Conservative religious leaders have a long track record of hyping supposed threats to religious liberty in America — specifically, to the religious liberty of conservative Christians. In fact, portraying Christians as a persecuted minority under siege by anti-freedom LGBT activists and secular humanists has become the right’s primary strategy for reversing the advance of equality in America. But even in the long context of crying wolf over threats to religious freedom, Sen. Ted Cruz and his religious right allies have set new records for dishonest hype in their response to this week’s controversy over subpoenas sent to a few religious leaders in Houston.
Cruz told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that there is a “real risk” that preachers will be hauled off to jail for preaching against homosexuality, recycling an old and equally ludicrous charge that hate crimes laws would result in pastors being dragged from the pulpit.
Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response.” But he adds: “The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.Cruz is lying. And he has lots of company promoting the Houston hype. Todd Starnes of Fox News charged, ”There is a war over religious liberty in Houston, Texas.” The Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell said it smacked of totalitarianism and said it suggested that it was “a domestic version of the terrorists outside of our country” who think “America is evil.” Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared, “This is how religious liberty dies.”
As exciting as it is to hear the alarm bells and read the hyperventilating emails, the truth is far less dramatic. Sorry, Sen. Cruz, but the government is not policing sermons for political correctness. It’s not going to start tossing anti-gay preachers in jail.
So what is the real story?
The immediate cause of the ruckus was a subpoena sent by attorneys for the city of Houston to several pastors who had been active in opposition to the city’s new anti-discrimination law. Conservatives ran a signature-gathering campaign to put the law before the voters, but city attorneys ruled that so many of the signatures were not valid that the effort did not qualify for the ballot.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right law firm, stepped in and sued the city over that decision. As part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, attorneys for the city sent subpoenas to five prominent pastors asking for sermons and other communications they had about the ordinance, the signature gathering effort, and the controversy over homosexuality and gender identity.
Here’s the problem. The subpoena was sent to pastors who are not party to the lawsuit, and it asked for some materials that do not seem directly relevant to the determination of whether signatures were collected in accordance with the law. By giving pundits something to scream about, the subpoena was a gift to Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who thrive on promoting the myth of anti-Christian religious persecution in the U.S. And they have run with it.
On Friday the city narrowed the scope of their discovery request somewhat. And it’s entirely possible that a judge will further limit the amount of materials the city can collect in the Religious Right’s lawsuit. That’s how our legal system works.
It’s terribly inconvenient to the Religious Right’s narrative that progressive religious leaders are among those who have criticized the Houston attorneys’ subpoena. Among those who criticized the city’s subpoena as troubling and overly intrusive were supporters of LGBT equality and church-state separation. Baptists of all stripes weighed in. Both progressive religious leaders and atheists publicly agreed. Even the ACLU! So much for the supposed enemies of religious freedom.
Even some religious conservatives have denounced the Houston hype. In reality, the entire episode undermines right-wing claims that religious liberty is hanging by a thread in America. Indeed, it demonstrates that Religious liberty is widely respected as a core constitutional principle and a fundamental American value — by people across the religious landscape and our fractured political spectrum. If only Ted Cruz and his allies were as committed to the constitutional and legal equality of Houston’s, and America’s, LGBT citizens.
Limbaugh: Democrats' "All Out Assault" On Marriage, Religion, Science, And Education The Cause Of "National Angst"
From the 10.20.2014 edition of Premiere Radio Network’s The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Jody Hice: 'Hypocritical' Obama 'Attacking Us Here In America While Trying To Defend Others Around The World'
GOP congressional candidate Jody Hice of Georgia took to his radio program this week to attack President Obama for “giving the appearance of a willingness to defend religious liberties” in the Middle East merely for “political advantage,” while “fighting against religious freedom here” through the HHS contraception coverage mandate.
“Our same administration is attacking us here in America while trying to defend others around the world,” Hice lamented.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
When a Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah scored a touchdown during his team’s systematic routing of the New England Patriots last night, he did what many NFL players do: he stopped to say a prayer.
But unlike virtually every other touchdown prayer, Abdullah’s drew a penalty.
During the fourth quarter, Abdullah picked off a pass by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and ran it back for a touchdown. To celebrate the score — just the second of his career — Abdullah slid to his knees and performed sujud, or a Muslim form of prayer. Officials immediately penalized Abdullah for unsportsmanlike conduct, specifically excessive celebration, because of his “going to the ground.”
Here is video of the incident:
Abdullah’s prayer, of course, wasn’t “excessive” at all — unless officials think religion itself excessive. He is a practicing Muslim who fasts during Ramadan —going without food and water every day until sundown during NFL training camp. He also skipped the 2012 season so he and his brother Hamza, another NFL safety who used to play for the Broncos and the Cardinals, could go on the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
After the incident, Hamza retweeted a celebratory picture of his brother with the hashtag “#Abdullahing,” hinting that his performance of sujud was effectively the Muslim equivalent of “Tebowing,” or the kneeling prayer of Tim Tebow, former quarterback for the Denver Broncos and famous evangelical Christian.
But while Hamza was subtle about the connection between Tebow and Husain, others on Twitter were quick to point out what appeared to be a double standard between the celebration of Tebow’s public faith and the apparent penalizing of Husain’s:
What’s the difference? pic.twitter.com/2Je8PSJ8GW— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) September 30, 2014
After a round of criticism, the NFL clarified on Tuesday morning that the celebration should not have drawn a penalty. Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice president of football communications, tweeted that the league’s celebration rules have an exception for gestures of religious faith:
Abdullah should not have been penalized. Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons.— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) September 30, 2014
The NFL has made cracking down on celebrations and unsportsmanlike conduct a priority this year, and it’s entirely possible that the referee simply didn’t understand what Abdullah was doing. It also wasn’t immediately clear whether the penalty was issued as a result of Abdullah’s prayer or because of his celebratory slide just before he performed sujud. For his part, Abdullah appeared to be gracious about the incident and gave the referee the benefit of the doubt.
“I got a little too excited,” Abdullah told KSHB Kansas City news. “The slide before it, I’m pretty sure that did it.”
But even with the NFL’s clarification, Abdullah’s prayer celebration exposes the uphill battle many non-Christian athletes in the United States face just to express their faith. Whereas Christian NFL players such as Tebow, Robert Griffin III, andRussell Wilson can openly perform their religion in ways that elicit praise, athletes like the Abdullah brothers must constantly explain and re-articulate their faith to others, and sometimes even fight for their right to express it during games. The fact that officials might not have been aware that Husain was praying — even though there have been Muslim athletes in the NFL, NBA, on professional boxing circuits, and MLS, including Kei Kamara, who used to play for nearby MLS team Sporting Kansas City — is a well-known frustration to those who follow faiths other than Christianity in the United States.
The incident also came during a period when other athletic institutions are grappling with how to guarantee players the freedom of religious expression. FIBA, basketball’s largest international body, drew fire recently for its ban on religious headwear such as Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans, and Jewish yarmulkes. Similarly, FIFA, the international soccer federation, recently lifted its similar ban on headwear following protests.
Husain Abdullah of The Kansas City Chiefs should NOT have been penalized for “excessive celebration” just for praying after a touchdown.
Here’s how I see it: Abdullah wrongly got penalized 15 yards just because he was praying while Muslim, whereas any practicing Christian such as RGIII and Tebow doing something similar gets all sorts of praise and no in-game penalty for freely expressing their faith.
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has excitedly touted a big “get” for this week’s Values Voter Summit: Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was persecuted by the Sudanese government over charges of apostasy. Evangelicals in the U.S. were part of the international chorus of voices who worked to keep a spotlight on Ibrahim’s plight, and Ibrahim may wish to thank some of the activists who advocated for her freedom. But Perkins and FRC have another agenda entirely: They have been using Ibrahim as a prop in their relentless, over-the-top attacks on the Obama administration — and their claims that Christians in America are themselves facing government persecution.
Ibrahim’s vividly compelling case — for being a Christian, she was shackled to a prison floor with one small child while pregnant, then gave birth in jail — drew worldwide attention. Ibrahim had a Muslim father but was raised by a Christian mother, and in 2011 she married a Catholic American, Daniel Wali. She was arrested last September after being charged with apostasy — abandoning the Muslim faith — and for adultery given that the court didn’t recognize her marriage to a Christian. This May she was sentenced to receive 100 lashes and be hanged.
An Amnesty International campaign on her behalf generated more than a million signatures. European leaders condemned her treatment and called for her release. In the U.S., religious and political leaders called for her freedom. A petition on the White House website pushed by Perkins and others gained more than 50,000 signatures.
On May 15, the White House condemned her sentence in a statement by National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, which urged the government of Sudan to respect Ibrahim’s religious freedom and “to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.” The State Department also expressed concerns in May; Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement in June. Ibrahim was freed on June 23, then re-arrested and detained briefly when she tried to leave the country. She was sheltered by the U.S. embassy for about a month until she was permitted to leave Sudan in late July. She is now living with her husband and children in New Hampshire.
Perkins has repeatedly used Ibrahim’s plight as a way to hammer the Obama administration.
In late May, Perkins fumed:
While many international groups have taken up efforts to pressure the Sudanese government to release Meriam and her children, the Obama administration has said little, and done nothing.
Think about this: two innocent American children are imprisoned abroad as their life hangs in the balance. If President Obama will not act in a situation like this, what will he act upon? Does Obama care?
Fox News’ hosts got in on the act, even as its own website was contradicting those claims. A May 31 Fox News story by Joshua Rhett Miller was headlined, “US ‘fully engaged’ in case of Sudanese woman sentenced to die for Christian faith.” It included a quote from the State Department:
“Through the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department, we have communicated our strong concern at high levels of the Sudanese government about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson wrote FoxNews.com in an email. “We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight. We have conveyed these views to the Government of Sudan.”
Yet the video at the top of that very story on the Fox News website featured Perkins saying the U.S. government was doing “so far, nothing that we can tell” other than condemning Ibrahim’s treatment. Megyn Kelly fumed that the State Department had “refused to say bupkis” about what the U.S. government was doing. If Perkins or Kelly were aware of the possibility that U.S. officials may have believed that quiet diplomacy would be more effective, they gave no hint of it.
Other conservatives piled on: On June 11, Nina Shea at the Hudson Institute wrote, “And, as Ibrahim looks toward an appeals court review of her case, President Obama and the U.S. State department have been silent about it.”
On June 12, FRC and Concerned Women for America held a rally in front of the White House. Perkins was joined by Obama-bashers Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Trent Franks. Perkins’ remarks were wildly inflammatory. “There was a time when people of faith could sit down inside the White House and talk about these issues,” he said. Claiming that administration inaction was threatening the lives of Ibrahim’s children, Perkins said, “If this president is content with the blood of small children on his hands, then God help him.”
Perkins continued throughout the summer to complain that the Obama administration was doing nothing to help Ibrahim, even though he was told otherwise on his own radio show by a Republican congressman. On June 23, Perkins had Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., on his radio show to talk about the case. As Brian reported in RWW, Meadows undermined Perkins’ attacks on the administration:
Asked if the State Department was working to help Ibrahim and her children, Meadows reported that the U.S. has in fact worked vigorously behind the scenes to free Ibrahim: “I got off of a call not more than an hour or so ago and a number of agencies across the board are working hand-in-glove to make sure that this is handled quickly and efficiently. And I am heartened by what I heard on that phone call and really encouraged that this is a government that cares about people. Sometimes I wish they would speak up louder and quicker, but I can tell you behind the scenes a number of agencies are working to make sure that they are safe.”
In July, Perkins testified about the case at a congressional subcommittee hearing. One of his fellow panelists, Grover Rees, who served as a U.S. ambassador during the George W. Bush presidency, said that even though Ibrahim’s husband had said he was rebuffed by a U.S. consular officer when he sought help, Rees believed that government agencies were doing what they could. Rees said that “the State Department seems to be making amends, supplying appropriate attention and care.”
