Texas Legislature Returns For Third Special Session AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 20: LGBTQ rights supporters gather at the Texas State Capitol to protest state Republican-led efforts to pass legislation that would restrict the participation of transgender student athletes on the first day of the 87th Legislature's third special session on September 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Following a second special session that saw the passage of controversial voting and abortion laws, Texas lawmakers have convened at the Capitol for a third special session to address more of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's conservative priorities which include redistricting, the distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funds, vaccine mandates and restrictions on how transgender student athletes can compete in sports. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images) Tamir Kalifa / Stringer
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Texas Gov Calls For Investigations Into Transgender Procedures On Minors

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1) Texas Gov Calls For Investigations Into Transgender Procedures On Minors

The Topline: Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) made headlines last week when he called on members of the public to report parents suspected of giving gender transition treatments to their children.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Directive

Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive last week as part of a letter he sent on Tuesday to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He told the agency to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation” of any instances involving minors receiving “elective procedures for gender transitioning.” Abbott wrote that such treatments should be classified as “child abuse.” 

The governor also wrote that licensed professionals who work with children — people like teachers, nurses, and doctors — as well as “members of the general public” should report parents to state authorities if they believe they’re putting their child through gender transition treatments.

Abbott wants parents who are putting their child through gender transition treatment to be subject to child abuse charges. The governor also wrote that anyone who fails to report this type of behavior is subject to criminal penalties, as well. 

Response

Within the state legislature, there are signs that lawmakers could support the measure, or others like it, in the future, but the governor also received harsh criticism from LGBT activists who argue that medical transition is necessary healthcare for children who experience gender dysphoria. This week, the ACLU filed a suit against the state in an attempt to block the new policy on behalf of one 16 year-old.

On Wednesday, a Texas judge sided with that 16 year-old’s family, blocking them from investigation. The judge did not go as far as to stop the state from investigating other reports of children receiving gender transition treatments. However, she did set a March 11th hearing to decide whether to temporarily block Abbott’s order.

In February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), issued an opinion saying that existing state law already makes it child abuse to have minors put on puberty blockers or hormone therapy, or receive gender transition surgery. However, some county and district attorneys don’t interpret the law that way, and they’re already saying they won’t enforce Abbot’s order. 

Last year, the Texas legislature attempted to pass a bill that would have made it a felony to provide those kinds of transgender treatments to minors, but the bill failed. That bill would have put these treatments in the same category as physical and sexual abuse of children. 

That said, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigated the issue in 2021 and concluded that gender reassignment surgery is child abuse because it inflicts “irreversible harm” on children, who “lack the legal capacity to consent to surgical treatments.” So the issue is far from settled in Texas. 

Elsewhere: In Arkansas, it’s illegal for doctors to prescribe hormones or perform gender reassignment surgery on minors. Last year, over a dozen states considered similar bills but the majority didn’t pass

mari matsuri / MARI MATSURI/Contributor/AFP via Getty Images

2) SCOTUS To Hear Religious Freedom Case

The Topline: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case relating to free speech in art, which involves a Denver-based web designer who has challenged a state law that forbids her from stating on her website that she only creates wedding pages for traditional weddings due to her religious convictions.

Quote Of The Day: “And while I’m happy to work with all people, there are certain messages I am unable to promote through my business which is why I am challenging this law.”

– Lorie Smith, August 2021

Background

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is at issue again, this time concerning a web designer rather than a baker. In the 2018 baker case, Jack Phillips told a same-sex couple that he wouldn’t make a wedding cake for them because his religious convictions don’t allow him to support same sex marriage. However, he did say he would sell them other goods instead. 

Colorado law holds that businesses can’t discriminate against any customer based on a variety of factors, including sexual orientation. They also can’t announce their intention to do so.

I’m 2018, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled on the side of the baker, essentially agreeing that Phillips received hostile treatment from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because of his religious views, and that the commission had violated the Free Exercise Clause. However, the high court did not rule on freedom of speech in that case. That’s the issue they’re taking up now with this case. 

The specific question the Justices will weigh in on is “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

The Case

Lorie Smith owns a web company called 303 Creative and says she is willing to serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation. However, the company is planning to restrict wedding-related work to exclusively heterosexual marriages. 

According to the petition to the Supreme Court, her proposed statement reads, “These same religious convictions that motivate me also prevent me from creating websites promoting and celebrating ideas or messages that violate my beliefs. So I will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman. Doing that would compromise my Christian witness and tell a story about marriage that contradicts God’s true story of marriage – the very story He is calling me to promote.”

Smith hasn’t put that message up yet, and 303 Creative hasn’t even started offering wedding websites yet, because Smith knows it would be breaking the law. Instead, she is preemptively challenging the law.  

The high court will likely hear the case next term, which starts in October. 

Marcos del Mazo/Contributor/LightRocket via Getty Images

3) The Role Of Social Media In Ukraine

The Topline: With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions worldwide have turned to social media platforms, where images of the conflict have flooded in and offered unprecedented access to outside viewers. 

Social Media

In the past, the only real way to find out what was happening in a war zone was to rely on on-the-ground reporters, who are limited in what they can document, or military officials themselves, who are notorious for releasing misinformation in an attempt to control the narrative for their own benefit. 

Now, anyone with a smartphone can become an on-the-ground reporter and because of that, people around the world are being made aware of bombings and troop movements as they’re happening. This makes it harder to keep large military operations a secret, which has benefited Ukraine, and it also makes it almost impossible to cover up war crimes and other human rights abuses. 

From the start, Putin’s message to his people has been that Ukraine is a “neo-nazi” regime full of an oppressed people longing to be united with Russia. Due to social media, ordinary Russians have been able to see what’s going on in Ukraine, and hear directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and actual victims of the invasion, which has allowed people to see how untrue Putin’s message has been, creating an environment in Russia where there’s a surprising level of pushback among the people.

Negative Impact

There have been multiple examples of false reports getting millions of views and shares before they’re corrected. For example, countless outlets reported on a group of 13 soldiers who’d told a Russian warship to “Go F— themselves” before fighting to the death. The story was massive on social media, but according to Ukraine’s Navy, it was untrue. The soldiers might have sent that message, but ended up surrendering and are all “alive and well.” 

There were also reports of a Ukrainian pilot known as the “ghost of Kyiv” who’d supposedly shot down half a dozen Russian jets in one day. Supposed footage of the incident garnered millions of views, but one of the main clips actually came from a video game, and the existence of the pilot is now up in the air as no military officials have confirmed the story. 

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