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Posts tagged "Religious Freedom"

h/t: Jack Jenkins at Think Progress World


Is your head spinning from all the talk about religious exemptions these days? From ENDA to Hobby Lobby to state-level "turn away the gays" bills, that phrase is on the lips of everyone who works in, advocates for, or cares about LGBT civil rights.

But what does it mean?

The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson comes to the rescue with a piece called “Why Progressives Just Woke Up and Killed ENDA,” which contains an incredibly informative primer on the different kinds of religious exemptions.

Michaelson talks about religious exemptions as a series of concentric circles, or levels, starting with churches and ministers and becoming increasingly more broad as they radiate outwards. Here’s an overview:

  • Level 1: Churches, ministers, and Sunday School teachers. "Here," Michaelson writes, "almost no one disputes that some religious exemptions are justified." Indeed, no one wants to force clergy to marry any couple they don’t want to marry, straight or gay. Everyone agrees that that would be an unacceptable breach of the wall of separation between church and state. Next?

  • Level 2: Religious organizations. Most people support some exemptions in this circle as well, Michaelson notes, “but not as many. If you’re a church official working for your denomination, maybe. But what if you’re a secretary or working in the cafeteria?”

  • Level 3: Religiously-affiliated organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, and charities. This is where the entire debate about Obamacare’s contraception mandate took place, Michaelson points out (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also falls under this category), and the administration’s compromise widened the law’s exemption to include all groups in this circle. ENDA’s religious exemption falls into this circle as well.

  • Level 4: Private corporations whose owners are religious. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby moved the contraception into this circle. And that leaves the right wing’s wet dream:

  • Level 5. The individual exemption. Anyone can discriminate against anyone else, as long as they claim that it’s for religious reasons. Michaelson correctly describes this scenario as “pandemonium” for same-sex couples, who when going out on a Friday night “could be married at the movie theater but not at the bar afterward.”

But it’s that Level 5 exemption — an unquestioned “right” to discriminate against anyone, at any time, because Jesus — that the Religious Right so desperately wants. It’s the quintessential special right and would be the ultimate form of Christian privilege. And it’s why we must stop them now, before they ever get the chance to obtain it.

Michaelson’s article is well worth reading in full. Click here to check it out over at the Daily Beast.


WASHINGTON — Some of the largest national LGBT rights groups — unified on the marriage equality fight in recent years — have begun a very public debate over a piece of another key goal: religious exemptions in employment protections.

The fight, which broke out into the open on Tuesday, is about scope of religious exemptions in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was passed by the Senate this past fall. Notably, it comes as an executive order about employment protections is being drafted at the White House and in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby.

While the debate isn’t new, the method of raising the stakes of the debate on Tuesday was stark: Seven national organizations — including the ACLU and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — announced in three separate statements that they were withdrawing their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act due to its current, broad religious exemption.

The lead sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, Sen. Jeff Merkley, told BuzzFeed in a statement that even he has “concerns” about where things stand. Merkley’s office said the senator continues to support the bill but that he is looking to make “fixes” going forward with regard to the religious exemption in the bill.

One of the key House co-sponsors, Rep. Jerry Nadler, told the Washington Blade that he thinks the religious exemption is too broad and will work to narrow it in the House.

For years, the religious exemption in ENDA has kept growing. In order to grab more moderate Republican support (and the Democratic holdouts) for the legislation that was first introduced in the mid-1990s, the religious exemption has been expanded enough that Sens. Orrin Hatch and John McCain, along with a handful of other Republicans, supported the bill when the Senate voted on it last year.

Here is the religious exemption in the version of ENDA passed by the Senate this passed fall:

While Title VII provides a broad exemption from its religious anti-discrimination requirements, race, sex, and national origin anti-discrimination measures have a more narrow one. ENDA borrows the broader religious exemption — previously only applied to religious anti-discrimination requirements — and applies it to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In addition to the Task Force and ACLULambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, and Pride at Work all withdrew their support for ENDA on Tuesday because of that religious exemption.