Perkins has even kept up the Obama-bashing rhetoric since Ibrahim’s release and safe passage to the U.S. In August, Perkins cited the case as a reason people think Obama is a Muslim.
Perkins isn’t alone. In August, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer allied himself with ISIS’s characterization of Iraq’s Yazidi minority and griped, “Obama will fight for Satan-worshipers but not for Christians!”
ISIS has been beheading Christian children and crucifying Christians by the side of the road. Christians for months have been fleeing Iraq in droves ahead of the murderous hordes of Al Qaeda. And Obama yawns.
When Christian wife and mother Meriam Ibrahim is imprisoned in Sudan for being a Christian, and forced to give birth in a filthy jail cell while shackled to the wall, Obama yawns. While Christian pastor and American citizen Saeed Abedini languishes in the hellhole of an Iranian prison, Obama yawns.
But when worshipers of Lucifer get in trouble at the hands of the same blood-thirsty savages, suddenly Obama springs into action.
What this reveals about the president’s religious sympathies I will leave for others to decide. But it can’t be good.
Real Persecution vs the Religious Right’s Persecution Complex
We have previously suggested that American religious conservatives should be ashamed of equating their policy disagreements or losses in legal disputes with the kind of brutal religious persecution experienced by Meriam Ibrahim and so many Christians and other religious minorities around the globe. But Perkins and others have been happy to use her case to promote their narrative that Christianity in the U.S. is on the verge of being criminalized. Advocates for LGBT equality are often portrayed as persecutors of Christians, as in Perkins’ statement in June that he was wondering, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?” As part of FRC’s announcement that Ibrahim would be speaking at the Values Voter Summit, Perkins said:
"Meriam’s bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death has touched the hearts of people in every nation. Her incredible example of courage should inspire Christians in America to be bold and courageous in their faith as we witness growing religious hostility here in our country.”
“It is difficult to look at these facts [about Ibrahim’s case] and not understand then in the light of the current administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of religious freedom domestically. This administration believes religious beliefs should be quarantined to private spaces and excluded from the public space. This truncated view of religious freedom domestically, more accurately described as the freedom of worship, is matched by the administration’s failure to even address the growing threats to religious freedom internationally.”
In August, Dusty Gates, who works for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, wrote in Crisis magazine that liberals were uncomfortable supporting Ibrahim because they don’t support religious freedom in the U.S.
Naturally, this victory for freedom (liber) is being celebrated, at least to some degree, by liberals of all kinds. A human being freed from oppression, especially from such extreme persecution as Ibrahim faced, seems to be a grand slam for the liberal cause. But with the Ibrahim case, as well as the larger situation of global anti-Christian persecution, is causing liberals to sweat a little. Just as they stand up to cheer, it seems that their impending jubilation is cut short; subdued by a palpable fear that maybe they shouldn’t be celebrating the thing they want to celebrate. “A victory for freedom? Hoora… Oh wait, for religious freedom? Uh oh….”
Gates even slammed the welcome given Ibrahim by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, saying the Nutter’s comparison of Ibrahim to Rosa Parks rather than to other religious martyrs was “a subtle attempt to hijack Ibrahim’s story: taking it out of its full context and using it as a vehicle for the liberal agenda.”
In June, Christian author Benjamin Corey called out right-wing claims of religious persecution in the United States:
Meanwhile in the United States, we’re going about our daily lives panicking with cries of religious persecution as well…although, they’re not the cries one would think. Instead of a collective focus on wide-spread human rights abuses and religious persecution in places like Sudan, North Korea where an estimated 33,000 Christians have been incarcerated in prison camps, or the estimated thousands who actually die for their religious faith each year, we’re focused on a first world version of persecution that’s not really persecution at all.
When A&E temporarily made the decision to disassociate with Phil from Duck Dynasty over anti-gay comments he made in the media, it was labeled as “persecution”.
When public business owners in the baking industry have insisted on the right to discriminate and faced just accountability, it becomes another example of “persecution”.
We even have potential presidential candidates perpetuating such a persecution complex, with figures like Rick Santorum falsely stating that people who oppose same sex marriage are being sent to re-education camps.
