February 18, 2020, Southern California Christian pastor has appealed a NY federal judge’s decision to dismiss his sexual orientation and religious discrimination case against Vimeo. Tyler & Bursch, LLP has filed the appeal today on behalf of Pastor Jim Domen, a “former” homosexual, and Church United, the religious non-profit organization founded by Domen.
“This case is significant because this district court and a few other lower courts have interpreted the federal Communications Decency Act to give immunity to Big Tech whenever such a company commits unconscionable discrimination in their online filtering decisions against protected classes of individuals – for example, classifications based on race, religion, color creed or sexual orientation,” said attorney Robert Tyler, Partner at Tyler & Bursch, LLP and President of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit religious liberty firm. “The effect of the Court’s interpretation of the CDA is that a company like Vimeo, YouTube or even Amazon could decide that it will not allow someone to hold an account with their site just because they are of a particular race or religion.”
Tyler continues: “This invidious discrimination is normally unlawful for businesses operating in California; but according to this court, the CDA exempts Big Tech from states’ nondiscrimination laws when filtering content or deciding who is allowed to access the service they offer. This should concern everyone from left to right.”
Pastor Domen identifies as a “former” homosexual who is now married with three children. This lawsuit claims that Church United’s account was removed by Vimeo because Vimeo disapproves of Pastor Domen’s sexual orientation and religion. Church United’s Vimeo account was unexpectedly terminated in December of 2018 by Vimeo’s watchdog management due to what they describe as “videos that harass, incite hatred, or include discriminatory or defamatory speech.”
Vimeo believes a few of the 89 videos posted by Church United are harassing because Pastor Domen and a number of other individuals identifying as former homosexuals speak of the help they received through counseling and talk therapy. The few instances of this occurring, out of 89 videos posted by Pastor Domen, simply contained personal stories about the positive impact that counseling had for these individuals.
Pastor Jim Domen shared, “There are many individuals like me who were once engaged in a same-sex lifestyle that are now ostracized for our personal intimate decisions regarding our sexual orientation. As a Pastor, I just want the ability to share the good things that have happened in my life as a Christian and to help unify Pastors in California to engage in the world around them.”
The lawsuit was filed on June 25, 2019. Vimeo filed a Motion to Dismiss, asserting that the CDA gives immunity to Vimeo even if the claims of discrimination were true. Oral arguments were heard in federal court on January 13, 2020 and on January 15, 2020, Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron of the Southern District Court of New York granted the dismissal, citing the Communications Decency Act, enacted by Congress in 1996.
Did Congress really intend in 1996 to immunize social media and internet platforms if a platform decides to ban persons from their platform based on race, sexual orientation or religion? Tyler & Bursch attorneys and Pastor Jim Domen don’t believe so. Tyler warns, “this is a serious problem for the future if neither the courts nor Congress reverse this interpretation of the CDA, because the world wide web is now the public square of yesterday.”
However, some have questioned why the cake baker’s case in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commission is any different.
Tyler explains, “We are not asking Vimeo to design a cake or produce a video. Vimeo is like a mini-storage building in California where customers rent space to store their belongings. Vimeo should have no more of a right to tell Church United to find another platform to store their videos than a mini-storage business has a right to tell an Orthodox Jew to find another facility to store his religious materials.”
Co-counsel Nada Higuera explains, “All Americans, secular and religious, gay or straight, deserve to have equal access to public accommodations and to be free from the type of discrimination Vimeo is engaged in.”
Click links below to view three of the 89 Church United videos objected to and deleted by Vimeo:
Pulse Night Club Survivor Luis Ruiz https://churchunited.wistia.com/medias/2rckn50n7b NBC Left Field https://churchunited.wistia.com/medias/t9wpxv7bxt
Freedom March https://churchunited.wistia.com/medias/gxvozmnzwf