Supportive lawmakers see that that ground is shifting, although they were not going so far as to oppose the legislation itself. “I am very concerned about the religious exemption in the ENDA bill that passed the Senate,” Nadler told theBlade. “I think it is overbroad and I will of course work hard with my colleagues to narrow it appropriately.” He added that his concerns were amplified by the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Merkley, in a statement to BuzzFeed, echoed Nadler’s concerns, saying, “I share concerns about the Supreme Court’s overly broad reading of religious exemptions. I will keep working with advocates and Members on both sides of the aisle to address this issue. Workplace discrimination against the LGBT community is wrong and must end.”

Although the attention Tuesday was on ENDA, there is no expectation that ENDA will be moving this year in the House — meaning the discussion about the bill is, for the most part, posturing. So, what is the posturing about?

Three things.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

1. Hobby Lobby made them do it — at least that’s what they are saying.

The most clear posturing in the statements on Tuesday was with regard to Hobby Lobby. The decision is fresh in people’s minds — regardless of whether the specifics of the decision are understood or even applicable to ENDA.

From the first statement by the Task Force’s Rea Carey, Tuesday’s flood of comments were pegged as coming “after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling,” in “a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate.”

The ruling in Hobby Lobby was about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s applicability to for-profit corporations and whether that applicability could then be used to exempt Hobby Lobby from the contraception mandate implemented by Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act. Justice Samuel Alito specifically disclaimed the impact on anti-discrimination laws (although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed concerns), and ENDA’s religious exemption is not directly implicated by the ruling.

Both Merkley and Nadler nonetheless said the Hobby Lobby ruling impacted their thinking on the religious exemption in ENDA, with Nadler saying that following the ruling, “[W]e must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs.”

In addition, in the statement from the ACLU and LGBT legal groups Tuesday announcing that they were no longer supporting ENDA because of the broad religious exemption, they stated, “Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable.”

Jose Luis Magana / Reuters

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (center) with Sen. Jeff Merkley (left).

2. This is actually a fight over the LGBT non-discrimination bill to be written in the next Congress.

Even though it’s only July, much of the undercurrent of today’s fight over ENDA is actually a fight over what tomorrow’s bill — the bill considered in the next session of Congress — will look like.

This fight began, in a way, when the debate over Arizona’s religious exemption bill went national, but the fact that new, focused attention will be given to the way federal legislation will be drafted in the next Congress was made very clear on Tuesday.

Making no specific comments about the religious exemption, the Human Rights Campaign is standing by ENDA — with a spokesman telling BuzzFeed on Tuesday, “HRC supports ENDA because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people.”

With no expectation of House movement this year, though, the comments by HRC — or the Task Force or ACLU or anyone other than House Speaker John Boehner — are somewhat irrelevant. The real question is what the bill will look like when introduced in the next session of Congress. Will it only focus on employment, or will it include additional areas like public accommodations, housing, education, or lending? And, regarding today’s debate, will it include a streamlined religious exemption or will it continue building on this year’s exemption? (None of this even gets into Republicans’ support for the bill, and whether their support — from key congressional supporters like Sens. Susan Collins and Mark Kirk and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to the American Unity Fund and Log Cabin Republicans — is contingent upon the religious exemption remaining as is.)

Even some of the other organizations still supporting today’s ENDA, like the National Center for Transgender Equality and Freedom to Work, signaled to BuzzFeed that next year could be different with regard to the religious exemption.

While Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida continues to support ENDA, as passed by the Senate, he said of the group’s work to lobby for ENDA this year that “increasing the numbers of co-sponsors of ENDA this year increases the chances of a stronger bill getting introduced next year.” When asked if getting “a stronger bill” included seeking a more narrow religious exemption, Almeida said that it did.

For her part, NCTE’s Mara Keisling noted up front that “NCTE has been a leader for seven years in advocating for narrower religious exemptions in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” Right now, though, she said that NCTE was focusing on its upcoming lobby day, which will be focusing on increasing support for ENDA in the House.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama

3. The LGBT federal contractor executive order is being drafted right now.

The White House is preparing an executive order for Obama to sign that will bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — and LGBT groups want to make it perfectly clear to Obama and others that ENDA’s religious exemption would be unacceptable to them.

With last week’s letter signed by Rick Warren and others and draft letter circulated by Jim Wallis seeking a strong religious exemption — similar to the ENDA religious exemption — in the executive order, LGBT groups and allies are trying to move quickly and forcefully to push the counterargument.

On Tuesday, two letters were sent to the White House — one from the heads of statewide LGBT groups and another from progressive religious leaders — pressing the White House to include no more broad of a religious exemption in the executive order than that given with regard to other classes in other anti-discrimination measures.

