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“Almost Anything Passes For ‘Religion’ In This Country”: Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination

Religious conservatives have lost their battle over gay marriage. Most will even admit it. The clock is ticking down to April 28, when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against it—and by the end of June, they will have ruled on the right of every American to a civil marriage to the person of their choosing, regardless of gender. Although a “no gay marriage” ruling is possible, almost no one believes the Supreme Court will rule against the civil right to marriage.

Majority support for gay marriage is to be found in virtually every demographic in society. But the minority who still opposes it does so with vigor and conviction. The Roman Catholic hierarchy (not the people in the pews) and conservative Evangelicals continue to look for ways to express their disdain and condemnation for gay or lesbian couples who want to be married or who have been married. The new strategy is to do state-by-state what has been impossible nationally. With the help of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council), bills are popping up all over the country in state legislatures with what conservatives hope will be their effective (and legal) defense against the rising tide of acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Indiana is a good case in point. On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would exempt individuals and companies from non-discrimination rulings by the courts—based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill was passed earlier by the Indiana Senate, and once the two are reconciled, Republican Governor Mike Pence has indicated he will sign it. This legislation, like its sister bills in other state legislatures, is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. Many states have their own RFRAs, which, like the federal one, prevent any law which substantially burdens a person’s free expression of religion. (This legislation figured heavily into the Hobby Lobby case.)

If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.

The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs. Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, everyday, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews).  Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists. Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.

However, religionists don’t have to be crazy or on the fringes of society to wreak havoc on those they disdain. In debating the bill, Representative Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) cited an anesthesiologist who refused to anesthetize a patient because the procedure for which his services were needed was an abortion—all due to his religious beliefs about the sinfulness of that procedure. A Roman Catholic pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for physician-prescribed birth control, citing her church’s objection to any kind of artificial birth control. A Southern Baptist pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug used by gay men (and others) to lessen their risk for being infected with HIV, claiming his church condemns the “gay lifestyle,” by which he means, apparently, promiscuous and profligate sex.

It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

 

By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; The Daily Beast, March 25, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Surprise! Another Christian Terrorist”: We Need To Understand That Terrorism Is Not Just A Muslim Thing

A Muslim American man carrying a duffel bag that holds six homemade explosives, a machete, and poison spray travels to a major U.S. airport. The man enters the airport, approaches the TSA security checkpoint, and then sprays two TSA officers with the poison. He then grabs his machete and chases another TSA officer with it.

This Muslim man is then shot and killed by the police. After the incident, a search of the attacker’s car by the police reveals it contained acetylene and oxygen tanks, two substances that, when mixed together, will yield a powerful explosive.

If this scenario occurred, there’s zero doubt that this would be called a terrorist attack. Zero. It would make headlines across the country and world, and we would see wall-to-wall cable news coverage for days. And, of course, certain right-wing media outlets, many conservative politicians, and Bill Maher would use this event as another excuse to stoke the flames of hate toward Muslims.

Well, last Friday night, this exact event took place at the New Orleans airport—that is, except for one factual difference: The attacker was not Muslim. Consequently, you might be reading about this brazen assault for the first time here, although this incident did receive a smattering of media coverage over the weekend.

The man who commited this attack was Richard White, a 63-year-old former Army serviceman who has long been retired and living on Social Security and disability checks. He was reportedly a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

Given the facts that a man armed with explosives and weapons traveled to an airport and only attacked federal officers, you would think that the word “terrorism” would at least come up as a possibility, right?  But it’s not even mentioned.

Instead, law enforcement was quick to chalk this incident up to the attacker’s alleged “mental health issues.” That was pretty amazing police work considering this conclusion came within hours of the attack. There was no mention by police that they had even explored whether White had issues with the federal government stemming from his military service, if there was any evidence he held anti-government views, etc.

Perhaps Mr. White truly was mentally ill. Interviews with his neighbors, however, don’t even give us a hint that he had mental problems. Rather they described White as a “meek” and “kind” man who a few had spoken to just days before the incident and everything seemed fine. You would think these neighbors would at least note that White had a history of mental illness if it was so apparent.

Now I’m not saying definitively that I believe Mr. White was a terrorist. My point is twofold. One is that if White had been a Muslim, the investigation into his motivation by the media and maybe even the police would have essentially been over once his faith had been ascertained. If a Muslim does anything wrong, it’s assumed to be terrorism. (Apparently we Muslims can’t be mentally ill.)

In contrast, when a non-Muslim engages in a violent attack, even on federal government employees, law enforcement and the media immediately look to the person’s mental history, not possible terrorist motivations.

No wonder so many parrot the line, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” When the press uses the word terrorism only in connection with the actions of Muslims, the average person would assume that’s the case. However, as I have written about before, in recent years overwhelmingly the terrorist attacks in United States and Europe have been committed by non-Muslims.

