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The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

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Atheist Group Objects to Class Creation of Cross Memorials as Part of City’s Remembrance of Fallen Veterans

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on December 10, 2017

The nation’s most conspicuous professing atheist organization has expressed objection to the creation of cross memorials at a Georgia high school as part of a city effort to remember fallen soldiers.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter earlier this year to the attorney for Catoosa County Public Schools to assert that the crosses, made at Ringgold High School, were unconstitutional.

“We write to request assurances that, in the future, Mr. Elliott nor any other district employee will include religious messages in student assignments, allow school-sponsored religious activities, or otherwise promote or endorse religion in their official capacities,” it read.

The organization also took issue with another school in the district, as it had learned that Heritage High School’s leadership class had partnered with a Christian missions organization to build a school for the poor in Nicaragua. The district’s director of students services had recommended the group Nicamerican Missions after Principal Ronnie Bradford suggested the class partner with a school in the third world.

FFRF’s correspondence has just now come to light.

“It is laudable for the district to encourage students to become active, charitable, and involved in their community by volunteering and donating, but the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to support a religious organization with a religious mission,” the letter read in part.

“Partnering with any one of the numerous secular charities doing important work throughout the world would serve HHS’s purpose without running the risk of the district sending a message of religious endorsement,” FFRF asserted. According to the Times Free Press, students raised $20,000 last December from area businesses in just two days, and a student-faculty basketball game was also held in February as a fundraiser for the effort.

In regard to the crosses, which were made by construction classes at Ringgold High School for the biannual Festival of Flags event, FFRF requested that the district direct teacher Tim Elliott to discontinue the project with his students.

The crosses, which bear the names of fallen soldiers, are placed in the ground throughout the city for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. American flags fly atop each small memorial.

“Public school teachers may not assign students to create religious symbols,” the letter from the Church-State separation group read. “… This assignment violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and choice committed to the private sphere.’ It also sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and non-religious soldiers.”

Catoosa County Public Schools has just now responded to the controversy, explaining in a recent press release that while the district attorney is researching the matter, officials are supportive of the projects at issue.

“Catoosa County Public Schools supports students’ participating in service activities,” said Superintendent Denia Reese. “The flag holders that the RHS construction class built to support honoring our veterans, and the money that our HHS students raised to build a school for underprivileged children, are examples of our students working to serve others.”

“The system’s attorney is thoroughly researching the allegations from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and when he has completed this research he will respond to them explaining how our students can continue to participate in these service activities,” she explained.

In his 1823 book “Letters to a Young Man Commencing His Education,” Noah Webster, also known as the father of American education, wrote, “Let it then be the first study of your early years, to learn in what consists real worth or dignity of character. To ascertain this important point, consider the character and the attributes of the Supreme Being. As God is the only perfect being in the universe, His character, consisting of all that is good and great, must be the model of all human excellence, and His laws must of course be the only rules of conduct by which His rational creatures can reach any portion of like excellence.”

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One Nation Under Allah? – Attempts to Hide the Truth Will Not Stand

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on October 10, 2015

islamIslamic indoctrination is happening in public schools all across America.

Over the past few months, we have updated you on some of the Islamic indoctrination happening in Tennessee and Georgia. However, these are not isolated events – it’s a nation-wide epidemic that has been brewing for a while.

For the last several years, parents from across the country have contacted the ACLJ—from California to Maine—concerned about the teaching of Islam in their local schools. It seems that many schools may be going well beyond simply teaching about a religion. From disparate treatment of religions, to distortion of truth, the teaching of Islam seems entrenched with problems.

Students in Tennessee and Georgia were told to recite the Five Pillars of Islam—the Islamic conversion creed—while not learning about Christianity or Judaism. Some schools in Georgia reportedly went as far as to tell students that Allah is the same Godworshipped by Christians. And at least one Tennessee middle school—where Islam was covered for over three weeks—students were told to write “Allah is the only God,” while the lesson on Christianity was skipped in its entirety. This far surpasses education on the history of world religions. This is indoctrination.