For the organizations withdrawing their support from ENDA, they are talking about the religious exemption contained in ENDA — but they also are sending a message that such an exemption would clearly not be acceptable to them in the executive order.

There is an argument to be made that, even if the ENDA religious exemption remains, a more narrow exemption for federal contractors could be justified because they are seeking federal funds. For those organizations withdrawing their support from ENDA, this takes that more nuanced and complicated discussion out of the talking points. It sends a simple message that those LGBT groups are no longer accepting religious exemptions different than those established for other anti-discrimination measures, such as those barring racial or sex-based discrimination.

Doing so now, far more than because of Hobby Lobby or in anticipation of next year’s fight, is the key time to act to influence the White House on the executive order.

Source: Chris Geidner for Buzzfeed


"We are not going to let it die. We are very committed," Rev. Terry Fox, a leading Southern Baptist minister, told the AP. "The Body of Christ is a powerful movement when it comes together."

Gay rights advocates and social conservatives alike had watched the Hobby Lobby case to see how it might influence their cause. The Court’s decision was decidedly narrow in its language, and some legal experts pointed TPM to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion in the case as evidence that he would not support discrimination against LGBT people on religious freedom grounds.

But others warned on the day of the ruling that conservatives would likely take Hobby Lobby’s win as their chance to resuscitate religious freedom legislation.

"The opinion really doesn’t really resolve the question of whether for-profit businesses can seek religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law," Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, told TPM. "If I’m one of those groups, I’m going to pursue this."

Religious leaders have already asked the White House for an exemption from President Barack Obama’s upcoming executive order aimed at preventing anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. The conservative lobbyist behind Arizona’s religious freedom bill that gained national attention hinted she could revisit the issue. Now Kansas religious leaders are signaling they’ll do the same.

Gay rights advocates don’t seem to be fretting yet. First, they see the Hobby Lobby decision, and Kennedy in particular, on their side. Second, the forces that doomed the Arizona and Kansas bills — namely, the business community — are still in place. They aren’t surprised by the renewed push in Kansas, but they don’t believe it poses a danger to their cause.

"The ultra-conservative religious voices that championed the Kansas anti-gay bill last year have said consistently that they would try again. Hearing a renewed call now is no surprise," Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization, told TPM. "We’ve fully expected zealously anti-LGBT religious groups to ignore the Hobby Lobby decision’s language that it is not a shield for discrimination, and to wave it as a sword or, at least, a rallying banner, regardless of what it actually says."

Source: Dylan Scott for Talking Points Memo

h/t: Jack Jenkins at Think Progress Health

h/t: Peter Montgomery at RWW


The word “freedom” is something I don’t think most conservatives understand.  While it can be subjective at times (I wouldn’t recommend yelling “bomb” in an airport, for instance) it’s not really that difficult of a concept to grasp.  Especially when it comes to religion.

See, in this country, religion is meant to be a private matter.  After all, isn’t that much simpler?  Even those who believe that this country was founded on Christianity can’t tell me what denomination we should follow.  Because the fact of the matter is, Catholics and Baptists (while both Christians) practice their faiths very differently.

“Religious freedom,” as conservatives like to call it, means that privately we’re allowed to identify with whatever religion we want to identify with.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re allowed to discriminate against people just because we disagree with them.

Our Constitution, as subjective as it might be, presents one undeniable fact – the words Christianity, Christian, God or Jesus Christ appear within its text not even once. 

But for some reason these people still seem to believe that restricting their “right” to discriminate against others based on their religion is somehow an infringement on their rights.  Basically, their attempts to infringe on another person’s rights are being infringed upon and that’s ticking them off.

So to these people, I say – get the hell out.  If you think a government based on theocracy would be so wonderful, by all means, go check out Iran and Saudi Arabia then come back and tell me how “free” the people of those two nations are.

Because that’s what these people seem unable to understand.  The words “freedom” and “religion” are complete contradictions.  Religion is about control – not freedom.  You can’t say you support freedom, while trying to control people with your religion.  Because that doesn’t make any damn sense. 


NOTE: The minute that the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby is known, I will post the latest updates here. The earliest the ruling could come is later today at 10 AM. If/when it happens, live breaking news coverage on the blog will occur..

