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Year in Review: The Top Stories from 2016

By James Arnold posted on:
October 17, 2017

Many people will remember 2016 as a year of unprecedented surprise: From our president-elect to the Cubs winning the World Series, it seems as though the word "surreal" truly is the word of the year.

So now that you’ve survived Christmas and you’re looking forward to the new year, take a moment to look back on the top ADF news from 2016, month by month.


The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution condemning the actions if ISIS in the Middle East as genocide. ADF International Legal Counsel Laurence Wilkinson said this:

"The Council of Europe has responded to clear and compelling evidence that Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East are victims of genocide. Hopefully more institutions will follow this example to ensure swift and strong action is taken by the international community to save lives in the region."


A few states signed bills to defund Planned Parenthood. In further good news, a court in Missouri affirmed the right of a Catholic diocese to operate according to Catholic teaching.

In less joyful news, Robert and Cynthia Gifford were told by a New York court that they could not obey their faith in their own backyard.

Finally, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13th. This, of course, influenced the Presidential race in ways still not fully explored, but at the time, ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears remarked:

"The entire Alliance Defending Freedom team mourns the loss of a true friend of ordered liberty and of all Americans: Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia was the most vocal and passionate voice on the Supreme Court for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family over the past three decades. While we grieve his passing, we must always remember that God is in charge. We also note that it is unlikely that a new justice will be installed prior to the election of our next president. All of us are thankful for Justice Scalia’s legacy of consistently standing in defense of our constitutionally protected freedoms. Please join us in prayer for the Scalia family, the entire Supreme Court family, and our nation."


The College of DuPage decided that yes, students can hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights on campus. Maybe the school opened those documents and read the First Amendment.

After the statement in January by the European Parliament, ADF International urged the U.S. State Department to declare ISIS a perpetrator of genocide. Just a few days later, Secretary of State John Kerry did just thatADF Senior Counsel Douglas Napier had this to say:

"Secretary of State Kerry has recognized an appropriate name for the actions of ISIS against Christians and other religious minorities: genocide. This recognition is an important first step in the necessary process by the United States, the UN, and the international community to stop the killing in the Middle East."


Another month, another school tries to limit speech (this one ends in July, but we'll include it here, since July will be packed with Supreme Court news).

The United Kingdom's House of Commons joins the international community in calling the violence perpetrated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq genocide.

And, finally, Alliance Defending Freedom filed its opening brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley. The issue at hand, in case you don't recall, is whether or not the state of Missouri can prohibit churches and church-run organizations from participating in state programs (in this case, a recycled tire playground safety program). 


Adding to the list of schools that attempt to stifle free speech: University of South AlabamaHagerstown Community College in Maryland, and California State University-Los Angeles.

The biggest story of the month, however, was the beginning of Brush and Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, where an art studio in Phoenix challenged an ordinance that threatens them with jail time for expressing their beliefs on marriage. From ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco:

"Artists shouldn’t be threatened with jail for disagreeing with the government. The government must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what art they will create and what art they won’t create. Just because an artist creates expression that communicates one viewpoint doesn’t mean she is required to express all viewpoints. It’s unjust, unnecessary, and unlawful to force an artist to create against her will and intimidate her into silence."


Note to North Carolina State University: It wasn't a good idea to require a permit (other than the First Amendment) to speak on campus.

Note to Fort Wayne, Indiana: It wasn't a good idea to refuse to accept an ad from Women's Health Link due to "controversial issues."

In sad news, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-4 vote, let stand a 5th Circuit ruling striking down a law aimed at protecting women by requiring abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers and required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

In other sad news, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up Stormans v. Wiesman, a case involving Washington state rules that force pharmacy owners and pharmacists to sell morning-after and week-after abortion pills contrary to their religious beliefs instead of allowing them to refer customers to nearby pharmacies.

Here is what Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote in dissent:

"This case is an ominous sign. At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. [...] If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern."


