinance passed on Feb. 12 by the Los Angeles City Council that requires companies that want city contracts to disclose NRA contracts or sponsorships.

That ordinance was passed in the wake of a series of recent mass shootings in the United States.

The NRA said Los Angeles adopted the ordinance “intending to silence NRA’s voice, as well as the voices of all those who dare oppose the city’s broad gun-control agenda.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Woman pepper-sprayed at UC Berkeley protest sues university, police

A worker surveys the damage to a vandalized Starbucks after a student protest turned violent at UC Berkeley during a demonstration over right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced to cancel his talk, in Berkeley, California.

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A woman who says she was pepper-sprayed by protesters demonstrating against a planned appearance by a right-wing speaker in February has sued the University of California at Berkeley for infringing on her First Amendment free speech rights.

Kiara Robles of Oakland, California is suing 18 individuals and organizations including officials at the University of California, UC Berkeley’s police department, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, the Berkeley Police Department, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi and investor George Soros.

“Robles was attacked with extremely painful pepper spray and bear mace by masked assailants amongst the protesters because she chose to exercise her right to freedom of speech and show support for the planned speaker, Milo Yiannopoulous,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Larry Klayman, a conservative activist and one of Robles’ attorneys.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the University of California at Berkeley, defended the actions of campus administrators and police, and said the university would vigorously fight the suit.

A spokesman for the Berkeley mayor’s office, Stefan Elgstrand, said the office has no comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Robles went to UC Berkeley to hear Yiannopoulous’ speech. But violence erupted after more than 1,500 protesters gathered on the campus, forcing the former Breitbart News editor to cancel his appearance at the liberal-leaning institution.

According to the lawsuit, the University of California, Berkeley unconstitutionally limited the First Amendment rights of its students and invitees at the event “who do not subscribe to the radical, left-wing philosophies sanctioned by defendants.”

Representative for the University of California’s office of the president and the city of Berkeley Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A statement from Pelosi was not immediately available, according to a spokeswoman from her office, Caroline Behringer.

George Soros could not immediately be reached.

Robles is demanding a trial by jury and is seeking more than $20,000,000 in damages and other relief, the lawsuit said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)

Protesters force UC Berkeley to cancel far-right speaker’s speech

vandalized bankf of america at scene of "protest"

(Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday smashed windows, set fires and clashed with police as they forced a right-wing speaker to cancel his appearance at the liberal-leaning institution.

Two hours before far-right Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at the student union, protesters tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building’s windows and set a light generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed.

Police ordered protesters to disperse as the school put the campus on lockdown. Protesters also tossed bricks and fireworks at police in riot gear who fired rubber pellets back at the crowd, according to SFGate.com, a news outlet in San Francisco.

“We shut down the event. It was great. Mission accomplished,” a protester told CNN.

Some 150 “masked agitators” were responsible for the violence during the otherwise largely peaceful protest of about 1,500 people, the university said in a statement, noting that the school “is proud of its history and legacy as home of the Free Speech Movement” in the 1960s.

President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, previously headed Breitbart News and CNN reported that many of the protesters voiced opposition to the Republican president.

Many of Trump’s executive orders and proposed policies, including his suspension of the U.S. refugee program and temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, have been met by largely peaceful protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people across the United States.

One protester at Berkeley held a sign that said “No Safe Space for Racists” while other protesters danced to hip hop music, footage from a Facebook Live feed showed.

Protesters later marched along streets near the campus where some smashed storefront windows and car windshields while clashing with police, the feed showed.

Yiannopoulos, whose account on Twitter was suspended last year after he was accused of participating in the online harassment of an African-American actress, criticized “the Left”, saying in a statement it was “absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”

He also said on Fox News that he was evacuated by police after protesters began throwing rocks and other objects at the building.

“Obviously it’s a liberal campus so they hate any libertarians or conservatives who dare to express an opinion on their campuses,” he said. “They particularly don’t like me.”

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Sandra Maler and Nick Macfie)

Congressmen Defense Army Chaplain Punished For Offering Guidance

An Army chaplain who was disciplined for offering spiritual guidance now has the support of 24 representatives and senators.

“We are concerned that this disciplinary action violated First Amendment free speech protection that are undergirded by state reflected in the FY2013 and FY2014 NDAAs, along with the accompanying DoD regulations,” states the letter from the senators, sent to Army Secretary John McHugh.

“In fulfilling his duties as chaplain, Captain Lawhorn shared both his personal struggle with depression as well as biblical references and materials in accordance with the views of his endorsing agency and complementary to personal convictions.”

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Lawhorn was given a “letter of concern” from a superior at Fort Benning when he mentioned his Christian faith during a suicide prevention class.

The letter from Col. David Fivecoat said a handout he offered required people to see Christian information.

“You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side,” the letter read.  “This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.”

“Regrettably, military chaplains have been increasingly under fire simply for fulfilling their important and time-honored role in supporting our service members. This is just one more incident that sets a bad precedent, effectively gagging chaplains and keeping service members from getting the support they need,” Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty executive director Ron Crews said.

Court Rules North Carolina Ultrasound Law “Free Speech Violation”

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that struck down North Carolina’s law requiring mothers to obtain an ultrasound prior to killing their child via abortion.

The court agreed with the lower court that the requirement is unconstitutional because it violates the “right to free speech.”

North Carolina lawmakers passed the Women’s Right to Know Act in 2011, which required women to obtain an ultrasound prior to an abortion, and that the abortionist describe the child’s features to the mother, as well as offer the opportunity to listen to the baby’s heartbeat.  The governor at the time, Beverly Purdue vetoed the bill because of her endorsement of abortion.  The legislators overruled the veto.

Mega-abortionist Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Center For Reproductive Rights sued to block the law and it was struck down by Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles as “an impermissible attempt to compel providers to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion.”

“This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind,” the panel wrote in support of Eagles’ ruling. “The First Amendment not only protects against prohibitions of speech, but also against regulations that compel speech. A regulation compelling speech is by its very nature content-based, because it requires the speaker to change the content of his speech or even to say something where he would otherwise be silent.”

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who said he personally opposes the law, said he will appeal because it’s his responsibility to defense state law regardless of his personal beliefs.

Anti-Christian Lawyer Wants Churches Banned From Virginia Schools

A Virginia attorney wants to force public schools to stop renting spaces to churches for worship services.

John Flannery, who served as Chief of Staff for a Democratic representative from California, says that it’s a problem that 34 schools in Loudoun County allow churches to rent space and meet on their premises each Sunday.

“It’s time to declare that religious worship is an impermissible use of our public schools,” the anti-Christian lawyer said. “In Loudoun County, the churches that use public school space are holding ‘church services’ and collecting ‘donations.’ This use advances religious worship, and thus religion. The government is plainly entangled when it’s hosting religious worship not in one or two schools but in 40% of all the county’s public schools.”

School board member Bill Fox notes that Flannery is well known for his desire to eradicate Christians from society.

“Flannery really won’t be satisfied until we’ve completely excised religion from the public sphere,” Fox stated. “Some folks just believe that the First Amendment stands for the proposition that we should free from religion, instead of having freedom of religion. I’ve been an advocate for the First Amendment my entire life, and that’s not the First Amendment [interpretation] that I’ve studied and that I advocate for.”

Navy Chaplain Dismissed For Standing For Jesus Elected To State House

A Navy chaplain discharged for praying in Jesus’ name while he was in uniform is heading to the Colorado State House.

Gordon Klingenschmitt was elected in Colorado’s 15th District with 70% of the vote in a district that is only 43% Republican.

“I owe a great debt to our volunteers and donors, and I am humbled by the voters’ support. As perhaps the only ordained minister elected to our state Republican caucus, I will work hard to represent all people of my district, regardless of political or religious belief. As a Chaplain, veteran, and PhD in Theology, I will defend everybody’s First Amendment rights,” Klingenschmitt said in his victory address.

Klingenschmitt was dismissed after 16 years as a Navy Chaplain for praying in Jesus name in public events and for attending partisan events in his naval uniform.  After being removed from the service, he started the “Pray In Jesus’ Name” project to reaffirm the rights of chaplains and Americans to pray in Jesus’ name in public.

Some liberal media outlets have denounced Klingenschmitt as being a “radical” for saying that American law needs to reflect God’s law and that we should base our lives and decisions on the Bible.