With all of the legitimate and horrifying human rights violations occurring in the world, some in America have sadly adopted a very first world, privileged, and self-centered version of persecution. Instead of doubling efforts to shed light on international abuses, we’ve seen a flood of first world persecution claims– from internet trolls right up to the right wing members of government.
…Let’s reserve the “persecution” word for the real thing– such as what we saw in the case of Meriam Ibrahim.
Using Ibrahim to Attack LGBT Human Rights
Perkins has also used Meriam Ibrahim’s case to promote his attacks on the Obama administration’s advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people who face brutal persecution in many countries. In June, he wrote,
President Obama, who can’t find a few minutes to call for Meriam Ibrahim’s release from a Sudanese prison, had plenty of time to fly to New York and fundraise for homosexual activists.
In a late August direct mail piece, Perkins complained angrily about the “utterly shocking” fact that the rainbow flag was flown over the US embassy in Israel during a gay pride celebration.
“This would be outrageous enough all by itself—but the reality of the big picture is more frightening by far. The global Obama crusade for gay rights is happening against a backdrop of the total collapse of his real foreign policy responsibilities. We are witnessing an unprecedented level of anti-Christian persecution around the world, a colossal, international, multifront assault on religious freedom. Yet in response to these atrocities, the administration has remained all but silent….This administration is pressuring other nations to adopt Barack Obama’s radical gay agenda—but not to observe the most basic universal human right of religious freedom.”
The rest of Perkins’ letter goes back and forth between portraying the administration as fixated on gay rights and unconcerned about persecuted Christians. “We had no choice but to stand up for Meriam — because the Obama administration wouldn’t, and didn’t.”
“I urge you to stand with FRC Action again today as we fight back against the Obama administration’s outrages — their devotion to the cause of sexual immorality and their simultaneous indifference toward Christians suffering persecution for their faith.”
All the while Perkins portrays advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people — who certainly face brutal persecution in many parts of the world — as extremism.
When we see the rainbow flag of the homosexual movement flying over our embassies in Tel Aviv, London, and Prague, we can see with our own eyes what an extremist is sitting in the Oval Office.
Similar language appears in a September 6 fundraising email from Perkins, which says in part:
With President Obama promoting the homosexual movement around the world through the Obama administration, yet not working to prevent Christians from being persecuted, jailed, even tortured and killed for their faith, FRC Action’s work has grown more important than ever before.
As far as we can tell, Perkins and other Religious Right leaders haven’t raised much of a ruckus about the persecution of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who faces 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes after being convicted of “insulting Islam” by calling for religious tolerance, or about the imprisonment in Indonesia of Alexander Aan for publicly declaring himself an atheist.
The Values Voter Summit
Meriam Ibrahim may consider an appearance at the extremism-heavy Values Voter Summit as an opportunity to thank the thousands of Americans who advocated on her behalf while she was suffering in a Sudanese prison cell, and to celebrate the freedom of religion that she and her family enjoy in America. Unfortunately, her attendance at the Values Voter Summit will put her in the company of people like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, who argues that the First Amendment does not protect religious minorities in the U.S., and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who argues that Christians whose beliefs on the equality of LGBT people differ from his do not deserve “true religion freedom.” And it will include many activists, like the Benham Brothers, who cry anti-Christian persecution despite their own record of working to restrict the religious and political freedoms of others.
Americans of every political and religious stripe can admire Ibrahim’s exceptional strength and courage in the face of real persecution. The same cannot be said for those who are trying to exploit her moral authority to advance their own political agendas.
Leave it to people like Tony Perkins to exploit Meriam Ibrahim being persecuted by Sudan for marrying a Christian man and leaving the Muslim faith for their own agenda to smear President Obama, LGBTQ rights, and liberals in general.
Note to folks like Starnes, Perkins, Barber, Staver, Fischer, et al.: What Meriam suffered through is REAL Christian persecution, while what the Benham Brothers and Phil Robertson claim (among countless other examples) is nowhere near the guidelines of being “persecuted” for their beliefs.