Sometime in the next week or two, the Supreme Court will hand down its decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which raises the question of whether a corporation has a legal right to refuse to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require it to provide contraceptive health insurance coverage for its women employees. Hobby Lobby maintains that it must be granted an exemption from the law because compliance would conflict with the corporation’s religious beliefs.

Although people tend to think the case poses a First Amendment question, in fact it poses only a statutory question: whether the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives Hobby Lobby a statutory right not to comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the constitutional background of the case, because that background explains how and why the issue has been framed the way it has.

The First Amendment provides, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. It has long been settled that the Free Exercise Clause forbids the government to discriminate against individuals because of their religion. For example, a law prohibiting Jews from holding public office, forbidding Catholics to attend public schools, or banning Muslims from serving as police officers would clearly violate the Free Exercise Clause.

A more difficult question is whether a law that applies generally, and is not designed to interfere with anyone’s free exercise of religion, but that in practice has an incidental impact on the religious beliefs or activities of some people, also violates the Free Exercise Clause.

The problem of “incidental impact” arises in many different contexts. For example, does a reporter who commits a burglary in order to gather information for a story have a First Amendment (freedom of the press) right to violate the law against burglary?

For a variety of reasons, including (1) the difficulty of determining the actor’s sincerity (suppose a burglar claims to be a reporter), (2) the difficulty of drawing lines between one person and another (suppose one reporter is covering an important story and another is covering a not-so-important story), and (3) the difficulty of balancing the competing interests (is the reporter’s story sufficiently important to justify the burglary?), the Supreme Court has generally been extremely reluctant to hold that laws having only an incidental effect on the exercise of constitutional rights are for that reason unconstitutional as applied to particular persons.

This same issue also arises under the Free Exercise Clause. The Supreme Court first addressed this question in 1879 when it upheld the conviction of George Reynolds, the secretary to Mormon Church leader Brigham Young, for violating a law against bigamy. Although conceding that the law was not directed at Mormons, Reynolds nonetheless maintained that, as applied to him, it violated the Free Exercise Clause because it interfered with his religion’s well-established belief in polygamy. The Supreme Court rejected Reynolds’ claim, holding that the Free Exercise Clause does not prevent the government from even-handedly restricting conduct that society deems inconsistent with “good order,” even if that conduct for some persons is consistent with their religious beliefs.

Eighty-two years later, in Braunfeld v. Brown, the Court considered the constitutionality of a Sunday closing law, which was challenged by Orthodox Jews whose religion required them to close their stores on Saturdays. They maintained that, given the demands of their religion, the Sunday closing law unconstitutionally put them at a severe competitive disadvantage by effectively requiring them to be closed two days each week.

On a 6-3 vote, the Court rejected their Free Exercise claim, explaining that “we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference,” and it therefore “cannot be expected, much less required, that legislators enact no law regulating conduct that may in some way” disadvantage “some religious sects.” The Court concluded that if the government “regulates conduct by enacting a general law, the purpose and effect of which is to advance the State’s secular goals, the statute is valid despite its indirect burden on religious observance,” said the Court, “unless the State may accomplish its purposes by means which do not impose such a burden.”

That final clause opened the door to the possibility that some religious exemptions might, indeed, be required by the Free Exercise Clause. Two years later, in 1963, the Supreme Court stepped through that door in Sherbert v. Verner.  In that case, the Court held that a Seventh Day Adventist could not constitutionally be denied unemployment benefits because of her refusal to work on Saturdays, as required by her religion. The Court ruled that if an otherwise constitutional law imposes a “substantial burden” on an individual’s religious freedom, then the law cannot constitutionally be applied to that individual unless it is narrowly drawn to serve a compelling government interest. Sherbert was a landmark decision of the liberal Warren Court.

But then, in 1990, after the Supreme Court had moved sharply to the right, the Court effectively overruled Sherbert in Employment Division v. Smith. The issue in Smith was whether a state could deny individuals unemployment benefits because they had been dismissed from their because of their unlawful use of peyote. For these individuals, the use of peyote was an essential element of the religious rituals of their Native American Church. The members of the Church maintained that, just as Prohibition had exempted the use of wine by Catholics for sacramental purposes, the anti-peyote law should have exempted the use of peyote by members of the Native American Church for similar religious purposes. Because it didn’t, they argued that, under Sherbert, the First Amendment required such an exemption.