In Canada, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's decision which found that Trinity Western University law school could continue to operate in accordance with its biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behavior without risking accreditation.

In another cold place, the Alaska Supreme Court decided that parents could be left in the dark when a child seeks an abortion.

Meanwhile, Vermont health professionals asked medical licensing authorities to allow them to abide by their oath to "do no harm" and not kill their patients. We know. Shocking.

The NBA decided to move its All-Star Game out of North Carolina because it does not believe there is any difference between men and women. The WNBA made no comment, to our knowledge.

Jack Phillips, the cake artist from Colorado, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to protect his freedom of expression.


In Maryland, a Ten Commandments monument remained intact, despite a lawsuit filed against it.

In Iowa, Ft. Des Moines Church of Christ fought against a law in Iowa that would censor the church's teaching on biblical sexuality and force the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex. In October, a court ruled that the law would not apply to churches, and the church voluntarily dismissed the suit.

A court stopped federal overreach in Texas, saying that schools are allowed to protect student privacy in locker rooms. This goes on to be upheld in October.

Finally, a funeral home in Michigan won their case against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, protecting the funeral home's right to make sure their employees dressed in a manner sensitive to grieving family members and friends.


Want to pray as a public servant in North Carolina? Not a problem. Want to watch several championship events hosted by the NCAA? Due to an irrational decision, kind of a problem.

Politico named Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears to its 2016 Politico 50, a list of the top 50 “thinkers, doers, and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.”

In Colorado, yet another creative artist files a suit against the government. Why? She disagrees with the government about marriage.


The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a lawsuit challenging a Virginia school district's policy of maintaining separate restrooms for members of each sex while providing individual, private facilities for students uncomfortable with using a facility that corresponds to their sex. In related news, a federal magistrate judge made a dangerous recommendation to the district court judge in Students and Parents for Privacy v. United States Department of Education. ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb noted:

"School policies should protect the privacy and safety of all students, no matter who they are. Young students should not be forced into an intimate setting like a locker room with someone of the opposite sex. The court should exercise its authority to stop the DOE and DOJ from redefining federal law and violating the privacy of thousands of students. We are hopeful that the federal courts will ultimately decide in favor of the privacy rights of all students."

ADF asked the 9th Circuit to protect the freedom of pro-life pregnancy centers to act in a manner consistent with their pro-life beliefs. In other words, to protect the pro-life pregnancy centers from a law that unjustly forces them to promote abortion.


Every year, ADF awards the Edwin Meese III Award for Originalism and Religious Liberty to individuals that have made "significant efforts in publicly promoting and defending religious liberty and a principled jurisprudence through the active advancement of constitutional originalism." This year, the award went to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Senior Judge James Buckley, and professor of law Helen Alvaré.

Ten Phoenix-area community colleges realized they couldn't restrict speech.

On November 15th, the Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments  in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene's Flowers. We are still waiting on the results, but you are certainly already aware of Barronelle Stutzman, the grandmother floral artist who has been sued in her personal capacity for acting consistently with her faith.


More campuses nationwide believe they can restrict speech. They are wrong. This time, we're looking at Georgia and Michigan. In addition, California State University Los Angeles asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit that student groups and a conservative columnist filed after a mob incident in February. ADF attorneys asked the court to continue with the case.

Four Massachusetts churches and their pastors dropped their case against commonwealth officials after the suit prompted the officials to admit that the First Amendment protects a church's freedom to operate consistently with its faith, even when engaged in community outreach.

On December 13th, the Kentucky Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals

Finally, a Minnesota video production company filed suit against Minnesota state officials in federal court. The company, owned by husband and wife pair Carl and Angel Larsen, wants to use their filmmaking talents to produce celebrating marriage between one man and one woman. Unfortunately, Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials have repeatedly stated that private businesses violate the law if they "decline to create expression promoting same-sex weddings." The couple is fighting for what we thought was a given: freedom of expression.


We’ll see you next year.

James Arnold

James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.


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