Chinese government officials announced Thursday that they plan to create a new state-sanctioned version of Christian theology, the latest in an uptick of attempts by the government to curtail the growing influence of religion in Chinese culture.
Speaking to the state-run China Daily newspaper, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told reporters that the new effort would seek to marry Christian theology with established Chinese norms.
“Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy,” he said. “The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”
The exact details of how and where this new theology will be developed were not immediately clear, but the move appears to be part of a long history of complex — and increasingly conflict-ridden — interactions between religion and politics in China. Religion was recast as a superstition and a foreign intrusion during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many houses of worship were forcibly closed and congregations disbanded by Red Guards. The government has since loosened its grip on spiritual affairs, but the U.S. State Department’s “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013“, released in July, still lists China as a “Country of Particular Concern,” and cited several major hurdles faced by many Chinese seeking to freely express their religious beliefs.
But despite these challenges, most researchers agree that the Christian population in China is substantial — and growing. An official 2010 Chinese government survey reported the existence of about 23.05 million Christians in the country, but a 2011 Pew Research survey estimated that the real number is actually closer to 67 million. Of these, Pew reported that around 9 million are Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are affiliated with the state-controlled Patriotic Catholic Association — which rejects the authority of the Vatican — while another 3.3 million attend “underground” Catholic congregations who still recognize the pope in Rome. The survey also reported that roughly 23 million Chinese affiliate with the government-sanctioned Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, while around 35 million attend “unregistered” Protestant churches or state-approved churches without having formal membership.
As this Christian population rapidly expands, the Communist Chinese government — which is ardently atheist — has started to push back against the religion’s increasingly public role. For years, the pastors and congregants of illegal Protestant “house churches” have been repeatedly detained, imprisoned, and charged for things such as “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.” More recently, the government has started forcibly removing crosses from several churches because they “violated zoning regulations.” Even high-profile, state-sponsored churches are starting to feel the heat: despite protests, city officials tore down the famous 180-foot spire of Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, China in May.
Some, such as Ian Johnson at the New York Times, believe the trend is part of an organized effort on the part of the Chinese government. According to a nine-page provincial policy statement obtained by the Times in May, local politicians have been urged to ramp up efforts to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities — specifically Christianity and its religious symbols, such as crosses.
“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document read. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
Analysts speculate the government wants to lessen the influence of Christianity because it is seen as a threat to the established government — especially “underground” Protestantism. According to the Times, a “disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent [civil rights] cases … are Protestant,” partially because some Chinese Protestants see rights such as freedom of expression as “God-given.”
But the government’s tendency to exact control over religion isn’t just a Christian problem. China is notorious for its harsh treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and members of the Falun Gong religious sect, and officials have also started to crack down on Islam — particularly the religious practices of Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim minority population that populates China’s troubled western region. Local officials banned fasting during Ramadan, the month-long Muslim celebration of fasting and prayer, in the Xinjiang province earlier this year, arguing that they wanted to “protect students’ wellbeing.” According to the BBC, they also reportedly forced at least three Muslim students to eat and break their fast during that time period.
Religious Exemptions: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet [TW: Anti-LGBT Bigotry & Discrimination, Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia] *Level 5 Should Scare Everyone, Seriously
Think religious exemptions in the post-Hobby Lobby world are bad? Just wait until you see how far the anti-gay, anti-choice Religious Right wants to go.
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.
Hobby Lobby , 2015, and President Obama.
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.
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 ACLU, Lambda 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
THE HELL THE SUPREME COURT WROUGHT: Conservatives Ready 'Religious Freedom' Bills In Hobby Lobby's Wake
Religious leaders in Kansas view the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision last week as an opportunity to revive legislation that would protect their “religious freedom” — measures that gay rights advocates warn would legitimize discrimination against LGBT people. The Associated Press reported this weekend that social conservatives believe they have an opening to bring the state’s religious freedom bill back in 2015. The legislation failed this spring; it passed the House, but stalled in the Senate after significant backlash from business groups. It would have prevented businesses from being sued if they refused to serve LGBT people for religious reasons.