After Smith, it is crystal clear that Hobby Lobby has no constitutional right to refuse to provide contraceptive health insurance to its women employees. ButSmith was not the end of the story.

In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court flat-out rejected the proposition that the Free Exercise Clause gives individuals a constitutional right to violate “a generally applicable law that requires (or forbids) the performance of an act that his religious belief forbids (or requires).” Justice Scalia explained that “the government’s ability to enforce generally applicable prohibitions of socially harmful conduct . . . cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental action on a religious objector’s spiritual development.” Indeed, “to make an individual’s obligation to obey such a law contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the state’s interest is compelling, … contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.”

After Employment Division v. Smith, which remains the law to this day, it is crystal clear that Hobby Lobby has no constitutional right to refuse to provide contraceptive health insurance to its women employees. But Smith was not the end of the story. Three years later, Congress, annoyed by Justice Scalia’s opinion in Smith, enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which as a statutory matter now prohibits the federal government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a law of general applicability, unless the government can demonstrate that the law is narrowly drawn to further a “compelling governmental interest.”

So, where does that leave us? In practical effect, RFRA reestablished the constitutional rule adopted by the Warren Court in Sherbert, but as a statutory, rather than a constitutional, limitation on the federal government. There are several issues to be decided: (1) Is a corporation a “person” within the meaning of RFRA? (2) Does the insurance requirement “substantially burden” Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs? (3) Does the government have a sufficiently “compelling interest” in ensuring contraceptive coverage for Hobby Lobby’s women employees? (4) Does the more recently enacted Affordable Care Act effectively override the previously enacted RFRA?

This case might best be understood as part of an increasingly desperate effort of religious adherents to defend themselves against the values of an increasingly secular society. Fifty years ago, largely for religious reasons, the sale of contraceptives, abortion, and same-sex marriage were all illegal.  Today, in part as a result of Supreme Court decisions, these are all seen as constitutional rights. Hobby Lobby thus poses an interesting question: If religious adherents can no longer impose their views on the rest of society by prohibiting non-believers from engaging in such sinful behavior as purchasing contraceptives, obtaining abortions, and marrying persons of the same sex, to what extent can the rest of society now impose their views on religious adherents by requiring them to engage in conduct that they find sinful?

For what it’s worth, my guess is that the five “conservative” justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) will find in favor of Hobby Lobby on all four questions. But whatever happens, Hobby Lobby represents the dawn of a whole new set of battles over the proper relationship between government and religion in American society.

Source: Geoffrey R. Stone on The Daily Beast

Unfortunately, Nebraska is stuck with this asshole for a Senator for the next 6 years. 

h/t: Ian Millhiser at Josh Israel at Think Progress Justice

For years, conservative media figures have attacked marriage equality by citing “religious liberty” concerns, baselessly warning that churches might be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will. But a new lawsuit in North Carolina challenges the right-wing media’s commitment to religious freedom when it’s not being used as an excuse for anti-gay discrimination.  

On April 28, the United Church of Christ (UCC), a progressive Protestant denomination that supports marriage equality, filed suit in Federal District Court challenging North Carolina’s ban on clergy blessings of same-sex unions. Under the state’s 2012 same-sex marriage ban, it’s a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 45 days in jail, to perform a ceremony for any couple lacking a valid marriage license. The UCC argues that the ban infringes on clergy members’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion:

"We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices," said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.

The lawsuit represents the inverse of a long-standing (and entirely baseless) conservative horror story about marriage equality - that churches will be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will.

This myth has been perpetuated by conservative media personalities like Fox’s Todd Starnes, who in 2012 warned that a Kansas non-discrimination ordinance “would force churches to host gay weddings”:

When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Breitbart News’ Ben Shapiro claimed that churches would lose their tax exempt status if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Fox contributor Erick Erickson has gone so far as to claim ”gay marriage and religious freedom are incompatible.”  And Fox News’ longstanding campaign to depict marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws as burdens on religious liberty inspired a rash of so-called “religious freedom” bills across the country earlier this year.

Given social conservatives’ self-appointed role as guardians of religious freedom, the North Carolina case would seem ripe for their attention.

But now that religious liberty is being invoked to oppose a gay marriage ban, will right-wing media rush to tout the cause of a pro-equality church?