My second point is that this could have in fact been an act of terrorism. White clearly targeted only the TSA officers. He didn’t assault others in the airport, such as the passengers waiting on line at the security checkpoint. And for those unfamiliar, there has been a great deal of animus directed at the TSA by some conservatives and libertarians. Simply Google the words “stop the TSA” and you will see pages of articles denouncing the TSA as an organization hell bent on depriving Americans of our liberty.

For example, Alex Jones’ Infowars website is filled with anti-TSA articles claiming that the TSA’s goal is not to prevent terrorism but to “harass” travelers and get into “our pants.” Glen Beck warned in the pasthat the TSA was potentially becoming President Obama’s “private army” with the goal being to take away our liberties.

And in 2012, Senator Rand Paul lashed out against the TSA for what he viewed as the agency’s improper treatment of him. In fact after the incident, Paul penned an op-ed denouncing the TSA, writing that “it is infuriating that this agency feels entitled to revoke our civil liberties while doing little to keep us safe.”

Even more alarmingly, the attacks on the TSA have not been limited to words. In October 2012, Paul Ciancia traveled to LAX, where he took out a rifle from his bag and shot two TSA officers, killing one. Ciancia had written anti-government tracts in the past and was—to little media fanfare—actually charged months later with an act of terrorism.

Given this climate, how can the police not even mention that they investigated the possibility of terrorism and ruled it out? I spoke with Colonel John Fortunato, the spokesperson for Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office, which is the agency in charge of the investigation. Fortunato explained that due to state law, they couldn’t release any additional information regarding White’s mental illness or reveal information regarding any treatment he may or may not have undergone.

When I asked Fortunato if they had investigated White’s digital footprint to ascertain whether he had visited any anti-government websites or had searched his residence to see if he possessed an anti-government literature or made or written anti-government statements, he gave me what sounded like a boiler plate response that the investigation has revealed no affiliation to any outside groups. Fortunato expressed his confidence that White had acted alone and that no ties to any terror groups. But he added that we will never truly know what motivated White given he died before being questioned.

But part of me actually believes that there are some in the media and law enforcement who prefer to use the term terrorism only when it applies to a Muslim.

Why? Because it’s easy to do. Muslims are viewed by many as the “other,” not as fellow Americans. But discussing domestic terrorism carried out by fellow Americans is at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, undermines the narrative that some in our country have a vested interest in advancing.

I’m not sure what will change this mindset, but if we want to truly keep Americans safe, law enforcement and the media need to understand that terrorism is not just a Muslim thing.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Homeland Security, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Give Me Lipitor Or Give Me Death”: Last Call; Ted Cruz Signs Up For Obamacare

A day after announcing his White House bid – which included beating on the Affordable Care Act, his favorite punching bag – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says he’s signing up for Obamacare.

Yes, you read that correctly: The man whose signature applause line is a promise to “repeal each and every word of Obamacare,” went on Healthcare.gov and got himself some benefits. Hypocrisy? Sure, but not in the way you might think.

Cruz had been covered through his wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs. If some insurance plans are Cadillacs, hers was a chauffeured, solid-gold Fleetwood, reportedly worth some $20,000 a year — around half of Texas’ median income. Heidi Cruz is taking a year or so of unpaid leave to help him on his campaign, though, so her health care coverage evaporates along with her likely very substantial  paycheck.

Now, the senator – or maybe an aide, or an intern or campaign volunteer or someone – will schlep to the computer, log on to Healthcare.gov and hunch down over the keyboard to do the Obamacare two-step to get coverage for the upcoming year.

Cruz says he had to get health coverage Obamacare, and he’s right: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted an ACA amendment that requires all members of Congress to sign up through the federal exchange. That means Cruz has to if he wants health insurance, although, unlike a lot of Obamacare enrollees, his $174,000 annual Senate salary covers the premiums.

“Well, it is written in the law that members will be on the exchanges without subsidies just like millions of Americans so that’s – I think the same rules should apply to all of us,” Cruz told the Des Moines Register. “Members of Congress should not be exempt.”

Cruz has come up with his own Obamacare alternative, a plan which shifts a lot of control to the states — including ones like Texas, that opted out of Obamacare and all that federal money that went with it. If it were available, he probably would have signed up for Cruzcare instead.

Cruz: 2, Hypocrisy: Undecided. Still, let’s take a closer look.

If Cruz wanted to stand on no-Obamacare, no-way principle, however, perhaps he could opt out of government-sponsored health care entirely, just like the 6.3 million Texans who don’t have health insurance — in part because his state, and his party, decided to block it. That includes 1.2 million children just like Cruz’s two little girls who can’t get health care if they get sick.