Almost 7,000 Tennessee citizens have contacted us expressing their opposition to this egregious practice. It is our goal to make sure that any unconstitutional actions by the school districts, pertaining to Islamic indoctrination, cease. To this end, we sent open record requests to every school district in Tennessee—on behalf of over 160,000 individuals—to uncover the truth about what students are learning.  Although, several school district attorneys have tried to stall compliance based on the “citizenship” of the ACLJ, the State of Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel has already specifically addressed that matter (in a letter dated September 23, 2015) and has made clear that the requested documents must be made accessible to our requesting attorney, who is a Tennessee citizen, stating:

“Because a corporation does not have the ability to provide a government issued photo identification with an address on it, it is the opinion of this office that for purposes of the Act, the term ‘citizen’ does not include corporations. However, it is also the opinion of this office that when an individual who is making a request on behalf of a corporation is able to produce government issued photo identification that includes a Tennessee address, any record that is responsive to the request and is not confidential is required to be made accessible to the requestor.”(emphasis added)

The opinion from the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel only serves to underscore what we have known all along – our open records requests are valid, and the school districts are required to produce all records that are responsive to our requests.  We are following up with any school districts that have erroneously denied our open records request.  In the end, these flawed stonewalling tactics will not stand to hide the truth.

Of course, not all school districts in Tennessee followed the stall tactic, and we are currently receiving and working with many districts pertaining to the requested records.

But it’s not just Tennessee where we are involved.  In April, we reported that at least one high school in Wisconsin was apparently forcing students to “pretend you are a Muslim.” We sent a letter to the school—on behalf of thousands of concerned citizens and parents—explaining that forcing students to adopt a particular religious viewpoint violates the Establishment Clause. Now, we have heard from over 205,000 people across the nation, and are currently looking into curriculum concerns in Georgia where we have heard from almost 6,000 citizens and California where we have heard from over 22,000 citizens.

The ACLJ is continuing to fight to end the unconstitutional teaching of Islam in public schools. We are taking on clients and preparing important demand letters to send to these schools and are weighing our legal options to stop this outrage.

Incredibly, as Islam continues to be taught in schools around the nation, students are being denied the right to establish Bible Clubs on campus, bring their Bibles to school, and speak about Christianity. Simply put, schools may not promote Islam while silencing Christianity.

The ACLJ is working tirelessly to protect students’ right across America. Please stand with us as we fight to bring the Constitution back into public schools.

Courtesy of–attempts-to-hide-the-truth-will-not-stand

Sign ACLJ Petition:

Stop Islamic Indoctrination in School


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Is Indiana Protecting Discrimination?

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on March 30, 2015


A calm look at Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its precedents.

Last week, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Almost immediately, an uproar ensued, claiming that the law was discriminatory — that it provided a license for businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. Entirely lost in this kerfuffle has been the simple fact that the Indiana law is modeled on the 1993 federal law of the same name, and that counterparts have been adopted in 19 other states. Further, four federal courts of appeals and the Obama Justice Department have all taken the position that RFRA can be used as a defense in private suits involving the enforcement of laws that substantially burden free exercise of religion. Important debates over the intersection of faith and equality are impaired when they are overtaken by misguided rhetoric, rather than being informed by the history and context of how our legal system has treated this issue. 

Alfred Smith ingested peyote — a powerful hallucinogen — in the course of his Native American religious ceremonies. Smith was terminated by his employer due to the Peyote ritual. Smith challenged the subsequent denial of unemployment benefits — based on the drug use — as a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. In a controversial decision by Justice Antonin Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court held that the Free Exercise Clause could not be raised as a defense against a law of general applicability. This opinion generated an immediate backlash: How could a person be punished for exercising his sincerely held religious beliefs? In 1993, then-Representative Charles Schumer of New York introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the House of Representatives. Its counterpart bill in the Senate was co-sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy. The bill enjoyed such wide-ranging bipartisan support that it passed the House on a voice vote, passed the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3, and was promptly signed into law by President Clinton. (Imagine such a significant law passing today with this kind of vote!)

The law states that the federal “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” At a minimum, RFRA attempted to reverse the Court’s construction of the Free Exercise clause in the Smith case. The scope of RFRA was clarified last year by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The High Court found that the federal government could not mandate that Hobby Lobby offer its employees health insurance that would pay for certain emergency contraceptives. Unresolved by that decision, however, was whether the RFRA defense applies in private suits, not involving the government. The relief provision of RFRA provides that “A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.” The use of the passive voice — “whose religious exercise has been burdened” — elides who is imposing the burden: the government, or private parties enforcing federal law. This language can be read two ways: first, RFRA can be asserted only to “obtain appropriate relief against” the government; second, RFRA can be raised as a “defense” whenever “religious exercise has been burdened” in any “judicial proceeding,” whether against the government, or a private party.

