In a win for religious liberty and free speech, a California state appeals court ruled that the state cannot force nursing home workers to use the preferred names and pronouns of transgender residents.
California’s Third Appellate District overturned a key provision of Senate Bill 219, enacted in 2017, which prohibited staff of long-term care facilities “from willfully and repeatedly referring to a facility resident by other than the resident’s preferred name or pronoun when clearly informed of the name and pronoun.”
Violators would have been subject to a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
The court ruled July 15 that the pronoun provision “is a content-based restriction of speech that does not survive strict scrutiny” as required by Supreme Court precedent.
“A law is content based if it ‘targets speech based on its communicative content’ and ‘applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed,’” the court wrote. While the state has an interest in protecting citizens from discrimination, California’s law “burdens speech more than is required to achieve the State’s compelling objective.”
Calling it a victory for free speech, Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook, “Anyone who values free speech in our country should pray that judges, legislators, and leaders will have the courage to say no to this madness wherever and whenever it is pushed on us.”
Proponents of the bill, including the California senate sponsor, said they would appeal the decision.
The court upheld a second contested provision of the law that requires nursing homes to place transgender residents in rooms corresponding with their stated gender.
The conservative California Family Policy Council (CFPC) called the ruling “A Quiet, Important Free Speech Win” in a headline on its blog. “Harassment and discrimination are already legally defined, and yet California politicians wanted to criminalize speech itself,” CFPC wrote.
Liberal groups in the Golden State have received several legal setbacks of late. This summer, the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional for California to force nonprofit entities to disclose the names of donors. In 2020, the federal Department of Health and Human Services held back $200 million in Medicaid funds from California for what HHS deemed an illegal mandate that forces all health care plans in the state to cover abortion.
“Unfortunately,” the CFPC wrote, “this is the life for California citizens who care about protecting fundamental freedoms: legal challenge after legal challenge. This latest victory, however, proves the effort is worth the fight.”