“Platinum-Level Citizenship”: Highly-Religious Christians’ Battle To Change The Very Nature Of The First Amendment
Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you’re likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a “war on religion” since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there’s little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.
In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They are demanding that our laws stake out for them a kind of Citizenship Platinum, allowing them an exemption from any law or obligation they’d prefer to disregard. They would refashion the First Amendment in their image.
Last week saw a number of new developments in the effort to create this elevated status for religious people, as bills seeking to enshrine discrimination against gay couples moved forward in two states. A bill in Kansas would explicitly allow both businesses and government to discriminate against gay couples in pretty much any way they wanted. A movie theater could turn gay couples away at the door, or a paramedic could refuse to treat a gay person having a heart attack, and they’d be immune from prosecution or lawsuits. After passing the Kansas state house overwhelmingly, the bill died in the state senate, in a brief (though likely temporary) moment of sanity.
A bill in Arizona did better, passing both houses, and it now awaits Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. This one was written more broadly, without the direct focus on gay couples, but its effects would be the same. It grants to any person, organization or corporation a nearly unlimited right to assert their “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a shield against lawsuits for discrimination.
Similar bills are pending in a number of conservative states; this won’t be the last we hear of them. And the Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Hobby Lobby, the retail chain that would like to be exempt from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act because its owners are Christians, and therefore they should be able to select the provisions they’ll abide by and not bother with those they find religiously objectionable.
The implications couldn’t be clearer. Let’s consider the put-upon Christian florists of Arizona, who might be subjected to the unspeakable horror of taking a gay couple’s money. What if one of those florists decided that since being born again through Christ is the one and only path to heaven, selling flowers to Jews or Muslims or Catholics would violate his deeply felt religious beliefs? Would he then be free to put up a sign in his window saying, “We only serve Protestants here”? According to the Arizona law, he would, regardless of what that pesky Civil Rights Act says. Or what if the owner of an accounting firm decided that since his religion places men above women, all his female employees will be paid half of what he pays male employees for doing the same job? It’s his religious belief, after all.
Anyone could say that almost any belief they have springs directly from their faith and their reading of scripture, and the state would be required to abide by it. Your faith tells you not to obey laws against discrimination? Well, maybe mine tells me that paying taxes is an offense to God. And my neighbor is a biblical literalist, so when his teenage son mouthed off to him, he arranged for the boy to be stoned to death, just like the Lord instructs quite clearly in Deuteronomy 18 and Leviticus 20. Surely we can’t convict him of murder, since he was only following his sincere religious beliefs.
You might say, well, those beliefs are ridiculous. Maybe they are. And maybe I find your opinions about gay people ridiculous. But up until now, neither one of us has had to have our own liberty compromised because of what the other believed, because we defined the First Amendment’s free exercise clause through religious practice. The government can’t tell you how to worship your god, and it can’t do things that make it difficult for you to worship as you’d like.
But now, conservatives are pushing a much broader conception of religious freedom, one that extends beyond religious practice to virtually anything a religious person does. But it’s when you take your religious practices outside of your own faith, your own beliefs, and your own practice and start applying them to other people that you lose the special privileges that religion is accorded. As an old saying has it, my right to swing my fist ends precisely where your nose begins.
Any Christians who want to can believe that gay people are sinful and wicked, or that gay marriage is a terrible thing. What they can’t do is use those beliefs as a get-out-of-jail-free card that gives them permission to break the law or escape civil liability when they harm other people.
Up until now, the distinction between religious practice and the things religious people do when they enter the secular world has worked pretty well. Anti-discrimination laws don’t mean that a rabbi has to conduct a wedding for two Baptists. Religious organizations can hire only people of their own faith. But once you enter into other realms, like commerce, you have to obey the laws that govern those realms.
If we grant religious people the kind of elevated citizenship conservatives are now demanding, where the special consideration given to religious practice is extended to anything a religious person does, the results could be truly staggering. Why stop at commerce? If things like employment law and anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to religious people, what about zoning laws, or laws on domestic abuse, or laws in any other realm?
The supporters of these laws, and of Hobby Lobby, argue that religious people shouldn’t have to put aside their beliefs when they act in the secular world. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business,” said one Republican Arizona legislator. But when your business puts you in contact with people who don’t share your faith, putting aside your religion is precisely what you have to do, if “reflecting” that religion means violating the law.
For many years, conservatives would argue that they didn’t really object to equal rights for gay people, they were just against “special rights.” In practice, what they meant by “special rights” were things like the right not to be fired from your job or evicted from your home because of your sexuality, rights that weren’t special at all. But today, religious conservatives are demanding truly special rights for themselves. They want one set of laws that applies to everyone else, and another set that applies only to the religious. Or more precisely, they want religious people—but no one else—to be able to pick and choose which laws apply to them, and which they’d prefer to ignore. That’s a twisted version of the liberty the First Amendment was supposed to guarantee.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prsopect, February 24, 2014
“Night Of The Living Bigots”: Religious Discrimination Laws Are Just Zombie Jim Crow, Legalizing Anti-Gay Prejudice
Back in November, I wrote this piece on so-called “religious discrimination.” In short, a florist in Washington state refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding because it violates her religion. That’s right, she claims she won’t engage in the for-profit business of commerce because her religion tells her not to for certain groups of people. To quote “South Park’s” Mr Mackey “mkay.”
Now I thought maybe this was just a one-off. I mean sure, there are going to be a few folks, a few businesses around the country who won’t serve black people or maybe someone won’t photograph a gay wedding. But these types of things are few and far between, not the norm in society right?
Actually, while they happen more than you may think, as a part of the whole of American society, this isn’t some widespread thing popping up all across the country. What is rearing its ugly head up is the conservative movement’s insistence on using state legislatures to fighti what they claim is gay marriage’s “attack” on family values across the country. Lawmakers in Arizona, Kansas, Idaho, Tennessee, South Dakota and Maine have all debated and/or passed “religious discrimination” bills to protect for-profit businesses from having to serve gays and lesbians. The Arizona legislature just yesterday passed legislation and it’s now on its way to Gov. Jan Brewer.
I know, I know, the states are the incubators of democracy, where great ideas come from but this, my friends, is pure unadulterated crap. Jim Crow was supposed to have died a long time ago but like some horrid episode of “The Walking Dead,” Zombie Jim Crow has arrived with a vengeance.
Do conservatives actually think it’s OK to deny someone a meal, a photograph or a flower arrangement by using God as their reason? Will national Republican leaders try to pass similar legislation in Washington, D.C. or is it better for this type of Jim Crow foolishness to remain under the radar screen (in other words in the state legislatures)? I wonder how Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus feels about these types of bills being promulgated across the country. He is, after all, the national leader of the Republican Party right?
I really don’t have a problem if a business owner thinks I’m gay. I actually don’t have a problem if a business owner doesn’t like that I’m gay. But here’s the deal business owners of America: I have money and you have a for-profit business that opens its doors to the public. That means you that you don’t get to put up a sign in your window that says “We cater to heterosexual trade only” like this one from a Lancaster, Ohio business during Jim Crow. If I walk into your place of business and am willing to pay what you’re asking for your service or product, who I marry is none of your damned business. I’m a huge fan of equality. I don’t get to ask you if you’re a bigot and you don’t get to ask me if I’m, well, gay.
If you want to be a church, a non-profit or a private club, then you have the right to tell me you don’t want my money. That’s really stupid of you but hey, it’s your inalienable right to be stupid in America. I also have the right to tell my friends you don’t want my money because it’s gay money. And they get to tell their friends, and then we’ll treat you like we did Anita Bryant back in the 1970’s. That didn’t turn out so well for her.
I’m not angry about what’s happening in these state legislatures. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised frankly. Like I said, there are a lot of dumb people out there. But what no one in this country should be allowed to do is profit from bigotry. What no business in this country should be allowed to do is tell me their God tells them I’m a second-class citizen.
By: Jimmy Williams, U. S. News and World Report, February 21, 2014
Since the 1960s, federal law has recognized various protected classes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or religion; the 1990 Disabilities Act on the basis of disability. It should be screamingly obvious that a “protected” class isn’t a “privileged” class — but apparently it isn’t.
In recent years, progressives have been lobbying for an Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents have advanced various arguments against it, including the notion that it will subject schoolchildren to discussions of homosexuality and that it’s a recipe for lawsuits.
Another bogus claim is that ENDA would create “special” rights for gays and lesbians.
On Tuesday The Las Vegas Sun ran a story on Republican State Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, who’s campaigning to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House. It explained that Mr. Hardy opposes ENDA because: “When we create classes, we create that same separation that we’re trying to unfold somehow. By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws.”
Yes, he went there: He not only compared employment protection to segregation, he said such protections are a form of segregation.
It’s possible he got this idea from The Heritage Foundation. In November Ryan T. Anderson of Heritage argued that ENDA “does not protect equality before the law; instead it would create special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.”
Actually ENDA prohibits “preferential treatment or quotas” and merely makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee just because he’s gay.
This idea that protections against discrimination put “one class of a person over another” has surfaced in other areas, too.
As I wrote not long ago, Fox’s Martha MacCallum deployed this type of reasoning when she called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “special handout” for women. So did Justice Antonin Scalia when he called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.”
By: Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times, February 20, 2014
Last week, The Wire creator David Simon told Bill Moyers that the legal doctrine that spending money on political campaigns is an act of political speech protected by the First Amendment poses the greatest threat to American democracy. “That to me was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “If the combination of the monetization of our elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”
He’s right. Not only does money as speech allow those with the fattest wallets to drown out the voices of average citizens, as John Light points out, it also gives wealthy donors an effective veto over policies that enjoy majority support. But it’s important to understand the other ways that the expansion of civil rights for corporations can conflict with the public interest.
As Simon observed, the notion of corporate personhood isn’t inherently problematic. The concept that companies are “artificial persons” is necessary because you can’t enter into a contract with an inanimate object, and you can’t take an inanimate object to court if that contract is breached.
Problems arise when these soulless artificial persons demand constitutional rights that were designed to protect real, flesh-and-blood people.
Those demands have a long history. As author and commentator Thom Hartmann detailed in his book, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, the end of the Civil War brought with it the beginning of a battle for corporate rights under the 14th Amendment, which was intended to confer full citizenship on newly freed slaves.
For several decades, efforts to gain 14th Amendment protections for corporations were stymied by the courts. But in the 1880s, with the help of a court clerk Hartmann described as “a dicey character,” a corrupt federal judge named Steven Field — who had his eye on a White House run — managed to get that right codified in the law on behalf of “very wealthy and powerful guys who ran the railroads and who were the richest men in America,” as Hartmann put it in a 2010 interview.
It wasn’t the only right corporations would gain during that period. According to Hartmann, in the first half of the 19th century, corporations were required to make their books open to the public. By mid-century, they were only required to disclose their finances to the Secretary of State of each state in which they were incorporated. But in the early 20th century, they successfully claimed that even those requirements violated their Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures without probable cause.
In the 1970s and 1980s, corporate lawyers became more aggressive in pressing for civil rights. David Gans, civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, told BillMoyers.com, “What we’ve seen in the last four decades is a huge expansion of claims that corporations are entitled to various individual rights that were long seen as the birthright of the Declaration of Independence.”
The biggest shift was in the realm of First Amendment rights. “In the 1970s,” said Gans, “there were lots of cases claiming that corporations had First Amendment rights both in the area of commercial speech — prior to that, the Supreme Court had long held that it could be extensively regulated — and in the area of political speech.
“Those claims brought us eventually to Citizens United,” Gans continued, “and now we’re seeing new claims — in Hobby Lobby, for example, that corporations have a right to religious exercise, which is really a fundamental matter of human dignity and conscience, and it’s a right that corporations have never even claimed. ” Hobby Lobby is one of several corporations suing to overturn Obamacare’s mandate that employer-based insurance cover a basket of preventive care including contraceptives.
Charlie Cray, director of the progressive Center for Corporate Policy and co-author (with Lee Drutman and Ralph Nader) of The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, said that First Amendment claims on commercial speech have been central in dozens of regulatory fights — from GMO and bovine growth hormone labeling requirements to tobacco point-of-sale advertising to limits on media consolidation.
But so far, corporations have had less success pressing for other constitutional rights. In the 1980s, for example, Dow Chemicals sued the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that its aerial surveillance of one of the company’s plants constituted a warrantless search and violated the Fourth Amendment. But the court ruled that the EPA was acting within its regulatory authority, and that Dow had no legitimate expectation of privacy.
Nonethelesss, Charlie Cray tells BillMoyers.com that claims of corporate rights can conflict with the public interest even without being litigated. “A lot of this goes on at the regulatory level,” he said. “Corporate lawyers claim that their rights are being violated and regulators with limited budgets will often back off rather then engage in protracted litigation.” Those bizarre pharmaceutical ads with the lengthy list of awful side effects are a good example — the FDA loosened restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising largely in response to drug companies’ First Amendment claims.
And it’s a slippery slope. “A couple of years ago, the idea that corporations would claim they’re entitled to the free exercise of religion would have seemed outlandish,” said David Gans, “but here it is, dividing the lower federal courts and about to be heard by the Supreme Court. It is hard to predict where they’ll go in the future.”
By: Joshua Holland, Connecting The Dots, Bill Moyers Blog, February 18, 2014
When a bad idea pops up in a state legislature, it’s about as common as the sunrise. When the same bad idea pops up in 10 state legislatures at the same time, something odd is going on.
At issue are proposals to make anti-gay discrimination easier for social conservatives under the guise of “religious liberty.” Kansas, for example, recently generated national headlines for a bill that would have given those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” license to discriminate practically everywhere – restaurants could deny gay couples service; hotels could deny gay couples rooms, even public-sector workers could refuse to provide services to LGBT Kansans.
Kansas’ right-to-discriminate bill was derailed, but as Adam Serwer reported yesterday, very similar proposals have drawn attention in Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. My colleague Laura Conaway found a related measure in Maine.
“Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword,” Nick Worner of the Ohio ACLU said, paraphrasing George H.W. Bush appointed federal Judge Carol Jackson. “It’s not religious freedom when you’re using it to hurt someone else.”
For proponents of civil rights, the good news is that these proposals are faltering in nine states. The bad news is, a bill in Arizona’s Republican-led legislature actually passed yesterday.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.
The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.
This is no modest effort to accommodate religiously motivated discrimination.
Democratic opponents of the bill tried to make clear to GOP lawmakers just how significant the right-to-discriminate measure would be.
[O]pponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.
“The message that’s interpreted is: ‘We want you to work here, but we are not going to go out of our way to protect you, to protect your rights, to protect your family,’ ” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “God forbid should someone come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in.”
The bill is awaiting action from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has not yet taken a position on the proposal.
If she signs it into law, a legal challenge would be inevitable. Organized boycotts would also appear likely.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 21, 2014