Conservatives who rushed to defend “religious liberty” legislation like Arizona SB 1062 have so far been silent on the case. The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who penned a column supporting Arizona’s bill on religious liberty grounds, has yet to comment on the UCC case on his blog. A TV Eyes search shows that Fox News - which regularly features segments titled “The Fight for Faith” - hasn’t taken up the UCC’s mantle. The same goes for anti-gay conservatives like Starnes, Shapiro, and Erickson.

While civil marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples would have no bearing on churches’ doctrines and practices, laws like North Carolina’s actively restrict religious denominations’ right to freely exercise their faith. If serving a cake to a same-sex couple constitutes an unconscionable violation of religious liberty, then surely a law telling churches which unions they can and can’t bless does. But the right’s crusade against LGBT equality has almost nothing to do with genuine, intellectually consistent support for religious liberty, and everything to do with keeping discrimination enshrined in law.

Too often in conservative media, religious liberty becomes a shield to deflect accusations of bigotry, even while justifying blatant anti-LGBT discrimination. UCC’s lawsuit, and conservative media’s interest in taking it up as a cause célèbre, will test whether the right’s interest in religious liberty is anything more than a shallow excuse for homophobia.


Equality Matters searched TV Eyes for the terms “gay,” “United Church of Christ,” and “North Carolina” for Fox’s programming on April 28 and the morning of April 29, 2014.

h/t: Luke Brinker at MMFA 


h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW

As I said before, if the ruling at SCOTUS goes Hobby Lobby's way in June (most likely the final week or the 30th), it'll be a scary preposition for America.

h/t: Rev. Harry Knox and Jill C. Morrison at HuffPost Religion

The ruling will be a very close one either way come June. Hopefully, SCOTUS sides with Sebelius. 

h/t: Ryan J. Reilly and Laura Bassett at HuffPost Politics

The questions sound absurd: is a for-profit corporation a person with religious beliefs? Should the religious beliefs of your employer dictate what kind of medical care you get? 

Yet these are the questions before the Supreme Court this week, and given where some of the justices stand – that a corporation is a person (see: Citizens United), that a woman’s reproductive choices are up for debate (see: the “partial-birth” abortion ruling) – there may be many more absurdities across America after Tuesday’s oral arguments on Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

There’s a real chance that the court could buy the most absurd argument of all: that a company, owned by a person who believes that some forms of contraception are morally wrong, can refuse to comply with federal law – and can refuse to provide comprehensive insurance coverage to employees. If the justices side with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood – a chain craft store and a furniture maker, both owned by men who oppose some forms of birth control – then you can prepare for a chain reaction of discrimination.

Those of us who care about women’s equality, workers’ rights and legal protections for minority groups – there are a lot of us – are nervous. So I called up Sandra Fluke, the reproductive justice activist who is nowrunning for state legislature in California, for a preview.

“Not only does this case potentially undermine the protections for affordable insurance coverage for contraception, but it could undermine a whole host of protections against discrimination – race, sexual orientation, gender,” Fluke told me late last week. “We’ve seen people step forward and say it: ‘I shouldn’t have to pay men and women equal wages because of my religion. I shouldn’t have to serve LGBT folks.’”

This week’s cases are about contraception. But as Fluke points out, the issues will go far beyond corporate personhood, insurance requirements and the healthcare law – no small topics of debate themselves. The justices are now prepared to set in stone the it’s-my-religion defense of wholesale discrimination, the groundwork for which has been set across the conservative spectrum for years.

“Right-wing groups pushing religious liberty at the expense of women’s health,” Fluke says, “use what should be a shield for one person’s individual personal beliefs – and a legal protection of those beliefs – to try to turn that into a sword to impose those values more broadly and undermine other peoples’ ability to make their own medical choices.”

Freedom of religion is carved into the Constitution, and the Affordable Care Act allows churches and other houses of worship a kind of out from the contraception mandate. What happens if that loophole gets undermined by for-profit companies? What happens if the Supreme Court opens up the law of the land to outright bigotry disguised as “freedom”?

We saw hints last month in the laboratories of democracy, where statehouse politicians introduced bills that claimed to protect religious liberty by allowing wide discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In Kansas, a failed bill would have allowed owners of hotels, restaurants and other entities to refuse to serve or accommodate gay people. And we don’t have to talk about Arizona again, do we?