This provision has caused a split among the federal courts of appeals. The majority of circuits that have confronted this issue have held that the language allows a defendant to assert RFRA as a “defense” in a private cause of action not involving the government. Even though the suit is brought by a private party, the argument goes, the “religious exercise” is still being burdened through the enforcement of a federal law in “a judicial proceeding.” As Shruti Chaganti explained in a 2013 article in the Virginia Law Review, the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — which Chaganti dubbed the “defense circuits” — have allowed RFRA to be raised as a defense in a private suit, “finding the statute’s language and purpose sufficiently broad to create a defense regardless of the parties to the suit.”

In 1996 — three years after RFRA was enacted — the D.C. Circuit held that the Catholic University of America could raise RFRA as a defense against a sex-discrimination claim brought by a nun and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alike. In 1998, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a church could assert RFRA as a defense against a trustee in bankruptcy proceedings. In a 2000 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, one church sued another church for unlawfully using materials copyrighted by its late pastor. The court allowed the infringing church to raise the defense, but found that the application of the copyright law did not impose a “substantial burden” on its exercise of religion. In a 2005 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, a priest was forced into retirement by the New York Methodist Church when he turned 70. The priest brought an age-discrimination claim, and the church countered that enforcing the law would burden its free exercise. The Second Circuit found that “RFRA’s language surely seems broad enough to encompass” the church’s raising RFRA as a defense against the age-discrimination claim. In short, Judge Ralph Winter wrote, RFRA “easily covers” the church’s claim that applying the anti-discrimination law would “substantially burden” its exercise of religion. These four cases, and many others, concerned similar facts — private parties had brought suits against corporations. (Yes, Catholic University and Catholic churches are corporations.) In each case, the corporate defendants were allowed to raise RFRA as a defense to assert that the enforcement of a federal law — Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination, bankruptcy law, and even copyright law — would burden their free exercise of religion. In some cases, the defenses were successful, and in others they were not. But this is the rule of law in the states under the jurisdiction of these four circuits — nearly half the states in the union. Until recently, this was not particularly controversial. But not all judges agree. Taking the opposing view was then–Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now a Supreme Court justice — who dissented in the Methodist Church case. She found that RFRA “does not apply to disputes between private parties.” Judge Winter responded forcefully to Sotomayor’s suggestion: “The [dissent’s] narrowing interpretation — permitting the assertion of RFRA as a defense only when relief is also sought against a governmental party — involves a convoluted drawing of a hardly inevitable negative implication. If such a limitation was intended, Congress chose a most awkward way of inserting it.”

Joining Judge’s Sotomayor’s dissenting view, however, are the Sixth and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals. Chaganti dubs these courts the “non-defense circuits,” as they have held that RFRA was meant to “provide a defense only when obtaining appropriate relief against a government and therefore cannot apply to suits in which the government is not a party.” In 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court found that the “Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church” could not raise RFRA as a defense in a trademark infringement suit brought by the “Seventh-Day Adventist Church.” In 2006, the ubiquitous Judge Richard Posner weighed in on this issue for the Seventh Circuit. In an age-discrimination claim brought by a organist against the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Posner wrote that “RFRA is applicable only to suits to which the government is a party.” The Supreme Court in 2012 unanimously and expressly reversed Posner’s opinion on other grounds in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, finding that the so-called “ministerial exception” to the Free Exercise clause could be raised as an “affirmative defense.” Judge Posner’s RFRA analysis was premised, in part, on the fact that since the Free Exercise Clause does not offer the “ministerial exception” as an affirmative defense, it was “hardly to be imagined” that Congress gave “greater protection to religious autonomy than RFRA does.”

Since this predicate of Posner’s ruling was invalidated by the Court, the sustained validity of Judge Posner’s ruling is questionable. Joining the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits in finding that RFRA can be asserted as a defense in a private cause of action is the Holder Justice Department. In August of 2012, the United States Government stated that Wheaton College, if sued by an employee for failing to provide insurance that covered contraceptives, “in its defense of such an action, would have an opportunity to raise its contention that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates” RFRA.

