(Originally published on June 25, 2019) California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for businesses to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation.
You all know what Vimeo is. In some respects it is where people go after their account gets whacked by YouTube. In 2014 Vimeo changed its acceptable use policy to preclude posting videos promoting conversion therapy. Vimeo is owned by IAC. Vimeo and its parent are both located in New York City.
Church United is not a church according to the Internal Revenue Service. Located in Newport Beach, CA the operation took in $463 thousand in 2017. Truth be told it is a 501(c)3 that should probably be a 501(c)4. Contributions should not be tax deductible. Last November Vimeo terminated Church United’s account for policy violations. This stranded 89 videos. Founder and leader, “Pastor” Jim Domen claims to be ex-gay.
Tyler & Bursch are lawyers representing Church United. Nada Nassar Higuera is handling this case. She is apparently a graduate of University of the Pacific Law. US News now lumps the entire fourth tier together as “146-192,” just above the nine listed but unranked schools. Higuera sent Vimeo a letter alleging that Domen was being censored on the basis of sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
Update, Sept. 18: On September 11, this case was transferred from California to the Southern District of New York where the case should have been filed in the first place. Presumably James Domen is trying to find local counsel to handle a case claiming that Vimeo is a government actor and to do so for free. I do not think that even Mad Mat Staver (Liberty Counsel) is that crazy.
The lawyers further explain that they have filed a complaint. It is “below the fold.”. They further explain:
Domen’s attorneys are prepared to fight for his civil rights in court. Higuera, explains it this way: “All Americans, secular and religious, gay or straight, deserve the right to engage in public discourse, free from the type of censorship Vimeo is engaged in. Vimeo’s actions of deleting Church United’s account is discrimination and censorship, based entirely on an unspecified ideological objection to the message, or on the perceived identity and religious viewpoint of the speaker.”
Nice try. For starters, being ex-gay is not a sexual orientation. That won’t fly. Religious discrimination has always been ambiguous. Is it based on belief or membership? In any event, I don’t think that conversion therapy can be a religious rite.
The other problem is that IAC/Vimeo is a $3 billion+ company. Domen and Church United are represented by am eight lawyer firm. IAC could crush them and this is a policy issue that they are probably going to fight hard to preserve.
I am obviously biased but I would argue that Vimeo has every right to determine what content is acceptable on its platform.
I have found the complaint in US District Court for the Central District of California. They are making two free speech allegations which would require the Court to view Vimeo as a state actor. It is not.
Then there is the Unruh Act complaint. Federal courts can enforce state law when there is jurisdictional diversity (it’s called the Erie Doctrine).