"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
In response to today’s Supreme Court decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed the the craft store giant and other “closely-held corporations” to be granted religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate, political and religious conservatives are framing the case as a “win” for religious liberty. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, released a statement celebrating the ruling and saying, “The central issue of this case was whether the federal government can coerce Americans to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.” Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) echoed this sentiment in his own statement, saying, “the Court has made it clear today that the Obama administration’s assault on religious freedom in this case went too far.” Meanwhile, Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted, “#HobbyLobby wins. This is a great day for religious liberty. Government is not lord of the conscience.”
But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. This is likely why so many progressive Christian leaders have vocally opposed Hobby Lobby in the press, why Americans United for the Separation of Church and State submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Hobby Lobby on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, and why both the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the American Jewish Committee submitted their own amicus briefs decrying the corporation’s position.
And while white evangelicals were an outlier in the PRRI poll — only 40 percent of evangelical respondents supported the ACA’s contraception mandate for privately-owned corporations — a sizable cadre of conservative Christians have publicly articulated nuanced, faith-based opposition to the case in recent months, drawing attention to the fact that Hobby Lobby only speaks for a small minority of people of faith in America. David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.
“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.“
In addition to fearing the social implications of a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling, other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding their case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions. They write:
Although the owners of these for-profit corporations oppose the contraceptive requirement because of their pro-life religious beliefs, the requirement they oppose will dramatically reduce abortions. … Imagine a million fewer unintended pregnancies. Imagine healthier babies, moms and families. Imagine up to 800,000 fewer abortions. No matter your faith or political beliefs, our hunch is that we can all agree that fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions would be a blessing.
Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical Christian writer and blogger for the Religion News Service, went even further in his theological challenge to the case, arguing that conservative evangelicals shouldn’t call businesses “Christian” in the first place.
“The New Testament never—not one time—applies the ‘Christian’ label to a business or even a government,” he writes. “The tag is applied only to individuals. If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term ‘Christian’ is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”
These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.
The Religious Right mythologizing of David and Jason Benham continues. The Benham brothers – whose plans for a reality TV show on HGTV were scrapped by the network after Right Wing Watch reported on the brothers’ anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Islam activism – were featured speakers at last week’s Road to Majority conference, sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. And they’re on the schedule for the much bigger Values Voter Summit in September.
A Christian Post story on their appearance at Road to Majority frames their experience in typical martyrs-to-their-faith rhetoric, saying their reality show “was canceled because they spoke about their Christian views.”
Now, we don’t know exactly what motivated HGTV’s decision, but it seems to be a pretty good bet that it had nothing to do with the fact that the Benhams are outspoken about their Christian faith, and more to do with the fact that they had been outspoken advocates of limiting other people’s rights – as when Jason urged Charlotte, North Carolina, officials to deny permits for LGBT pride events, or when David took part it protests against the Islamic community center that critics inaccurately dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”
The Religious Right revels in manufacturing martyrs. And the Benham brothers are happy to play the part, portraying themselves as targets of a demonic gay rights movement that is out to silence its critics. “If people remain silent, then it’s going to continue to get worse. But when folks step up, and speak boldly the truth, and then it can actually get pushed back,” David told the Christian Post. “You have to be willing to die. I mean, Jason and I had to be willing to lose our show. We had to be willing to lose a book deal…”
In their Road to Majority remarks, the Benham brothers portrayed themselves as warriors.
“We just remember June the 6th, 1944. We know what happened at D-Day. We know what happened on Omaha and Utah beach. There’s something about those men that our dad taught us when we were kids. And he said, ‘Boys, don’t you ever run from bullets. You run toward the bullets.’ There are cultural bullets flying, all over today, especially religious liberty. And what’s happening right now is many spiritual leaders, elected leaders, they are running from bullets. But there’s a remnant of people that are ready to stand and say ‘I’m not running from these bullets any more. I’m gonna take this beach…’”
One of the brothers invoked Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been jailed in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith (and who, it was reported today, is now safe in the US embassy), and then invoked Mel Gibson’s bloody battle epic “Braveheart.”