That’s made Texas the state with the highest number of uninsured people, nearly twice the national average.

Further, if you squint, the changes the Cruz family are undergoing — loss of a job or a dramatic life change that reduces income — are the top reasons people lose health insurance, and among the reasons Obamacare exists in the first place. And if a parent or spouse gets sick without insurance, it can lead to some serious financial hardship.

It’s perhaps safe to say Cruz understands that intuitively, even if he probably would never say so explicitly. Which is probably why he signed up, and where the hypocrisy comes in.

Even though it exposes him to a modicum of ridicule, allegations of hypocrisy and getting the stink-eye from some of his die-hard supporters, Ted’s Excellent Obamacare Adventure speaks more loudly than his “repeal every word of Obamacare” applause line. When it came down to brass tacks and he lost his wife’s coverage, he opted-in.

He may be a fierce Obamacare critic, and he may agree with the decision to deny affordable health insurance to more than 6 million Texans who, one imagines, he assumes would rather have liberty than Lipitor. But when it becomes a personal matter involving his own family, his conservative ideals don’t necessarily apply.

 

By: Joseph P. Williams, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, march 24, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Ted Cruz, Uninsured | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Take A Look At The Man In The Mirror”: Saudi Money And The Moral Posturing Of Rand Paul

Expecting morally serious debate from any would-be Republican presidential contender is like waiting for a check from a deadbeat. It could arrive someday, but don’t count on it.

But listening to someone like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) feign outrage over a real moral issue can still be amusing, if you know enough about him to laugh. The Kentucky Republican has seized on stories about millions of dollars donated by Saudi Arabian agencies and interests to the Clinton Foundation, demanding that the Clintons return those funds because of gender inequality under the Saudi version of Islam.

Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, the senator said the Saudi monarchy is waging “a war on women,” turning a phrase often used to describe what Republican politicians do to women here. Like all aspiring leaders in the GOP, Paul wants to prove that he would be tough enough to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton in a national campaign. Women and men alike may admire her and hope that she will become America’s first female president — but how can she speak on behalf of women and girls if her husband’s foundation accepted support from the Saudis?

Certainly it is true that the Saudi monarchy inflicts special oppressions on its female subjects. But before examining how that should influence the policies of a charitable foundation – and a former president or secretary of state – it is worth considering the feminist credentials of Rand Paul and his fellow Republicans.

Presumably, Paul favors permitting women to drive and exercise other rights that they would be denied in Riyadh. In his habitual hostility to any legislation improving the status of women in this country, however, he is all too typical of his party. He opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to ensure that women are paid equally to men for similar work, as an assault on the “free market” worthy of the “Soviet Politburo” (which somebody should tell him no longer exists).

Like Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and other presidential hopefuls, he co-sponsored the Blunt Amendment, a mercifully defeated law that would have deprived millions of women of contraceptive and other vital insurance coverage at the whim of any employer. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion and some forms of birth control. And he even opposed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – a vote that the ultra-right Saudi imams would no doubt approve.

If Paul wants to confront an enemy of women’s advancement, he need only glance in the mirror.

As for the Clinton Foundation, leave aside the fact that the senator only knows about any Saudi donations because the foundation’s transparency exceeds anything required under U.S. law – and that the Carter Center, the Bush 41 and Bush 43 presidential libraries, Oxfam, and the World Health Organization, among many other charities, have also accepted Saudi funding.

Paul and other critics ought to explain specifically how the foundation’s receipt of support from Saudi Arabia has compromised its mission of empowering women and girls. Anyone who has attended the annual meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, has seen and heard that commitment repeated again and again, around the world, in Muslim countries and everywhere else.

The fact that economic and social development demand full gender equality has been the unmistakable message of those meetings, year after year, for more than a decade. And no Saudi official who looked at the foundation’s programs in health, education, or economic development could misunderstand what the Clintons and their foundation are saying and doing.

To consider just one example: Over the past dozen years, the Clinton Health Access Initiative has helped to save millions of lives, including many women and girls suffering from HIV/AIDS. In Ethiopia, the Saudi billionaire Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi donated $20 million to a Clinton Foundation program providing AIDS drugs to infected men, women, and children.

Would it have been better to refuse the Saudi money, provide less medicine, and let some of those Ethiopians die?

While Bill Clinton’s answer is plain enough, let’s not pretend such moral quandaries really trouble Rand Paul and his ilk. We already know that politicians like him are quite prepared to “let ’em die” here as well as over there, because they are eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ruin Medicare, and gut the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But it is a question for the rest of us to consider seriously.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 20, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Global Inititiave, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bibi Makes Israel The Latest Culture War Pawn”: If He Can’t See The Consequences For His Country, He’s Just A Madman

So now Lindsey Graham has called Bibi Netanyahu to congratulate him on his great victory and to reassure him that Congress will be passing its gimlet eye closely over any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran. This news comes hard on the heels of John Boehner’s announcement that he suddenly feels moved to go visit Israel.

I can’t begin to conceive what these people are thinking. What does Netanyahu think he’s accomplishing by making Israel a right-wing cause? Does he really think this is how he saves Israel? Does he forget that this is a country in which 70 or 80 percent of Jews vote Democratic? Did he not see the recent poll that had his approval rating among Democrats at 17 percent? I see here that last November in a J Street poll, his approval rating among U.S. Jews was 53 percent. I bet after this past month, they’re down in the low 40s or high 30s.

Netanyahu knows this country. He lived here—high school in Philadelphia, college in Boston, and a stint in New York (when he was Israel’s UN ambassador, during the Reagan years). He knows our political culture. He understands what a radical-right party the GOP is becoming, and thus he presumably understands that the vast majority of U.S. Jews are never going to be able to vote Republican, whatever the two parties’ Israel lines. He knows full well that the perfervid support for Israel in evangelical-right precincts has far less to do with love of Jews than with hatred of Arabs, or, for many, the belief that Armageddon in the Middle East means Jesus is coming.

He knows all this as well as most senators and congressmen. So why does he persist in making Israel a Republicans-first issue, and for that matter why do Republicans do it too?

Well, it’s not hard to figure why Republicans are doing it. It’s partly about Barack Obama, and the visceral loathing of him among their base; the Muslim Other-ing of Obama and all that. But they clearly must think this is going to get them more Jewish votes at the presidential level. They think back to Ronald Reagan’s time. In 1980, Reagan got 39 percent of the Jewish vote, against Jimmy Carter’s 45 percent (independent candidate John Anderson got the rest). That’s as close as a GOP presidential candidate has ever come to winning the Jewish vote since Israel became a state. (Amusing side note: In 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, the Republican candidate, Tom Dewey, did worse among Jews at 10 percent than left-wing third-party candidate Henry Wallace, who polled 15 percent; Harry Truman got 75 percent.)

But there’s no remotely Reaganesque figure on the horizon. And anyway, by 1984, things were back to normal—Walter Mondale, even as he was getting pasted by Reagan overall, won 67 percent of the Jewish vote. And more to the point, as I noted above, this Republican Party is not the Republican Party of Reagan’s time. That was a conservative party that still had a large number of old-line moderates, like senators Charles Percy and John Heinz. Today’s party is far more right wing than that one was. Very few Jews are going to vote for a party like that—especially against a Clinton, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, but in fact against pretty much anyone.

So that’s what they’re thinking, farkakte as it is. But this doesn’t explain Netanyahu. He truly believes that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat, fine. But that doesn’t explain this behavior. If he truly believes that about Iran, then the logical, self-interested thing for him to do, especially knowing that most Jews are loyal Democrats, is to get as many Democrats in Congress as possible to choose his point of view over Obama’s. Given AIPAC’s muscle and the traditional pro-Israel posture of most Democrats in Congress over the years, that should not be a heavy lift.

But instead he does the opposite. Recall that about a month ago, he pointedly refused to meet with Senate Democrats. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, who invited him, were obviously tossing him a lifeline, saying to him: However bad your relationship with Obama, come square things with us, and we’ll still have your back. But no. He said he feared it would look partisan, you see, because his speech to Congress, well, that was bipartisan! Once you’ve entered the Hall of Mirrors, it can be hard to find your way out, I guess.

It’s one thing to alienate Obama (and Obama, to be fair, has done his part to sour the relationship as well). But it’s quite another to alienate rank-and-file American Jews, and still another to alienate Democrats in Congress. Not an easy trifecta to hit, but he is managing it.

If he can’t see the consequences for his country, he’s just a madman. Let’s just say hypothetically that the Obama administration follows through substantively on spokesman Josh Earnest’s astonishing comments last week about the potential policy implications of Netanyahu’s pre-election comportment. Let’s say, for example, that the United States decides to stop blocking a vote at the United Nations on recognition of a Palestinian state. Right now, about 135 nations recognize Palestine. Very few Western European countries are among that number. Many of them withhold their support simply or mainly for the sake of not crossing the United States.

Once we signal that we won’t block a vote, the map of nations that recognize Palestine will presumably expand across Europe rapidly. The British and French have worked on the proper resolution language. As it happens, the Arab League is meeting this weekend in Sharm-el-Shiekh, and you can be sure that its officials are alive to this reality. And so Netanyahu might lose Western Europe, and then he’ll come crying to Washington, and it might be too late.

Strange way to save a country.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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