Yes, you read that right. The Obama Administration held that a corporation, albeit a non-profit one, could defend itself against a private claim from an employee by asserting that the Obamacare’s contraception mandate imposes a “substantial burden” on its free exercise of religion. That is to say, the most controversial aspect of the new Indiana religious-freedom law was blessed by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department. This position is directly at odds with the views of Sotomayor, Posner, and others. Again, none of this was particularly controversial until fairly recently. Since the enactment of the federal RFRA in 1993, 19 states — including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina —  implemented their own RFRAs, which were very similar to the federal law.

The state courts, like the federal courts, have wrestled over whether state RFRAs can be raised as a defense in private suits. Most notable among these decisions is the New Mexico Supreme Court’s opinion in Elane Photography v. Willock. In this now-famous case, a photographer was fined for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding. The Land of Enchantment’s High Court, mirroring Sotomayor’s and Posner’s narrow reading, concluded that the photographer could not raise the state RFRA as a defense against the discrimination claim. (The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review this case).

This brings us back to the Hoosier State. Section 9 of Indiana’s RFRA provides that “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” In the wake of Elane Photography, Indiana made explicit for its own law what the four federal courts of appeals and the Obama Justice Department had already recognized about the federal counterpart. Indiana’s RFRA does no more than codify that the private enforcement of public laws — such as discrimination claims — can be defended if there is a substantial burden on free exercise of religion. That’s it. And again, until recently, this provision was not particularly controversial.

I must stress — and this point has been totally lost in the Indiana debate — that RFRA does not provide immunity to discrimination claims. It only allows a defendant to raise a defense, which a finder of fact must consider, as in any other defense that can be raised under Title VII or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, believe it or not, under employment-discrimination laws, the courts have long recognized that there are legitimate defenses to treating people differently based on protected statuses. In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor, mentioned earlier, the Court unanimously found that an employee terminated because of a disability could not sue the church, because of the Free Exercise clause. This may not seem fair or equitable, but this 9–0 decision by the Supreme Court was a recognition of clearly established principles of how religious beliefs can, in rare cases, provide a defense against discrimination claims. University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, an expert in free-exercise law, stated the issue well: “The hysteria over this law is so unjustified. It’s not about discriminating against gays in general or across the board. It’s about not being involved in a ceremony that you believe is inherently religious.”

Like the First Amendment, RFRA is not a blank check for bigotry. In summary, four Courts of Appeals, covering nearly half the states in the Union, and the Obama Justice Department, have stated that RFRA can be asserted as a defense in a private case seeking the enforcement of federal law. As Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle, a supporter of same-sex marriage, explained, “The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a ‘license to discriminate,’ and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”

In this sense, the Indiana law would operate as does its federal counterpart. None of this is to say whether allowing RFRA to be raised as a defense in private suits is a good or bad policy. Rather, the moral outrage and proposed boycotts over Indiana’s law reflect an inexcusable failure to put into context how these laws have developed over the last two decades. Public-policy decisions, even those involving the most controversial issues of social justice, should be made on the basis of reasoned debate, rather than inflamed diatribes. 

Josh Blackman is a constitutional-law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, and the author of Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare. He blogs at 

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Jail Time for Phoenix Man Who Hosted Bible Study at His Home

Posted by faithandthelaw on July 8, 2012

A Phoenix man who held weekly Bible studies at his home has had the book thrown at him over the religious gatherings. Michael Salman (pictured above) has been sentenced to two months in jail and more than $12,000 in fines because the group sessions at his home were against the city’s building code, Fox News Radio reported.

“They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” Salman told Fox News Radio. “They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.”

Vicki Hill, Phoenix’s chief assistant city prosecutor, said religious freedom had nothing to do with it and that it was a matter of public safety.                                                                                                                                  
“Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously, as he does – we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire,” Hill told Fox News Radio. “It came down to zoning and proper permitting.”The battle between Salman and the city of Phoenix is a longstanding feud. Hill said that Salman’s neighbors complained of the gatherings back in 2007 because they were causing too much traffic congestion. Originally, about 15 people would attent the Bible studies, Fox News Radio reported.

But that number began to grow, and that’s when Phoenix officials sent Salman a letter saying that his living room gatherings were in violation of the city’s building codes.

When he didn’t stop hosting the groups, the Phoenix Fire Department broke up a Good Friday gathering Salman was hosting at his home in 2008 in which there were as many as 20 people in the backyard.

Salman then decided to construct a 2,000-square-foot building in his backyard and move the gatherings there. He said that he applied for and was granted the appropriate permits for the building.

Hill, however, said that the permits Salman received were for converting his garage into a game room.

