The Thomas More Society's Jocelyn Floyd speaks at a press conference. (Photo via the Thomas More Society)
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
governmentpolice, prosecutors, judgeswho 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
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
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.