Category Archives: Legal

First Amendment Defense Act: An Assault on the Constitution and Civil Rights

FADA: The Wrong Way to Protect our Rights

Orwell’s 1984 was even more frightening when I reread it during the Bush administration. Amidst freedom fries and the Patriot Act, I saw traces of his infamous doublespeak: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Now, in the wake of Trump’s win and in a climate of increasing intolerance, those traces seem to be more like guidelines. Latest case in point: the First Amendment Defense Act  (FADA). The First Amendment is specifically meant to guarantee freedom of speech, religion, and the press – among other things. It is perversely fitting, then, that FADA aims to override these protections with a law that restricts civil rights in the name of religious freedom, especially given that it promotes one religion’s values above all others.

More than just eroding the separation of church and state, FADA wants to bore a hole straight through it. Ironically, FADA protects people from government “discrimination” against their “right” to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. It is a direct assault on the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality win. Indeed, the act’s promoters care little for non-Christian beliefs and actively state that it is meant to reassert the enforcement of their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

As S.E. Smith on Truthout says:

FADA isn’t about protecting people of faith, but about legitimizing discrimination. The question isn’t “can I deny service to someone who doesn’t like same-gender marriage” but “can an employer fire someone for being in a same-gender marriage” or “can I refuse to rent a hotel room to an unmarried heterosexual couple.” The answer, under FADA, could be “yes.”

… That [also] means the government couldn’t revoke tax exempt status from organizations — like churches — that discriminate against LGBQT people. Nor could it set anti-discrimination policies for federal contractors.

Of course, this is not strictly a new development; it is instead a continuation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), and its more recent follow-up, the Supreme Court’s infamous Hobby Lobby decision which allowed a person (and therefore a corporation) to discriminate against people based on religious beliefs – including letting a Christian company refuse to provide its employees insurance coverage for morning-after pills and birth control methods despite Obamacare’s guarantees.

Unsurprisingly, Trump has pledged to sign FADA should it pass in Congress. Moving forward in the wake of the presidential election, it is vital that we remain vigilant in protecting both the Constitution and the civil rights that our forebears fought so hard to guarantee. We must not slide backwards; halting FADA and everything it stands for is a good place to start.

Client News: ERFA’s New Zoning Plan to Stop Supertowers

East River Fifties Alliance Files New Zoning Plan, Promotes Affordable Housing; Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Members Kallos and Garodnick, and State Senator Krueger Co-Sign

After months of intense preparation, our clients, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), just filed a new zoning plan for Manhattan’s Far East 50s (the area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue) with the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan would restrict supertowers and out-of-scale development in that neighborhood, while providing for affordable housing. Not only that, but they had an elite list of co-filers: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger.

This proposal, created via a partnership between the community (through ERFA) and city planners, is one of the most sweeping community residential re-zoning plans in City history, and the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component.

Currently, the Far East Fifties is vulnerable to gigantic megatower development because its zoning is left over from the 1960s and sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings. It’s the last residential-only segment of the city that remains without such protections. (The same zoning is generally limited to busy commercial or mixed use avenues in Manhattan.)  In fact, one developer has already proposed a wildly oversized 1,000 foot megatower on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place that would dwarf the entire neighborhood. ERFA is working to prevent not only that project but all others like it.

Affordable Housing

As Mayor de Blasio has voiced repeatedly, NYC needs affordable housing badly. ERFA not only agrees, but the neighborhood is welcoming such opportunities with open arms. This new zone would urge developers to devote at least 25% of new units to affordable housing in the neighborhood.

As it stands, the East River Fifties’ R10 zone and equivalent zones throughout the city only create about 4-5% affordable units with each new development. If fully implemented, the ERFA plan would nearly quadruple the amount of affordable housing in new developments in our neighborhood. The details of how that goal could be best met – whether by making the affordable housing component mandatory, voluntary, or by some other formulation – will be determined in ERFA’s negotiations with City Planning. it will enter a review process that moves through the various levels of New York City’s government for approval. You can learn more about ERFA and its new zoning plan at www.erfa.nyc

The media is already excited and we’ve received a slew of stories. Here are a few: City Land (New York Law School), Crain’s New York Business, Curbed, DNA Info, Manhattan Express, New York Daily News, Our Town Press, Realty Today, and The Real Deal.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness