May 26, 2016 — Pepperdine Law professor Michael A. Helfand was interviewed for the NBC Los Angeles feature, “Transgender Veteran Sues Barber For Refusing to Cut Hair.” Kendall Oliver, an Army reserve sergeant who served in Afganistan, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against The Barbershop in Rancho Cucamonga for refusing to cut his hair. The owner said that his Christian beliefs forbid him from cutting a woman’s hair.
From “Transgender Veteran Sues Barber”:
“The odds of the barber being able to implement this policy are extremely low,” said Michael Helfand, a legal scholar not involved in the case. An associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, Helfand is an expert on religious law and religious liberty.
Unless the owner operated The Barbershop as a private club, it would be considered a public accommodation, and as such cannot discriminate on the basis of sex under California law, Helfand said.
The calculus likely would be different in other states that have enacted what are known as religious freedom laws, modeled after the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Helfand.
“In those states, he might have a fighting chance. In those states, a law that prohibited him from implementing his religious beliefs in his commercial enterprise — such a law might be deemed to actually substantially burden his religion, and therefore he’d be protected,” Helfand said. “But California doesn’t have such a law. California only prohibits laws from discriminating against religion. As a result, anti-discrimination laws don’t discriminate against religion, they just implement neutral laws against everybody. As a result, he’s unlikely to be successful in defending this suit.”
Helfand personally favors state laws that enable courts to consider religious burden in complying with a law.
“In a case like this, though — again — to be clear, it’s very likely that the public policy is extremely strong,” he said. “But cases like this do raise the question as to whether or not California law should reconsider the fact that it does not have any kind of law in place that allows you to balance religion against other public policy interests.”
Read the complete article and view the video interview at nbclosangeles.com.