“Just like in the movie Braveheart, when all the Scottish Army was standing there, and they all had their gear on, and they were lined up and they were unified, and they were ready to fight but not a single one of them wanted to fight. And then as William Wallace and a few men rode in on horses with blue face paint on. They were ready to pick a fight. And what I see before me right now are a bunch of people with some blue face paint on – so let’s go get it!”
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.
With the pivotal decision coming soon, most of our history suggests Hobby Lobby should lose. But tell that to the conservative quintet.
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
“[O]ur right to the free exercise of religion is co-equal to our right to life,” according to the campaign website of Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who won his party’s nomination to the United States Senate on Tuesday. Nebraska is a solid red state that preferred Romney to Obama by a massive 21 point margin in 2012, so Sasse is now all but certain to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R) this November. If he does, Sasse promises to promote an almost anarchistic vision of religious liberty as a member of the Senate. According to Sasse’s website, “[g]overnment cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.”
Here’s a screenshot of the relevant part of Sasse’s website:
The question of when religious belief exempts believers from following the law is at the forefront of our national debate right now, with the Supreme Court poised to decide whether religious business owners can refuse to offer birth control coverage as part of their employer-provided health plans, even when doing so would violate federal law. Yet, even the plaintiffs before the Supreme Court acknowledge that religious liberty is not an absolute right to violate any law at any time. As the crafting chain Hobby Lobby says in its brief to the justices, the government may limit religious believers actions when it uses “‘the least restrictive means of furthering’ a ‘compelling governmental interest.’” This is the standard set by federal law, although there is some uncertainty about how the justices will interpret this legal standard in its Hobby Lobby decision.
Sasse, however, apparently believes that this law does not go far enough, even if the Court gives Hobby Lobby everything it is asking for. His proposed rule — that government cannot require someone to act counter to their religious beliefs “under any circumstances” — would mean that literally any law could be ignored by someone who held a religious belief counter to that law. According to National Geographic, for example, “[h]undreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family ‘honor,’” and while this practice “goes across cultures and across religions,” some of the perpetrators of honor killings are motivated by their religious faith. Under Sasse’s formulation of religious liberty, a person who killed his own sister because he believed he was under a religious obligation to do so would be immune from prosecution for murder.
Similarly, religious beliefs have been used to justify discrimination against racial minorities, women, and LGBT Americans at different points in American history. In an opinion upholding Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, a state judge wrote that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Former Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett offered a similar view in 1960, claiming that “the good Lord was the original segregationist.” The conservative Bob Jones University drew a similar connection between religion and racism to justify excluding African Americans entirely until the early 1970s, and then to justify a ban on interracial dating and marriage among its students.
In the 1980s, a California religious school called Fremont Christian refused to offer health benefits to most of the married women in its employ, claiming that “in any marriage, the husband is the head of the household and is required to provide for that household” — and thus wives should have to depend on their husbands for health coverage. They unsuccessfully tried to convince a federal appeals court that, because of their religious beliefs, they are allowed to deny equal compensation to women. Much more recently, Arizona lawmakers pushed a bill that would have likely given religious business owners the right to refuse to serve LGBT customers. One of the lawmakers who backed this bill explained that it was introduced in response to instances where anti-gay business owners in other states were “punished for their religious beliefs.”
Under Sasse’s preferred rule, where “government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances,” racists, sexists and homophobes who claim a religious justification for bigotry would be immune from anti-discrimination law. And his rule would not simply apply in sensitive areas of the law that protect people’s lives and their livelihoods. Indeed, under Sasse’s formulation, a person who believes that they violate their religious beliefs if they are late to church could ignore the speed limit, traffic lights, and stop signs if obeying traffic laws would cause them to miss just one minute of their church’s Sunday service.
ThinkProgress contacted the Sasse campaign to offer them an opportunity to clarify whether the candidate truly believes that any practice, including “stoning adulterers or putting to death those who work on the Sabbath” should be allowed if it is justified by a religious belief. As of this writing, we have not received a response.
Unfortunately, Nebraska is stuck with this asshole for a Senator for the next 6 years.
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