Appeals court to review Vimeo's 'targeted' deletion of ex-gay Christian's account
The leader of a Christian nonprofit organization in California is celebrating after a federal appeals court has agreed to review a previous court decision ruling that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media platforms such as Vimeo from liability in censorship cases.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New York City, has agreed to rehear the case of Pastor James Domen v. Vimeo en banc. The lawsuit comes after the streaming service Vimeo suspended the account of Jim Domen, a pastor who leads the California-based nonprofit organization Church United, for posting videos highlighting the stories of five individuals who left the LGBT community to pursue their Christian faith.
Vimeo alleges that the videos violated its terms of service, which ban content promoting the practice referred to by critics as “conversion therapy.” Domen, who is himself a former homosexual, reacted to the development in an interview with The Christian Post. “I’m grateful that the Second Appellate Court en banc has been granted,” he said.
“Church United has a network of over 2,000 California pastors, and we’re growing nationally." We have representatives in other states across the nation … and … Church United … helps senior pastors engage in government, [and] engage in culture at the local, state and federal level,” said Domen, elaborating on the mission of his organization.
The announcement that the entire Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case comes four months after a three-judge panel on the appellate court sided with Vimeo, ruling that the pastor cannot sue the streaming service for terminating his account. Domen alleged that he was “canceled because of my faith,” as well as his status as a former homosexual.
“They completely deleted our account,” he added. “It was so targeted. It was so evident that it was a direct assault on my faith … not only … my story, but all these other former LGBTQ people.”
Domen recalled how he received an email at 5 a.m. on Black Friday 2018 informing him: “'you have 24 hours to remove all of your videos because we’re going to completely delete your account.'”
He told CP that the videos were deleted the first week of December that year, which he noted is “one of the holiest months of the year for Christians, obviously celebrating the birth of Christ.”
“When they deleted our account, it plummeted our organization financially,” Domen explained. “That’s how we share our impact stories, our pastors sharing their stories of how Church United has helped them engage in government … stop evil [and] stand up against injustice.”
“It took months before we could even find another place” to post the videos. He maintained that he has also faced censorship by other prominent social media platforms, including Google, YouTube and Facebook.
Domen rejected the argument that Vimeo, as a private company, has the right to do whatever it wants, including banning certain users if it so chooses. He stressed that private companies “can’t discriminate against someone’s sexual orientation” and say, “I’m not going to hire you because you’re LGBTQ or you’re black or you’re Muslim. That’s exactly what they did to me,” he added.
Likening his battle with Vimeo to a “David and Goliath” scenario, Domen vowed to “take this to the Supreme Court of the United States of America,” if necessary. At the same time, he expressed relief that the Second Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case en banc after a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Vimeo.
“Historically, they’ve been known to deny that and the fact that a court said ‘we want to hear your case’ shows not only how biased … the last four liberal justices have ruled, but what’s scary is how can someone, even as a judge, be as … intellectually astute and yet rule against blatant discrimination against someone’s faith and religion and against someone’s sexual orientation.”
Domen attributed the adverse treatment he's faced to the fact that he has “a different narrative” and “they oppose that.” Describing himself as a person who “stands and does what’s right,” he proclaimed that “people shouldn’t be canceled, discriminated against or treated subhuman because they have a different worldview or a different experience than what others might perceive or believe.”
The entire case against Vimeo revolves around whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act insulates social media companies, who portray themselves as platforms instead of publishers, from the legal liability that traditional publishers like newspapers and radio stations often find themselves subject to. So far, the judicial branch has decided that social media companies are protected from such lawsuits.
As explained in a legal memorandum filed by Domen’s legal team, Section 230 asserts that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of — any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
The memo asserted that previous court interpretations of the Communications Decency Act, which the lawsuit is seeking to overturn, “give immunity to Big Tech whenever such a company commits unconscionable discrimination in their online filtering decisions against protected classes of individuals.”
In Domen's case, the “filtering decisions” resulted in him losing his Vimeo account as a result of five videos he uploaded to the site.
One of the videos of concern featured testimony from Domen, who detailed how he dealt with same-sex attraction dating all the way back to junior high school. Despite his efforts to resist the temptations, he ultimately pursued the homosexual lifestyle.
“It will ruin your life. It’s devastating. It will destroy your life,” he warned.
Domen credits God for helping him avoid contracting HIV and Hepatitis C despite the fact that his partner at the time had both. In his interview with CP, Domen said his former partner died in 2006.
In 2002, three years after embracing the homosexual lifestyle, Domen began an “incredible journey of healing and restoration through the power of Jesus Christ, through the power of professional counseling and logical thought, and understanding what same-sex attraction is.”
Today, Domen is married to a woman and together they have a “4-year-old daughter, a 1-year-old son and a baby on the way.” He characterized the homosexual lifestyle as “death, destruction and disaster,” contrasting it with the “life, beauty, tranquility and peacefulness” that defines heterosexual relationships.
Another video tells the story of Luis Ruiz, a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack. The shooting took place in June 2016 at an Orlando entertainment venue frequented by the LGBT community. Ruiz recalled how he thought he was “going to die” but ultimately survived, remarking that “God showed His grace on my life.”
Ruiz also expressed confidence that his mother’s prayers played a role in his survival. He left the homosexual lifestyle after testing positive for HIV. He recounted how after calling out to God, his “desires became less and less” to the point where same-sex attraction was “no longer an issue” in his life. The video concluded with footage of a speech given by Ruiz where he characterized God as “the only man in my life that would die for me.”
The third video that Vimeo sees as problematic is a 44-second promotion for the Freedom March in Los Angeles that took place in 2018. The event featured speeches from former members of the LGBT community, including Domen and Ruiz.
In the fourth video, Andrew Comiskey, the founder of Desert Stream Ministries, explained that although he received encouragement from his father and his alma mater of UCLA to embrace his same-sex attraction, he quickly realized, “I didn’t like the person that I was becoming.”
After engaging in reflection, Comiskey began attending a new church at UCLA. He stressed that he did not see the end goal of leaving the homosexual lifestyle as heterosexual marriage but rather “being able to walk conscientiously with our God.”
Comiskey ultimately married a woman and the two began ministering to people in West Hollywood who experienced same-sex attraction. This effort grew into a larger ministry called Living Waters, which Comiskey and his wife have run for four decades.
In contrast to the other videos, the fifth video is a 14-minute package profiling Evan Low, an openly gay member of the California State Assembly who spearheaded the effort to ban conversion therapy in the state. Low withdrew the bill at the last minute as part of an effort to find common ground with members of the religious community. The video includes clips of Domen and others speaking in favor of conversion therapy, as well as critics deriding the practice as harmful.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com