Finally, in 2009, a dozen cops raided Salman’s home and charged him with 67 code violations for hosting the gatherings.

Since then, the courts have sided with the city, saying that Salman was using the building as a church and, therefore, was subject to city zoning laws.

“He built a structure that he said wasn’t a church that is, in fact, a church,” Hill told Fox News Radio.

“The state is not saying that the Salmans can’t run a church or have worship services at the location,” read a Jan. 4, 2010, Arizona court ruling. “But the state is saying that if they do so, they must do it properly and in accord with fire and zoning laws.”

Salman doesn’t buy the court’s argument and has claimed that Phoenix officials are discriminating against him for his religious beliefs.

“If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted,” he told Fox News Radio. “But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes – that is when you have discrimination.”

Salman’s attorney is appealing the ruling and Salman’s sentencing, but unless a federal court intervenes, Salman will begin serving his sentence on July 9.

Courtesy of

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Maryland law slams door on pro-life speech

Posted by faithandthelaw on May 22, 2010

By Bob Unruh
© 2010 WorldNetDaily

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett

A new law in a Maryland county that apparently intends to shut down the speech of pro-life counselors is being challenged in federal court by a pregnancy center that wants to continue offering free advice to mothers-to-be.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Maryland over the law adopted in Montgomery County that requires such counseling centers to post conspicuously a sign advising that there is no licensed medical professional on staff and the county health officer thinks women should consult their physicians.

According to the Alliance Defense Fund, which is pursuing the legal action, there are no similar requirements for abortion businesses.

“There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment,” Mark Rienzi, the lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center of Silver Spring and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law said.

“The government cannot create special speech rules just because people want to talk about pregnancy choices. And it certainly cannot target pro-life speakers for special sign requirements and fines while leaving speech by abortion clinics entirely unregulated,” he continued.

“This new regulation violates every core principle of free speech law,” he said.

Officials with Montgomery County, where Ike Leggett is its executive, declined to respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

But ADF explained as the law is worded, it also could require “maternity stores, sidewalk counselors or anyone in a church that talks to pregnant women to ‘conspicuously post’ signs that state that no licensed medical professional is on staff.”

ADF said, “The county council explicitly admitted that the policy’s intent is to regulate pro-life centers because the council disagrees with their past speech about abortion’s risks.”

Fines of more than $20,000 a month are embedded in the law for those who say something they shouldn’t.

“The government’s enforcement of policies against pro-life pregnancy centers and its refusal to apply the same rules to abortion facilities is an unconstitutionally discriminatory practice,” said ADF Legal Counsel Casey Mattox. “These centers are honest, do not profit from their services, treat women with dignity, and offer them real choices. Planned Parenthood and its pro-abortion allies make millions performing abortions on women and girls in crisis, so they are undoubtedly only too happy to see the government engage in this unfair attack.”

It is the second such case that has arisen recently over attacks by abortion supporters on those who counsel against the termination of a baby’s life. ADF reported a lawsuit was filed by the pro-life Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns in Baltimore in March over a city policy that forces pro-life centers to post signs “stating that they don’t provide abortions or birth control referrals.”

There are no similar requirements for Planned Parenthood and other players in the region’s abortion industry.

The Montgomery County law states that the Board of Health has a “concern” that there would be people who would be “misled into believing that a center is providing medical services.”

The law said if that’s the case, then someone could “neglect” to “take action” and the result could be “adverse consequences.”

The lawsuit names the county, its board of health, department of health and county counsel Marc Hansen as defendants.

The lawsuit explains abortion businesses “can counsel women about pregnancy options without disclaimers as to the scope of their services, and without making mandatory statements about the views of the Montgomery County health officer.”

The plan violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the lawsuit argues.

The Constitution doesn’t allow, according to the lawsuit, “Speech restrictions – regulating private speech about the most controversial, political, social and ethical issue of our time – without any legislative evidence that plaintiffs or any other speaker regulated by the act have misled or misinformed patients.”

Montgomery County previously was in the news when county officials adopted a gender “anti-discrimination” rule that critics argued could create coed showers, locker rooms and other public facilities.

“With the bill’s vague wording, all an adult male has to do to gain legal access to facilities normally reserved for women and girls is to indicate, verbally or non-verbally, that he has a sense of being female at the moment,” said a group organized as Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government.

It later cited a case in which a man in a blue dress entered a female locker room at a local health club.

Courtesy of

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