Some powerful religious people also believe that women should be in charge of the home and shouldn’t work for pay. Do we really want to open the door to the wholesale refusal to hire women – or the right to pay them less?

Religious beliefs around medicine vary widely, too: if a person believes HIV is God’s punishment or that HIV doesn’t cause Aids, should she have the right to refuse to buy insurance that covers HIV for her employees? If a company is owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses, does it not have to cover blood transfusions? If it’s owned by a Scientologist, can it exclude insurance coverage for mental health care?

Oh, and Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods have identified a handful of contraceptive methods that they say kill fertilized eggs. That’s probably not true, according to scientists. But the veracity of beliefs don’t matter very much at the Supreme Court – just that religious individuals sincerely hold them.

The same conservative hostility to women that underlies the contraception mandate cases rained down on Fluke when she testified before Congress about contraception access. For her efforts, Rush Limbaugh called her a slut two years ago. Her name remains attached to anti-Obamacare talking points – Sandra Fluke wants you to pay for her birth control is standard conservative blog fodder to this day.

Those attacks put Fluke on the map as a young advocate, and now on the road to office in those very same laboratories of democracy. From that vantage point, she’s heard from women all over the country who see how cases like Hobby Lobby are taking us backward.

“A lot of folks have said that they’re surprised we’re still fighting about this,” Fluke tells me. “They’re surprised that we’re still fighting battles they thought we had won.”

While Fluke says she’s less surprised at the ongoing birth-control battles, her position as an inadvertent contraception ambassador has made her realize just how fringe the anti-contraception arguments actually are – even if those making them are particularly loud, and even if the fringe ends up becoming a legal reality.

h/t: Jill Filipovic at The Guardian

Several times over the last few weeks, we have wondered why members of Congress and Religious Right activists continue to appear on the radio program hosted by conspiracy theorist and End Times fanatic Rick Wiles, given that Wiles is a bona fide crackpot and a loose cannon, which is something that Todd Starnes learned first-hand when he appeared on Wiles’ program on Friday.

Starnes was on to discuss his recent column about a controversy at the Air Force Academy over cadets posting Bible verses on their dormitory white boards, which brought a complaint from Mikey Weinstein, the director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Wiles announced that he was fed up with Weinstein and said that he needed to be met by a bunch of special forces commandos in a dark alley and “given an attitude adjustment.” To his credit, Starnes took offense at this statement, denounced it, and ended the interview:

Wiles: You know what Mikey Weinstein needs? I’ll say this on my radio show, I can get away with it: he really needs to be met in a dark alley by a couple of special forces commandos and given an attitude adjustment. You don’t have to comment, Todd; I said it on my program. I’m fed up with that guy.

Starnes: I have to really incredibly object to that.

Wiles: I’m fed up with the guy. I’m fed up with the guy.

Starnes: Well, that may be the case but this is a free country and individuals are allowed to voice their opinions of whether or not they agree or disagree and they should be able to do so without any threat of violence or force …

Wiles: Okay, but he doesn’t just express his opinions …

Starnes: It doesn’t matter …

Wiles: He’s perusing Christians. He is on a war against Christianity.

Starnes: Well, that is certainly his right. The issue here is not Mr. Weinstein and, again, we should live in a country where people can express their views without any threat of violence. The issue here is the Air Force Academy and this idea that they kowtow to ever single telephone call they receive from him.

Wiles: That’s the point I’m making.

Starnes: And I do apologize, but I do have to end this interview. Again, we just strongly object to that comment you made, sir.

Wiles: I didn’t mean to offend you, Todd. I’m just saying I think many Americans are just plain fed-up with this guy.

Starnes: Well, I’m sure they are and again, but we do have to end this interview. Thank you very much.

Wiles: Okay Todd, thank you. Good bye. Well, I tried to five years to get Todd Starnes on TruNews. I finally got him and he hung on my after five minutes.

After Starnes hung up, Wiles spent the remainder of the segment defending his comment and saying that he was sick of feckless Christians like Starnes who are more concerned about protecting their careers than they are with standing up to the “fat-mouthed atheists” and “Jesus-hating bigots” who are operating “under the spirit of Antichrist.”

From the 03.21.2014 edition of TruNews:

h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW