The non-profit law firm on the front lines of the religious liberty fight

Jocelyn Floyd of the Thomas More Society discusses the group’s pro-life and religious liberty cases, and why their work is more important than ever.

The Thomas More Society is a non-profit, public-interest law firm with a particular focus on life and religious liberty issues. It was founded in 1997 by attorney Thomas Brejcha, who was forced to leave his for-profit firm to continue what would become a nearly 30-year defense of Chicago pro-life activist Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. In the battle with the National Organization for Women, which resulted in multiple appearances before the US Supreme Court, Scheidler was charged with, among other things, violations of anti-trust law, racketeering, and extortion.

With the Society’s support, Scheidler ultimately prevailed, and won a modest $63,000 settlement to pay for his legal costs (far less than the actual amount, but all he was able to document). Scheidler’s son, Eric, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, is also a client as he continues his 88-year-old father’s work.

The Thomas More Society is based in Chicago, and employs five attorneys (as well as contracting with attorneys in other states, as needed). They take on cases defending the free-speech rights of pro-life activists and protecting the rights of people of faith in the public square. As a 501c3, they offer their services free of charge to clients, and depend on donations to continue their work. As a non-profit, they often face the challenge of battling firms that are well-funded or supported by persons of influence and prominence in government.

Jocelyn Floyd has been an attorney for six years, and a member of the staff of the Thomas More Society for three. She had initially worked at a large corporate law firm, and was between jobs when a friend who was an intern at the Society introduced her to the group’s work. She first offered her services as a volunteer, then was invited to join the staff. “God picked me up and dropped me in here,” she said.

She recently spoke to CWR.

Jocelyn Floyd (Photo via the Thomas More Society)

CWR: Why is your firm named for St. Thomas More?

Jocelyn Floyd: He’s the patron saint of lawyers in the Catholic tradition. He served as chancellor for King Henry VIII, but refused to condone his actions [acknowledging Henry as head of the Church in England and approving the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon]. When he was beheaded by Henry, he famously said that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

He epitomizes what the Catholic attorney in America faces. We are licensed by the state, and part of the legal structure, and have a role to play in making sure it operates in the best way possible. We have loyalties to the state, but first to God.

Our firm deals with issues relating to life, religion, and family. So, we experience this conflict regularly, especially under the current presidential administration. Our firm’s name reminds us of the role we play.

CWR: Has the Obama Administration posed greater challenges to the Catholic view on cultural issues?

Floyd: Let me answer that by talking about a case with which I am involved. On May 3, we filed a case against a school district which includes Fremd High School in Palatine, a Chicago suburb. We are suing the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice as well as the school district itself. We believe the Department of Justice has overstepped its authority and created new law. 

Under Title IX, the federal government is allowed to give funding to schools that do not engage in discrimination on the basis of sex. It’s a law that’s been in place since 1972. The Department of Education believes this includes sexual orientation and gender identity. So therefore, they believe a boy can declare himself a girl and use the girl’s bathroom. 

Fremd has a male student who identifies as female. In 2013, he asked for access to the girl’s bathroom. The school district agreed, and implemented a district-wide policy to allow the student to use any bathroom he wishes. He was not allowed to use the girl’s locker room until 2015, when the Department of Education sent the district an official letter threatening to pull the school’s Title IX funding if it did not allow him access to the locker room. 

So, brushing aside respect for traditional family values, modesty, and respect for the male and female as they’ve been created, [the school district] agreed. The policy now applies to all the high schools in the district.

So the issue is, is it sex discrimination not to allow boys into the girl’s restroom or locker room?

While some in the broader school community have bought into the current perception that your gender identity is whatever you want, others are very uncomfortable with it. A girl could be unclothed in the locker room, and at any moment a boy could be allowed to walk in on her. The school made some effort to accommodate these girls by building privacy stalls. However, girls using them have been subject to harassment, accused of being “homophobic” and against the “transgendered.”

The policy does not affect all in the school community, but specifically those in the same gym class with this boy, identified only as Student A. They may be forced to “hold it” when they need to use the toilet, and walk to another part of the school to use it in private. There is one girl who comes to school with her gym clothes under her school clothes to avoid changing in front of Student A. This issue is something that is always on these girls’ minds, causing stress.

CWR: And this is an issue that is occurring elsewhere in the country, usually with boys who say they’re girls.

Floyd: Yes, about four-to-one are boys identifying themselves as girls. How they appear varies. Some parents give their children hormones to flip their testosterone/estrogen levels so a boy will appear more as a girl. Others look more like boys in wigs with poorly done makeup.

It’s a reflection of how society is changing, influenced by the media and government. In North Carolina, for example, a law was recently passed saying people in government buildings must use the bathroom according to the sex recorded on their birth certificate. Many have protested this law, believing identifying themselves as the opposite sex is perfectly natural.

You have to remember that people go through random moments when they’re children. I had a female friend, for example, that at age six was jealous that boys could pee standing up. She didn’t want to be a boy, but wanted to use the toilet quicker so she could get back out and play.

Had her parents bought into this gender identity thing, they might have told her that she might want to be a boy, and cater to this whim.

According to current medical standards, “sex change” surgery cannot be performed on a minor. However, with parental permission, they can undergo hormone treatment as young as age six.

CWR: How do you anticipate this case will go?

Floyd: It will take a long time to litigate. If the other side loses, they will appeal. We both have strong convictions as to what the law says.

CWR: Who are you representing?

Floyd: We are representing 51 families, which includes 136 parents and children. They are either current students, or eighth-grade students who are entering high school. The policy applies to all five high schools in the district.

CWR: David Daleiden is facing criminal charges and civil cases relating to his undercover filming of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. He’s the Society’s most prominent client. How is that case going?

Floyd: Legally, it is a First Amendment fight. Pro-abortion organizations are actively trying to censor information about their activities. It isn’t actually about the life issue or the ethics of selling body parts.

There is also a fight in society relating to freedom of speech and the press. Is it OK to go undercover, find out things and expose dirty practices to the public so that the public can use the power of the market to respond? Overall, society should be 100 percent on David’s side. We’ve even seen some liberal scholars writing briefs in favor of him because they’re in favor of free speech.   

Although we’ve seen some removal of government funding of Planned Parenthood, I’m a little afraid that with our goldfish attention spans his case will become yesterday’s news.

CWR: Will he be able to avoid jail time?

Floyd: We hope so. He has several civil lawsuits against him, but the only one with criminal implications is in Texas. We believe the prosecutor abused his authority, and we’re hoping to get the case dismissed before trial. But, it all depends on how the judge interprets the case.

CWR: Do you face many public officials who are biased against the pro-life side?

Floyd: We do a lot of cases involving pro-life advocates who want to be outside clinics and offer information to women seeking abortions. We often run into problems with local governments, like a cop overstepping his authority.

For example, there was a woman in her 70s working with 40 Days for Life, a pro-life organization. As she was elderly, she found it difficult to stand for a long time and hold up a sign. So she brought a beach chair in which to sit. She was ticketed for “littering with household goods.” 

Now, this is an ordinance that is intended to prevent you, say, from dragging your old sofa into an alley and dumping it. Initially the ticket was upheld, but on appeal we were able to convince a judge that this was a complete misuse of this ordinance.

In another case in North Dakota, a man was driving a truck with images of unborn babies in the womb and aborted babies. He wanted to draw people’s attention to the issue, making it more real to them. He was arrested for disorderly conduct. We were, however, able to get the case dismissed at the first level.

So, you have multiple levels of government—police, prosecutors, judges—who may not understand the nuances of the First Amendment. How many are biased, it’s hard to tell. But no doubt it’s sometimes the case.

We’ve had many good interactions with the police, however. One cop will tell our people they can’t do something, so we’ll send a letter to the department explaining what the First Amendment allows them to do. We get letters in response accepting what we said, and we give those letters to the pro-life activists so they have them handy to show the cops they encounter on the street. Often once we’ve sent a letter, we don’t have a problem again.

CWR: The Society is defending Missouri State University student Andrew Cash, who was dismissed from an MS in counseling program after objecting to counseling same-sex couples on relationship issues due to his religious views.

Floyd: Yes. This case is very frightening. Our education and licensing system is saying that having a religious belief can be deemed illegal. Your belief will cause you to do actions that are discriminatory. They might try to separate it, saying your beliefs are different from your actions, but what is a belief if you don’t act on it?

CWR: The Thomas More Society displays a Nativity scene and Easter imagery in Chicago’s Daley Plaza every year. Why is this?

Floyd: This is part of our campaign to, number one, take advantage of our rights to participate in the public square and get that message out. It’s a religious mission. We are evangelizing and spreading information about who Christ is, and the miracle of his birth and resurrection. And, number two, it exercises and informs people about their right to talk about religion in the public square. When you open public property to public expression, religious expression has a right to have access.

It relates to our core principles: all speech is allowed, because speech in and of itself is not a bad thing. If you hear a bad idea, you are free to counter it with a good idea.

CWR: You’re also working with Students for Life, which supports the creation of pro-life student groups on school campuses.

Floyd: Yes. We serve as a resource to and encouragement for students who want to be activists for life on their campuses. We sometimes have the situation occur where students will want to create a pro-life club on campus, but the school says no. We write the school a letter telling them if they don’t allow the club, we’ll sue. That was sufficient in every case except one. A Las Vegas school district ignored us, so we filed a lawsuit. They called us and asked to settle.

It’s fascinating, incidentally, to observe the role of speech and debate on school campuses. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, comes to a campus, for example, and our pro-life people politely engage those willing to speak with them. They don’t disrupt the speech.

However, if a pro-life, conservative or religious speaker comes, the social justice students will try to shout him down and otherwise disrupt the presentation. It gives us clear evidence that they are not interested in debate, but brainwashing everyone to join their side.

CWR: What help does the Thomas More Society need?

Floyd: The same as every other non-profit: we need donations to support our work. 

We also need people to educate themselves so they can articulate their views. We need to be able to explain why we believe life begins at conception, or that marriage is between a man and a woman because it is God’s plan and is best for society.

People should not fear debate in the public square, or be intimidated by those calling them bigots. When we can coherently and lovingly respond, it helps dispel the myth that we discriminate and are full of hate. Right now we have a vocal minority winning the culture war, so we can’t be silent.

About Jim Graves 134 Articles

Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.